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Written by:  Jennifer Gregory
Date: August 1, 2011

Heading back to school each year is an important event for kids and parents. Many families find that back-to-school traditions help ease the transition from summer to school. Traditions can be as simple as school-supply shopping together or sharing a special treat.

Shelly Hummel, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Align Counseling in Wake Forest, says traditions are important to commemorate throughout the year, and back-to-school time is no exception. "Back-to-school traditions are a family tradition, and any ritual is a shared experience which strengthens families because they give everyone a sense of belonging," she says.

Traditions can also help relieve stress for children. "If they have any anxiety about the new school year, having a tradition that they can count on will help relieve the anxiety," Hummel says.

Another benefit to making the new school year special is it communicates the importance of education to your kids. "I think by having a routine each year, that it makes it a special day and lets her know how important school is to our family," says Chavone Robinette, mom of a rising third grader in Cornelius, N.C.

Starting family traditions

Traditions can either evolve over time or be something you specifically create. Carmen White of Whitsett, N.C., wanted to initiate back-to-school traditions with her son that will continue throughout his school years, since the idea of sending him off to kindergarten this year makes her nostalgic.

"While he is excited about starting school this year because it is his first time, I hope in the future when he is not as excited about school, that knowing we will do fun things for back-to-school will help," White says. She asked her son to help create the traditions, because she felt they would be more meaningful to him if he was involved in starting them.

Some parents also continue family traditions from their childhood. Robinette says when she was growing up, her mom took a picture of her sitting on the front porch of their house on the first day of school — a tradition she keeps to this day with her daughter.

"I have a picture of me sitting on the front porch before school and I remember how special it felt," Robinette says. She takes a photo of her daughter each year in the same spot and plans to continue this tradition because she wants her daughter to feel as special as she did.

Marking the passage of time

Another way to keep memories of a new academic year's start is to videotape a conversation with your child on the first day of school every year. Not only will you be able to see the physical changes in your child as she grows up, but asking the same questions also charts other changes. You'll remember that Diane was her best friend in third grade and her favorite outfit featured a green skirt with a watermelon on it.

Jacque Kipps, Wake Forest mom of three, charts her children's height on the doorway to see how tall they have grown since the previous fall. The tradition started because her oldest son liked having his height marked at his grandparents' house in Kentucky and wanted to start recording it at home.

"Now on the first day of school each year, we measure their height and measure the difference since last year," Kipps says.

Another idea is to record your child's handprint at the beginning of each school year on a plate, stepping stone or piece of paper to highlight annual growth.

Back-to-school shopping

Since many families purchase clothes and school supplies for a new academic year, creating traditions surrounding back-to-school shopping is a natural ritual. Parents with multiple kids can take each child shopping separately to spend time together and also enjoy a special lunch or treat with each child.

Another tradition that hails from Europe is to give your kids a special gift before they head back to school. Ideas include special supplies for homework, something to wear the first day, or even personalized coupons for things they will appreciate, such as staying up late on the weekend, getting out of a dreaded chore or spending special time with mom or dad.

Planning a get-together

Stacy Adkins of Graham, N.C., helps her second-grade daughter celebrate the start of another school year by hosting a pirate-themed party for her new classmates, classmates from previous grades and any other special friends. Since her daughter attends year-round school, she throws the party in July to coincide with the start of her track, and distributes invitations at meet-the-teacher night before school.

"It helps my daughter because she starts the new year by knowing many of her classmates, and it also helps break the ice for us to get to know her friends' parents," Adkins says.

Sharing a special meal or snack

A simple way to mark the day is to share the same meal or treat on the first day of school each year. Robinette says her family always starts the first day of school cooking bacon together for breakfast. White plans to take her son to his favorite pancake restaurant before the bell rings on the first day of school.

A welcome-home celebration with cupcakes or other treats at the bus stop or at home also makes the day special. Teri Woods of Raleigh enjoys ice cream after school with her daughter, who will enter fourth grade this year.

"Ice cream on the first day of school is our fun tradition to celebrate a new year of learning," Woods says. "I believe it is important for my daughter to know I believe she will have an awesome year."

Jennifer Gregory is a Triangle-based writer and mother of two kids and three dogs.



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