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How To Make The First Day Of School Special (Even If You’re Staying Home)

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano

Photography by Photographed by Mosuno

While veteran homeschooling families might notice a relatively smooth transition into the 2020/21 school year, for those of us whose children typically attend school outside of our homes, this year’s “first day” most likely looks radically different from years’ past (i.e. your kid isn’t actually going anywhere, or is going back with a face mask and hand sanitizer in tow). No matter how your child is heading back this fall (distance learning or otherwise) or what grade they’re going into, we think it’s only right to try and make their back-to-school experience one of celebration. Below, we’ve got a dozen ideas on how to make the first day of school special.

Plan A First Day Outfit. Whether you go back-to-school shopping or not, planning a special outfit for your first day is an easy way to make your kid feel fancy. You can even go the extra mile and plan an entire week of outfits, or give your kid a new hairstyle or cut to start the year fresh.

Take A First Day Picture. Don’t let that good outfit go to waste! Make sure you snap a classic “First Day” picture, whether it’s in your living room, outdoors, or—depending on how close you are—in front of your child’s school.

Decorate Their Desk. If your kid has their own learning nook within your home, think about surprising them by dressing it up for their first day. This could mean adding a festive banner or bunting to their setup, decorating their chair with balloons, revealing a special treat with a card, and other fun touches. Of course, if your child doesn’t have a designated learning space yet, the grand surprise could be creating a corner for them, with all of their school supplies neatly organized nearby.

Do A First Day Interview. This is a cute little project you’ll be glad you did. You can ask your kid to write down their answers, or do a video interview with them. Just like taking a picture on the first day, having an interview to go along with it will really show you how much your kiddo has grown over the school year. Simply Google “first day of school interview” for tons of question suggestions.

Open Some Special Snail Mail. Ask friends and family to send congratulatory notes (or emails) to your little one to open on their big day back—or, just give a card yourself. Inside can be special messages about how proud you are of your little one entering Kindergarten, First Grade, etc., as well as perhaps a memory about how you remember that grade yourself.

Read School-Centric Books. Especially for young kids heading into pre-K or kindergarten, it’s great to prep them ahead of time by reading books about what their “first day” might look like (even if they aren’t returning to a classroom right away).

Build A Back-To-School Snack Station. If you’ve noticed demands for snacks have risen during sheltering in place, you’re not alone. Help your kiddo be more independent with a self-serve snack station that’s filled with healthy choices mixed with special treats. Be sure to include cups and bowls they can fill up themselves.

Plan A Special Breakfast & Lunch. Although you might not need to formally “pack” a lunch for your kiddo, you might want to plan a special menu for their first day or first week. Make it collaborative, or keep it a surprise.

Shop For Supplies. Hopefully you’ve got most of the supplies you need at home already, or your school has provided supplies for you to pickup. If you still need pencils, crayons, binders, and notepads, you can either get your kiddo involved in the shopping or you can surprise them with their new stash.

Give A Gift or A Gift Basket. It could be a new desk, an education-related item—or several items, bundled into a basket—or something else you know they’ve been pining for. (For little kids, we love school-themed toys that can help them role play). Or you can surprise your kid with festive cupcakes, a giant cookie with a grade-appropriate candle on top, or another favorite dessert. It’s up to you if you reveal your surprise in the morning or evening of their first day, or as a congratulations once their first week is complete.

Enjoy A “First Day” Movie Night. After your kid’s first day—or week—is behind them, break out the popcorn and candy to celebrate. You can choose to watch one of your child’s favorites, or choose a show (The Magic School Bus, anyone?) or a movie with a school-centric theme (Common Sense Media has a great list to pick from!).

Meetup (Safely) With A School Friend. If you’re able to safely meet up for an outdoor hangout—or Zoom call—with a school buddy to toast the first day or week of school, go for it! If it’s an IRL scenario, masks and social distancing required, of course!

Want more back-to-school tips? Read these 5 pieces of advice for distance learning from a globetrotting, homeschooling mother of three, and check out what’s been working for these 10 mothers juggling life and school from home.

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