Most public and private schools in my area will start the 2009-10 school year on September 1. In other parts of the country, schools open in early to mid-August. And homeschoolers run the gamut. I know some who school year-round without an extended summer break; we started the first week of August, and some won’t crack open a book until mid- to late September.
Of course, we’re blessed in this country to have such a multitude of viable educational options. And each of us probably has strong opinions about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the various schooling venues open to our kids; in fact, we ultimately use our value judgments to place them in the learning environments we believe will best meet their needs.
But wherever our children attend school, we all want them to start well. And we can facilitate that by doing some things to make the first day special.
Take a picture of your child in one of his sharp new back-to-school outfits; I do that, too, because even though homeschoolers don’t “need” school clothes the way other kids do, having something new is a great way to mark the occasion. And taking an annual first-day picture is a wonderful way to note a child’s progression through her school years. In fact, when I was a classroom teacher, I took individual first-day photos of my students so that each one could remember the start of a new year even if their parents didn’t have such a tradition.
Consider making a special back-to-school breakfast. This year, I started what I hope will become a new tradition in our family: we had breakfast at IHOP! Someone I know uses an old family recipe to make a yummy German pastry – a treat the family only gets on the first day of school. Of course, the actual first day – with a bus honking outside your front door or a rush to get your child to early morning daycare – might be too hectic; in that case, have a special back-to-school meal sometime during the weekend before school starts.
Try to end the first day in a special way as well. Even if you don’t usually make after-school treats, why not have cookies and milk waiting on that first day? If you school at home, draw an obvious end to first-day lessons in this way and take time to discuss everyone’s feelings about the new books and curricula. And if your kids are coming home after a day away – whether you’re waiting to greet them at 3:30 or you all tromp in from work and after-school care at 6:00 – it’s even more important to set aside that kind of time so they can de-brief with you after the first day.
Above all else – regardless of particular traditions – give your child the gift of a positive attitude about this year. Sure, you may have concerns about one thing or another, and we all know our children will face various challenges in the coming months. But kids who anticipate the start of a new year tend to do better than those who dread it. And you can go a long way toward fostering your child’s positive attitude by having one yourself.