Summer is winding down, and returning to school is on the horizon. Consider starting these back-to-school traditions to make the beginning of the school year exciting.

What to Do the Week Before:

Ask the kids. Say farewell to summer with their choice of an entertaining day out. Go on a hike, visit the zoo, or splash around at a water park. What do they want to do to end the season?

Have a glam session. You could all probably do with a fresh haircut. Take your tweens and teens out for a manicure and pedicure.

Involve the family. If you live near the grandparents, invite them to a favorite restaurant for a back-to-school brunch or meal. Ask extended family to write notes, whether that’s memories of their own school years or “good luck” messages. Collect the notes and give them as a present before the first day.

Create a countdown calendar for the days leading up to the first week of school with different activities. Each day, do something different to spend quality time together: play water games in the backyard, hold a movie night, make dinner together.

Make an annual time capsule with photos from the year, handwriting samples and drawings. Wrap and store it somewhere safe to be opened at the beginning of the next school year.

Do a back-to-school interview. Record items like height, weight, grade, friends and favorites: color, subject, foods and movies. Don’t forget to write down what they want to be when they grow up! Keep the interviews in a binder or notebook to enjoy reading over them each year.

The best part of heading back to school is shopping! Plan an outing together to go shopping for a new backpack and fresh school supplies. Let him pick out a specific item or two that reflects his personality, whether it’s a whale water bottle or a dinosaur-themed backpack. After shopping, be sure to stop for lunch or ice cream.

Shop for the perfect back-to-school outfit. Hold a fashion show to show off new items. Help your kids pick out the best clothes the night before and set them aside, so there’s not a last-minute scramble in the morning.

Make it a time of gratitude. While you’re back-to-school shopping, pick up extra school supplies to donate to children in need. Before shopping, donate the items your kids have outgrown.

Remember the teacher. Start off the new year in a thoughtful way by gifting the teacher with school supplies, Clorox wipes or hand sanitizer.

Set up a scavenger hunt for school supplies. Hide items indoors and outdoors, and you can create a treasure map or clues for where to look.

Create a coupon book of rewards — takeout pizza for dinner, a trip for ice cream, movie night — to be redeemed after a good grade or other accomplishment at school.

Hold a game night. Board games are a great way to bond while brushing up on skills. Build crossword grids with Bananagrams, strategize to build a tower without crashing it with Jenga, or learn about fun spots around the U.S. with USPS Great American Mail Race.

Get creative together. Order a Donut Decorating Kit from Da Vinci’s Donuts and stage a decorating contest, head to an art class or make your own back-to-school craft. One cute idea from I Heart Arts ‘n Crafts is creating a handprint apple and a footprint bus for a sweet keepsake; find instructions at Make your own backpack charms with Mod Podge Rocks; find full instructions at If your tween will have a locker for the first time this year, create your own décor. Search online for DIY magnets, mirrors and storage boxes to upgrade school lockers.

Give a customized present. Order personalized pencils with her name, or label her new water bottle with her name and some fun stickers.

Cool off with a sundae bar. This sweet treat is the perfect dessert for the season, and he’ll have the opportunity to make his dream ice cream concoction.

Create an academic bucket list. You make resolutions for the New Year, why not make one for the new school year? What does your child hope to accomplish this year?

Get ready for the school year by hosting school spirit days at home. Dress up to reflect different decades, your favorite superhero or your school colors.

Go on a picnic. Eat outdoors for a lunchbox test run at your child’s favorite park. She’ll get to show off her new find, and you’ll get to observe if she struggles with opening any items, so you can help her practice self-sufficiency before school starts.

The Day Before:

Plan a special dinner, whether it’s your kids’ favorite homemade dish or takeout from a restaurant. Dress up for the occasion and break out the decorations and balloons! Or have a bonfire in your backyard for end-of-season s’mores.

Read a story. The night before, have a themed storytime with “How to Get Your Teacher Ready,” “The Day You Begin” or the classic “If You Take a Mouse to School.” If your child loves to read, gift them a new book as a sweet surprise.

Decorate the night before school starts. Use balloons, streamers or even signs — “Fifth Grade or Bust!” or “On my way to fourth grade!” Get poppers or noisemakers, and in the morning, throw a little dance party to a lively getting ready playlist to start the day off right.

Create a surprise package of supplies: pencils and pens in different colors, silly note pads, etc. Gift wrapping makes them more fun! Fill a pencil pouch with cute little trinkets, a letter of encouragement, character erasers, hand sanitizer and other small and useful items. Leave it on his pillow as the first thing he’ll see when he wakes up.

The First Day of School:

Plan a special breakfast for the first day of school. Make your kids’ favorite foods, or craft cute smiley faces out of food items. You can even decorate the table with balloons and school colors. If you don’t have the time to make breakfast a fancy occasion, head to your kids’ favorite drive-thru for a delicious meal.

Pack a memorable lunch. There are tons of ideas online for cute lunches you can pack. Slip in an  encouraging note for a mid-day pick-me-up. Pack a candy gram for a sweet treat: “Hope your grades are red hot,” “You are mint to have a great school year,” or “I love you to pieces.”

Have a photoshoot. Search online for cute photo props and signs your child can pose with on the first day of school — we love the chalkboard-themed ones! Each year, take a photo of your child in the same spot with the signs, so you can look back at how she’s grown.

Use liquid chalk markers or acrylic paint to write back-to-school messages on windows. Buy yard signs or make them yourself. A fun idea: spell out a “good luck” message by writing individual letters on paper plates. Attach wood dowels to anchor each plate in the ground.

Leave a sweet message on the driveway with sidewalk chalk, if your kids ride the bus.

After-School Festivities:

Have a special activity planned for the end of the first day of school if you pick your child up in the car line. Take them to their favorite park to burn off first-day jitters, grab a treat, or head to the library.

Plan to bake a fun treat to celebrate the start of school. What about a “You’re a smart cookie” cookie cake?

Have a show-and-tell after-school dinner. Allow the kids to tell you everything about their first day from the new friends in their classroom to what they had for lunch. Know how to ask about their day. “How was school?” likely won’t get the conversation rolling. Instead, ask open-ended questions.

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