First Day of School Activities and Traditions for Families

Excitement, and nerves, build for the first day of school. Photo by Joe Shlabotnik
Excitement, and nerves, build for the first day of school. Photo by Joe Shlabotnik
8/2/22 - By Gina Massaro

Summer is winding down and the stores are replacing their outdoor displays with pencils, backpacks, and binders. The first day of school is just around the corner, and there is still so much to do: unique and must-have school supplies to be bought, back-to-school clothing to be tried on, and nerves to be soothed.

To make your family's transition into the new school year a whole lot easier, we've rounded up a list of first day of school activities and traditions. We've got you covered on what to buy, what books to read, where to get those cute first day of school photo boards, and more. For more great ideas for kids heading back to school, visit our Back-to-School Guide.


First Day of School Traditions: Before School Starts

A fun alarm clock like this Mella version softens the blow of waking up. Photo courtesy of Little Hippo

1. Get a Cool Alarm Clock

In the age of iPhones and Android, it's easy to forget that most kids don't have a built-in smartphone alarm to rely on. A new and fun alarm clock can help make waking up easier. Try one of these great kids' alarm clocks to make mornings easier.

2. Pick Out the Perfect First Day of School Outfit

First impressions are important, and many kids want to at least have input—if not complete deciding power—when it comes to their first day clothes. Check out the sales and coupons and go shopping for back-to-school clothes and shoes. Lay out the outfit the night before so there's one less thing to worry about on the big morning.

RELATED: 100 School Lunch Ideas for Kids: Back-to-School Lunches Kids Will Actually Eat

They'll love hauling their school supplies in a new backpack. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala

3. Buy a New Backpack

Backpacks don't just carry books and school supplies—they're also an extension of kids' personalities. That's why it's important for children to pick out their own backpack (with guidance). Here are our favorite backpacks for back-to-school. Don't forget to label everything, especially for younger kids.

4. Shop for Snack and Lunch Essentials

Bring your child to the supermarket to pick out what snacks and lunches they'd like for school. Of course, your kiddo will also need something to carry them in. From bento boxes to simpler containers, check out our list of great lunch boxes for kids.

5. Have A Last-Minute Summer Adventure

This is one of those back-to-school traditions the whole family can enjoy. Live out the end of summer as best you can by having a last-minute family adventure. Throw a pool party, go on a hike, go camping in the backyard, or take a last-minute family vacation. Savor those final moments of freedom before the school year begins!

Document the first day with a sweet photo. Photo courtesy of Sanders Memorial Elementary, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

First Day of School Activities

6. Read The Kissing Hand and Do Related Crafts

Reading this book before the first day of school is perfect for preschoolers and kindergartners, especially since there are plenty of crafts to go along with it. Children can paint their hand, press it onto a piece of paper, and glue a heart to it to create their own kissing hand. Making the raccoon from the book is another fun option.

7. Make Matching Bracelets

This is perfect for children who are uneasy about leaving their parents and families. Using pony beads, Perler beads, or any other kid-friendly beads, make a bracelet for your child and have them make one for you. Whenever they are feeling sad or missing you, tell them to touch their bracelet. For little kids, tell them you can feel them touching their bracelet when they miss you, and that you do the same when you miss them.

8. Make A Gift Basket for the Teacher

A new school year means a new teacher, and a sweet gesture is to make a small gift basket of supplies for the class. Baby wipes, hand sanitizer, Sharpie markers, Post-it-notes, pencils, and pens are all great supplies to include. Place them in a mug, Mason jar, gift bag, or basket. Many teachers use their own money to get extra supplies for their classroom, so a little help goes a long way.

9. Get the Perfect First Day of School Photo

Now that the lunches, backpacks, and outfits are all in place, there is one thing left to do—take a picture! Leave extra time in the morning to snap a memorable first day of school photo. This is a tradition most families partake in, and it's one you will always look back at and treasure. To help make the photo even more memorable have your child pose with a first day of school board (see next section).

10. Have Kids Write Themselves a Letter

If they can't yet write, they can dictate the letter to you. Have them say what they're looking forward to in the coming year, what they wish to accomplish, and any dreams they have (academic or otherwise). It's fun to look back at the letter on the last day of school, which will be here faster than you know it!

This photo is an instant framer! Photo courtesy of Oriental Trading Company

First Day of School Boards to Take Pictures With

11. Custom First Day Photo Prop on Etsy

If you're not into arts and crafts—or you just don't have time for them—there are plenty of custom options for signs, frames, and other photo props on Etsy. You're sure to find one that suits your child.

12. First and Last Day of School Reversible Chalkboard by Mondo Llama

Fill out all the details on this chalkboard sign yourself, or have your child do it. Chalkboard markers are vibrant and work well, but chalk will also do the trick.

13. First Day of School Instaframe by Oriental Trading

This sign is simple and sweet. While your child poses in the middle of the frame, all you have to do is capture the smile and snap. This sign also comes with metal stakes to put into the ground, meaning your kiddo won't have to awkwardly hold it.

14. AirLoonz Selfie School Bus Foil Balloon by Party City

This inflatable balloon is a fun alternative to the cardboard signs. If they don't have one at a Party City near you, you can always order it online and have it inflated in-store.

15. First Day of School Photo Booth Props from Amazon.

Lots of different props offer silly and memorable photo opportunities that you can change each year. Plus, they are less cumbersome and more natural for younger children to hold.

RELATED: 100 Kids' Books Every Child Should Read Before They Grow Up

The Best Seat in Second Grade by Katharine Kenah, with illustrations by Abby Carter

Great Books to Read Before the First Day of School

16. We Don't Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

Pay attention to the illustrations in this one. They add to the humor of the story and often contradict what the main character is saying. It's a fun read about forming friendships that makes light of school worries.

17. The Best Seat in Second Grade by Katharine Kenah

This is a fun tale about being patient—or impatient—and the havoc that ensues thereafter. Sam doesn't want to wait any longer to be the caretaker for the class pet, a hamster named George Washington. So he takes him on the school field trip, and George escapes. Chaos follows suit. This is an early reader, so some children may be able to read it themselves.

18. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume

Judy Blume books are a must-read for elementary students, and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing is often on teachers' lists. It's s fun classic for children to read and provides a story they can relate to.

19. President of the Whole Fifth Grade by Sherri Winston

Determined to follow in her hero's footsteps, Brianna decides she must become class president of the fifth grade. This is a great book to introduce politics to children, both electoral and the politics of school society.

20. Schooled by Gordon Korman

This young adult novel tells the story of a boy who must adjust from living on a hippie commune to going to public school. Older kids can relate to the struggles of trying to fit in, and this book helps children celebrate what makes them stand out.

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Main photo by Joe Shlabotnik  via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)