Family traditions give our kids a little lifejacket in the often unsteady waters of childhood. As we approach the beginning of a new school year, it’s a great time to think of ways to honor our child’s big step in starting a new grade and offer a nod to the enormous blessings and graces of education – of books, numbers, maps, bugs, play dough, or whatever else may occupy our minds this year.
As some of you know, my family homeschools. The very first year we homeschooled, my oldest child, Aidan, was entering kindergarten. Our family was embarking on a life-changing adventure and Aidan was very proud that he was officially starting school. So, in recognition of the momentous occasion, our first day of school began not with practicing writing the letter “A” or learning about birds; it started with a celebration. We had balloons, games, and a pretty tablecloth, and we baked a cake together. Then we cracked open our perfect, crisp, new books, imagined together what the year would bring us, and talked about our hopes and fears.
That first day of our first year of homeschooling was many years ago. This year Aidan is a high school senior, and I have three more “students” in the 8th, 4th, and 1st grades. I’ve added a few things to our annual back-to-school celebration, but to this day we still bake a cake, play games, look at our books, and we preview and talk about our year.
As I look back on those celebrations, I can see clearly that we weren’t just making a party, which bored and wayward frat boys do regularly. We also weren’t engaging in mere routine, like brushing our teeth or putting our shoes in the closet, as important as those habits are for my kids to learn. Our annual back-to-school tradition grounds my children, gives them a sense of shared history and identity, and perhaps alleviates some of their anxiety about facing new challenges in the coming year. Because we give it “A Moment,” my kids know that the start of the school year is no ordinary day and that no matter what the year brings, we are in it together.
Whether your kids attend traditional school or home school, starting some kind of back-to-school tradition is a great way to signal the transition from summer days to school time. Your tradition won’t look like mine. Perhaps your family will enjoy dinner out at a favorite restaurant, make a trip to a bowling alley, or stargaze on the evening before school starts. Your traditions should reflect your family’s unique identity and interests.
If baking cakes and having parties aren’t your thing, here’s a super easy idea that might work for you, and your kids will love it. This year I’m planning to surprise my kids on our first day of school with a traditional German “Schultute” – a school cone filled with school supplies, treats, and trinkets. This is a tradition dating back to the 1800s, and it continues to this day in Germany and Austria.
As Lydia is entering the first grade, this is an especially significant school year because, traditionally, only children entering first grade received a Schultute in Germany, though nowadays siblings are included, too. I’m glad I didn’t miss Lydia’s first grade Schultute and I plan to make her feel extra special on Monday morning when our new school year begins and she officially becomes a first grader. But I will definitely make cones for her siblings, too, including the high school senior! I’m sure these fun cones will become part of our annual ritual.
Barbara at Praying for Grace has a super easy tutorial for making a Schultute out of poster board and tissue paper.
You can also just let your kids decorate the poster board like Becky did here. As we are Catholic, along with the school supplies and sweets, I’ll fill our Schultute with patron saint cards, some religious stickers for the younger kids, and a prayer book for the two older kids. You could also follow Becky’s example and make the Schultute for your child’s teacher as an act of love. Your child can practice the virtues on her very first day of school!
Whatever we choose to do to honor the Big Day, as a family we can pray for our students as they rise to a new grade and for their teachers (even if that means mom and dad). In this spirit, this weekend I will make a printable of this prayer for the beginning of the school year and I will tuck it into the Schultute:
Prayer to Begin the School Year
Blessed are you Lord God, Creator of body and mind and heart; you have sent the Spirit of wisdom and knowledge to guide your people in all their ways.
At the beginning of this new school year, we implore your mercy: bless the students, teachers and staff of [NAME OF SCHOOL], that together we may grow in faith, hope, and love as we learn from you and each other how to follow your Son Jesus.
Expand the horizons of our minds, that we grow in wisdom, understanding, and knowledge; deepen our commitment to see the truth of your ways; and enliven our faith to reach out to those in need.
Glory and praise to you, Lord God, in the Church in in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.