Pencils and backpacks are filling store shelves, supply lists are being crossed off and military kids are braving new schools. Back to school traditions help us to get these new beginnings off to a positive start, as long as we choose traditions that flex with the changes of military life.
When I found myself facing down my son’s first first day of school, I knew that I wanted to start some back to school traditions that would carry us through the years. My own childhood was punctuated by sweet and silly ways that marked the major milestones of the year. Dinner at a favorite restaurant for our birthdays, Easter eggs hidden in the same bushes each year, and marking our height on the pantry door on the first day of school. My son has already lived in four houses in three states in his seven years, so his traditions need to be military-proof and location independent
Like so many things that make me wonder if I’m really cut out for parenting, I turned to Pinterest for inspiration.
5 Back-to-School Traditions That Travel
Portable growth charts. I couldn’t recreate the pantry door from my childhood home since we rent and move frequently, but that doesn’t rule out annual measurements to mark the start of a new academic year. There are both handcrafted businesses and DIY instructions for a variety of rulers, wood planks and wall hangings that serve the same purpose with the added bonus of being able to pack it up in your household goods when you PCS.
Get their thoughts. The beginning of the school year is the perfect time to to get a quick glimpse of your child’s view of the world, which doesn’t depend on them being in the same place from year to year. Actually, the variety that military life brings can make their answers more interesting and well-rounded! You can find inspiration for interview questions on any number of blogs, buy an adorable questionnaire (or a more teenage-friendly one) from a specialty shop or make your own customized to your family.
Some questions to ask:
- What’s their favorite food?
- What’s their favorite television show?
- What’s the last movie they saw?
- Who is their best friend?
- What do they like to do after school?
- What do they want to be when they grow up?
- What are they most nervous about?
- What are they most excited about?
At the end of the year, you can ask your kids the same questions and see how much they have changed over the course of the school year.
Share a meal. t doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, but either breakfast or dinner on the first day of school is the perfect opportunity for a sit down, take-your-time kind of meal. Even if your family doesn’t normally sit down at the table, make an exception to mark the transition into the new school year. Our kids face so many challenges in a few days—making new friends, finding their way around a new school, needing to belong—a shared meal is a wonderful to ground the day with family time. I let my son choose the meal and it has changed from year to year, but it is always an opportunity for him to sit down and tell me what’s on his mind.
Send a note. Whether it’s in their lunch, a jacket pocket or in their backpack, a short note reminding your child that you’re thinking about them and wishing them a good day can give them an extra boost of confidence when they need it most.
Write a letter. This tradition is more for you than your child (but let’s be honest: most traditions are!). One of my college friends kept a binder on her dresser that held 14 letters from her parents. They had written her one on the first day of each school year and given it to her the day she moved into her college dorm. We laughed at the references to long-forgotten adolescent struggles, but more than once during those challenging college years of almost-adulthood, I saw her hold or open that notebook. Seeing how much it meant to her prompted me to start one for my son on his first day of kindergarten and it to this day it lives with the important documents that don’t travel with the movers.
Childhood traditions are a way of offering our families a degree of continuity in a life of tremendous changes. They may head to any number of different schools from different homes in places across the world, but we can give them a sense of familiarity with traditions that travel across state lines and oceans.