I honestly cannot believe Caroline will be starting 3rd grade and Thomas will be starting 1st grade in just a few weeks! While I’m not quite ready for summer to end, I am looking forward to more routine and structure back in our days. And we have lots of fun fall things to look forward to as well.
So today I wanted to round up all things back-to-school in case you’re looking for a fun new tradition, shopping for school stuff, teacher gifts and SO much more!
Back-to-School Dinner Tradition
Starting off with one of our favorite traditions — a back-to-school dinner.
Every year we celebrate the return to school with a fun family dinner. The kids absolutely love this tradition and it’s an easy way to get them excited for the school year ahead.
These dinners can be as simple or extravagant as you want. I’ve always found a few decorations, a little activity or game, and a mini CAKE always kicks up the excitement for the kids.
- DECOR: We’ve been using a pennant flag set I found in the Target dollar spot for years. But I haven’t ever seen them in that aisle again. You could totally make these yourself (or have your kids make them!), or you can print a template from Pinterest. Here are a few school pennant flags options at various price points: Etsy / Amazon / Maisonette. You can also decorate with apples, pencils, paper airplanes, balloons, flowers, the possibilities are endless…
- ACTIVITY/GAMES: We let the kids pick out a few games from the game closet to play during or after dinner, and I love having them fill out a back-to-school questionnaire (we use this one). And after dinner we mark their height on a doorframe in our kitchen!
- FOOD: We served a steak dinner the first two years since steak is an extra special/sentimental dinner for our family. However, last year I asked the kids what they wanted to eat and they said SUSHI! So I thought it would be fun to roll our own — and it was! I honestly had no clue how to roll our own sushi but after ordering a kit from Amazon and finding a few recipes on Pinterest, I felt like we could totally pull this off. Some other fun dinner ideas: Make Your Own Pizzas / Cheese & Chocolate Fondue / Shrimp Boil / Burger Bar / Nacho Bar.
- DESSERT: I love a sprinkle cake and usually just add a little school bus topper (here’s one from Amazon). If you don’t want to purchase a topper, you can print a school bus image from Pinterest and tape it to a popsicle stick for an inexpensive and easy topper. You can usually find a mini sprinkle cake in the bakery case at the grocery store, but I recommend ordering one ahead of time just in case. Some other fun dessert ideas: Build-Your-Own Ice Cream Sundae / Dunkaroo Dip / Chocolate Fondue
Next up? Shopping!! Here are a few of our favorite school items.
- Girls Lunch Box & Boys Lunch Box: Currently on sale! I ordered the cold pack version so there’s enough room for a slim ice pack! Which leads me to…
- Slim Ice Packs: Our favorite slim ice packs. Not only do they not take up a huge amount of room in a lunchbox, they also save space in the freezer!
- Bento Boxes: I think I’ve sufficiently covered these amazing bento boxes on my blog, but if you’ve missed it — these $10 Walmart bento boxes check all the boxes! They come with multiple removable and stackable compartments, lock into place, and are dishwasher safe! Find some of our favorite lunchbox foods in my Snack Boxes Post!
- Squeeze Water Bottles: My kids are obsessed with these squeeze bottles right now.
- Split Food Container: A smaller size food container than the bento box. These are perfect if you want to include another larger item in the lunchbox like a lunchable. This version has two food compartments and is perfect for snacks!
- Label Maker: We LOVE this little machine for labeling all the kids things.
- ABC Pajamas + ABC Pajamas: Two fun back-to-school pajama options!
- Girls New Balance (Caroline picked out the same shoe, new color) + Boys New Balance Sneakers (these BOA sneakers are absolutely Thomas’s favorite. He has them in green and they look super sharp. The alternative closure is pretty cool and locks in a custom fit using the turn dial.)
- This OK To Wake Clock is perfect for younger kids who love a nightlight (6 color options), sleep sound machine, nap timer and a ready-to-rise signal. And I love this Sunrise Alarm Clock for the heavier sleepers who prefer a gradual sunrise simulation. This clock also includes a sleep aid (7 natural sounds), digital alarm clock, snooze button and FM radio.
- Felt Letter Board: Couldn’t make this list and not include the first day of school letter board!
- Rainbow Dress + Apples Dress: A few cute first day of school dresses for the girls!
- Polo Shirts + Chino Shorts: Our favorite outfit set for Thomas — inexpensive, durable and love the fit.
- Girls Backpack + Boys Backpack: Tip — check the Teen section for a slightly larger backpack option and more prints option!
First Day of School Dresses
I love a good back to school dress and wanted to share some of my faves! All of these are from Amazon and are affordable so you won’t cry when your little lady comes home covered in dirt and paint!
We usually send in Starbucks gift cards on the first day of school, but I’ve got an entire post dedicated to Teacher Gifts if you’re looking for a small present to bring your new teacher.
And if you want to personalize your treats for your teachers throughout the school year, I would check with the room parent(s) to see if they have asked your teacher to complete a favorite things survey. If not, I created this Favorite Things Survey (back when I served as a Room Mom) that you can send in with kid(s) at the beginning of each school year for their teachers to complete and return to you. To download it, right-click and hit save image as.
Teacher Wish Lists Reminder
And speaking of teacher gifts, if you’re feeling generous and would like to support a Title 1 or first-year teacher, we’ve got hundreds of submissions on this Teacher Wish List post! I know the needs these teachers are facing can be overwhelming and heartbreaking with items ranging from basic needs like underwear and laundry detergent to snacks, school supplies, holiday party items and so much more. No donation is too small and I know they are super grateful for any support!
The After-School Restraint Collapse
This post is already super long, but I wanted to share about the “after-school restraint collapse” again for mamas with Kindergartners (or kids starting daycare or ANY new grade) in case any of you experience this with your kid(s) and are wondering what in the heck is happening.
A few months after starting Kindergarten, Caroline began coming home highly emotional and would easily explode into tears over little things like putting on a jacket, doing her homework (which she loves), learning what’s for dinner, taking a bath, etc. This behavior was so uncharacteristic for her and Matt and I were desperate to figure out what our sweet girl was going through. No matter how much sleep she got she would arrive home absolutely exhausted and would crumble on a dime into a million pieces for absolutely no reason.
Finally, we had a breakthrough when another mama shared the “after-school restrain collapse” with me.
So you know how when your kids go to daycare or to a friend’s house for a play date and the mom or teacher raves about how great they are? Our kids hold it together all day trying to meet expectations, manage challenges and be “good.” Then they run out of energy and release all their true emotions when they get to a safe place (ex: home!).
For kids, they may become weepy, throw tantrums, be unreasonable, disrespectful or mean to their siblings. And in my research I learned that the after-school restraint collapse is even more intense for sensitive kids (ahem, Caroline). The good news is that it’s temporary and should subside as your babe fully adjusts to the change in environment and schedule.
So what are you supposed to do to get through those first few months?
The best advice I found on this is to find a decompression strategy that works for your kid, make room for their tantrum and validate their emotions.
For Caroline, during the summer months we would take family bike rides together after school. And once it got cold, she really loved taking a long bath with “special bubbles” while watching a show on my iPad. And when she fell to pieces we would give her a big hug and tell her “We got you, baby girl! You had a long day! It’s OK to let out that exhaustion and relax for a bit!”
And after a few months, she was emotionally collapsing less and less.
I hope this helps you mamas with kids heading to the next grade, a new school or a new routine.
Wishing you the best school year ahead!
It’s difficult to believe school is here again. This is a great post! We used your Favorite Things Survey for our secret pal exchange last year and it helped us get to know and shop really well for our secret pals!
As always, thank you so much for passing along your fun ideas to your fellow mamas! I am “stealing” your back to school dinner. Our boy is starting Kindergarten, so this will be a fun tradition for us to start.
Shayna Yancey says
Love all of this but, the after school collapse is real & so glad to know we’re not alone. Great ideas for decompressing in the evening. Yay for another school year!!
Lina Rolls says
Thank you for the article. It’s great to have such traditions in the family, and I’m sure your child will remember those memorable first days at school. My mother also always prepared some surprises for me, so unlike other children, the beginning of my studies was not something bad for me. I remember this fondly and love to read about such stories on https://phdessay.com/a-memorable-day-in-my-life-essay/ to bring back those carefree days a little. And the idea of wish lists made me excited. I will repeat this with my son next year.
Very useful blog! Thanks a lot!
Like this article! It’s very useful info for me.