Ask Maxwell: Great Ideas for Back-to-School Rituals?

published Jul 28, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Diverse First Grade Classroom
Credit: Getty/ Bettmann
First grade classroom, St Louis, MO - 1967

My son is starting school this year — hurrah! He’s a little nervous, so I’m hopeful you have some suggestions on fun back-to-school rituals to get him excited again?


Dear Andrea,

Nervousness around big changes like this is totally natural and it also means that your son has a healthy regard for what is about to happen. Assuming that he’s not battling learning disabilities (as my daughter was), which can sneak up and really make school daunting, or that class is full of little bullies, which I have no solution for, let’s just step back and see what we can do for a child that’s nervous about a big new exciting challenge.

First of all, starting school — particularly first grade at 7 years of age — is a big growth moment and the sign that he or she is “growing up,” which we all want to be doing (until we reach about 40 and suddenly want time to start reversing). So the thing to do is to emphasize the excitement and promise of growing up, which also means not being a “baby” anymore. I don’t know any kid who wants to be a baby again, bless their souls.

Growing up comes with some exciting features too. For example, you get to have more choice in your more grown up clothing and shoes. You get to have a cooler back pack and lunch box. You even get a cooler snack and lunch made for you in the morning to take to school. Just having a discussion with your child about these things, and inviting them to have a bigger part of the decision-making process is going to be exciting. Babies don’t get to do this.

I remember when my mother took me shopping for back to school clothing in August. Even though I went to a school that required a tie and jacket — which I really didn’t care for in August — I was always excited about a new set of clothes that would be older, cooler and more mature than the previous year. Clothing is very important when you’re a kid.

Growing up is also about gaining more freedom and more responsibility. Think about what new freedoms your son will be gaining as he heads into school in September. Think about what new responsibilities he might have as well. This is a very ripe area of conversation, which I always find is nice to talk about at bedtime before you turn out the light. It’s nice to start with a memory of your own — your first day of school — and share that before you ask him what he might be looking forward to and worried about. It’s not your job to solve all his worry problems, but it certainly is your job to listen to them and give him plenty of time to get them out onto the table. That, in itself, is very reassuring for a young child.

Particularly if your son is of the more melancholic type — a worrier —sharing your own worries when you were a kid or things that went wrong will make him feel a lot better. Melancholic children always think they’re the ONLY ones who have the problems they have, so when they find out that others have them too, they feel far better. It’s the feeling of isolation that makes them worry most.

Finally, if your son is going into first grade remember that the first seven years are all about body growth and mastering things like crawling, walking, running, balancing, and climbing. Everything that’s truly learned during those early years are learned through “doing” and “making” and experiencing it with their senses. The threshold into first grade is the beginning of the second seven year cycle which comes with the awakening of the feeling life and the experience of important relationships with friends and teachers who will also become role models. Which is all to say this will be the age of FEELINGS! Which is a good thing and right on time.

Children change so much when they are young. There can be eons in a child’s life between kindergarten in May and first grade in September, so expect your child to change over the summer too. And then when they walk into that first grade classroom and experience their teacher for the first time, AND sit behind desks with their own name on it, and then come home, I bet they will say that it was awesome.

Best, M

Top 10 Most Popular Questions & Answers This Week
(I keep changing this each week based on your clicks)

Maxwell Ryan is a father and was an elementary school teacher in NYC before founding Apartment Therapy. He’d love to answer your question: This piece was created for Cubby, our weekly newsletter for families at home. Want more? Sign up here for a weekly splash of fun and good ideas for families with kids.

Cubby. Real solutions for unreal times.

Join us for a weekly dose of fresh, modern ideas for life at home with your kids.