For years now, our family’s annual August ritual has started with shopping: hitting the myriad of Back to School Specials, which are everywhere from Walmart to Walgreens. My kids are brutal to their backpacks, so our pilgrimage always involves picking out a new backpack and a new lunch box, too. The sales make August a convenient time to shop for new clothes, and it’s definitely time to trade in the sandals for a new pair of shoes.
Because the start of school is a life transition that can be stressful for children and youth—who will be in new classrooms with new teachers, new peers, and sometimes even in a new building—parents can offer rituals to boost self-confidence and mark the time as something more than a time to acquire more clothes, shoes, and various school supplies.
Some Unitarian Universalist families will share a special family meal the night before school resumes, perhaps even lighting a chalice or a candle to mark this special evening. One mother, who lives in South Carolina, leads her family in a special blessing or prayer as part of the meal. Then she gives each of her children a copy of the prayer folded into a tiny square and taped closed to carry in their pocket as they head off to school on the first day. Another parent from Massachusetts passes out smooth stones at their celebratory dinner—stones that were collected as part of their summer trip to the beach—and encourages her children to take them to school along with their school supplies.
While so far I’ve stayed away from prayers in pockets or stones, I always fix a special breakfast the morning of the first day of school and leave a special treat in my children’s lunchboxes, along with a note reminding them of my support, affection, and confidence that they will have a great day and a great year to come.
And because we are a middle-class family in relatively good financial circumstances, as part of our annual shopping spree, I also make a point to purchase an extra backpack and pack it with school supplies to donate to the Back-To-School program in our area, which helps kids who are in need. This helps my children see that at important times during the year we need to be compassionate and mindful of others. Since we function from abundance and can afford new clothes and markers, rulers, and scissors, we have an obligation to help out others who do not.
What are some of the back-to-school rituals your family engages in? How do you support your children and youth as they make this annual shift from summer routines to school routines? If you are a home-schooling family, do you have special rituals to mark a similar transition?