First Day of School: Why You’re Doing It Wrong And What You Need to Do Instead
Summer ends and school begins. Soon all the photos of scrubbed children with shiny new backpacks and fresh clothes will fill up the Facebook and Instagram feeds. Who can’t resist making their kids pose at the front door on the way to the bus or car-line, laden with school supplies and new haircuts? But as the unsuspecting parents snap away at their posed kids, before shipping them off to new teachers, new classmates, don’t realize- they’re doing it all wrong. And I learned this the hard way.
A Hard Lesson Learned
I used to take those first day shots- clear the cobwebs from the door frame for a perfect toothy smile. And it was great for the first couple of years, until I sent our daughter to Kindergarten. She started out like our son, striking a sweet pose while clutching her stuffed toy dog by her face. Then on with the backpack, just like her older brother- and off to school she went.
The school takes class photos at the beginning of each school year for the yearbooks and parents- and my daughter’s Kindergarten photos were taken that first fateful week of school. When I saw them a couple of weeks later, I was horrified.
My heart tore in two- our little five-year old looked absolutely terrified in her school photo. New school. New classmates. New teachers and rules. Although she was her usual self at home, at school she was frightened and uncertain. I kicked myself for not seeing this earlier- and vowed to take matters into my own hands.
The Smell of Adventure
A speech made by Tinkerbell (played by Julia Roberts) in the 1991 movie Hook niggled at the back of my mind. She told the older, grown-up Peter Pan ( played by Robin Williams) that although he was an adult and looked very different, she had recognized him because of his smell- it was the smell of adventure.
‘The smell of someone who has ridden the back of the wind. The smell of a hundred fun summers and sleeping in trees…” -Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell in Hook (1991)
With Tink’s words in mind, I vowed to cease those first day of school traditions- instead we would celebrate the last days of summer. I was determined to send my kids to school armed not with shiny backpacks and new haircuts, but radiating with the ‘smell of adventure’ like Peter Pan – that didn’t mean lack of bathing and deodorant, but it meant sending them back to school glowing with confidence from doing amazing feats. Breaking out of their comfort zones in a fun and loving way.
Breaking Your Kids Out of Their Comfort Zones
In the article, “Fear of the Unknown and How the Mind Works,” psychotherapist Angela Percival writes that the brain is constantly at work, gathering information, comparing and contrasting- whether you realize it or not. When you face a new situation (like a first day of school), your brain will run it through your mind to determine if this is a situation worthy of being scared- or not.
If you have recently faced and conquered a new challenge that pushed you outside of your comfort zone- like zip-lined over a canyon, successfully balanced across a slackline or swung over a river on a rope swing to dive into the water, your brain will compare what you are experiencing now (ie first day of school) to these things and say, ‘yeah, this is different, but not so scary’- you’ve done far more frightening things. Your bar has raised. You’ve got this. And now you have the confidence (and courage) to tackle this unknown.
Celebrating the Last Day of Summer
From then on, I was a determined mom. And right before school began, I would bundle the kids up and off we would go in search of great adventure. One year we took a one-day trip to North Georgia for tubing down waterfalls. Another year we headed on an impromptu trip to New Orleans. Not all last days of summer adventures were trips- in fact many were closer to home. We’ve zip-lined across canyons and snorkeled over freshwater springs. We’ve explored, adventured and left ourselves breathless. Breathless over accomplishing feats and breathless at the amazing world around us.
Our last day of summer pics are filled with shiny eyes and genuine smiles. The days are filled with laughter and happy memories. And on those first days of school, I would watch them head off into the new school year, an extra upbeat confidence in their step. The smell of summer adventures still fresh, linger in the air around them.
Ways You Can Celebrate The Last Day of Summer with Your Kids
Your kids will not remember every hour of every day, but they will remember moments. Make the last day of summer memorable by planning ahead. Forgo the urge to buy school supplies /school clothes/ get a new hair cut. Do that prior to the last day. Getting your child out and active is a top priority on the last day (a bonus is they will sleep better too).
You need not plan a long day either, as that could mess with their bed times- which are important if they are young. Last Day of Summer adventures can be big treats- like a local zip line adventure or aerial obstacle course challenge, or they can be simpler like:
- Picnic at the park (yes, it can really be that simple). Invite their friends. Play on a playground. Swing on the monkey bars. Play tag. Playgrounds are much cooler than they used to be.
- Explore a new place. Be it a park, spring, river or beach.
- Jump in the water without changing into a swim suit. Believe it or not- this isn’t as crazy as it sounds- but your kids will think you’ve flipped when you jump in a river/beach fully clothed, and tell them they can do the same (be sure to take out your phones/wallets from your pockets first and kick off your shoes). And they will be telling stories about it for years after the fact. Bring towels for the car ride home 😉
- Set up a slackline in your yard – it’s like a tightrope, but flat and wider. Have a balancing contest.
- Go kayaking
- Race go-carts.
- Go rock-climbing (outside or indoors)
So stop focusing on that First Day of School and give your kids a boost of self-confidence by celebrating the Last Day of Summer instead.
Our kids are teens now- the elementary school days long past, but we continue the last day of summer as a tradition. I confess, I never told them the last days of summer were plotted just for them. And to be honest, I’m not sure I ever will 😊
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- 21 Things You Should Do With Your Kids This Year