As this new school year is starting up, sports, homework, projects, and then the holidays will all be here too. Things get busy during the school year, but we can still make our time with our children meaningful with just a few simple habits. Continue reading to find out how to make (and keep) back-to-school memorable!
When I was growing up, my Aunt Regina was often with us when I visited my dad. She became like a second mother to me, so naturally I acquired many of her qualities. Two things that she just radiated were consideration and thoughtfulness. She knew how to make us kids feel special. She took great care in everything she did for us. When she was spending the weekend with us, she would painstakingly cut the skins from kiwis and other fruits and cut them up to go with our meal, as we ran past, snatched them up and ate them almost as fast as she was cutting them. As a mother now, I realize how frustrating that can be, yet I never remember seeing frustration in her face. She read books to us and dance with us to George Strait. She played dress up with us and let us “style” her hair. She talked with us, listened to us and giggled with us. Every holiday she had a little gift sack with very purposeful gifts picked out just for each of us. I looked forward to these with great anticipation! And as I grew older I longed to do this with my children. Every birthday there was a card and a gift that you could tell she put thought into. I share a birthday with Eleanor Roosevelt, so I would sometimes receive books about Eleanor or bookmarks with quotes from her. If we had an itch, the next day some itch cream would be in the bathroom. She just paid attention to us and we knew she cared. She’s a huge part of the reason I decided to be a stay at home mom. I wanted to lavish that kind of love on my family.
It’s these little things that build huge memories for your children. I can vouch for that! We started going to the beach about once a year when our children were little and stopped in a tourist shop for fun and to look around. We let them get a little souvenir to take back home. And guess what? Every year since then they have a ton of anticipation and excitement for our beach trip and souvenir shop stop! Once every couple weeks I will make a meal with all of my middle child’s favorites. She is probably my pickiest eater, but there are a few things she really likes and asks for, like kale chips and roasted cabbage steaks. So seeing as she puts up with the other meals I make that she doesn’t really care for, I try to do this to make sure she knows I notice her, pay attention, and love her. There are some easy ways you can do this throughout the school year to help show your children that you see them (like God sees us; ie Haggai in the desert.), that you pay attention to them, and that you love them. And these don’t really require much extra time or energy on your part once you’ve made them a habit. Here they are!
5 Ways to Make Back to School Memorable:
1. Personalize their Backpack and Lunchbag
There’s just something about having your things personalized or monogrammed that makes you feel a little different. Maybe you’ve never thought of it like this before, but when you have your things personalized, everyone knows that it’s yours. Including you! I think we tend to take better care of things that we take ownership of. Have you ever seen a child with a toy that is theirs? A child at a very young age shows that even they know this, when they say, “Mine.” And there’s something about having your name or monogram on your stuff that just makes it yours. And naturally, you tend to take better care of them and I think feel a little special too. A child sees that you took the extra time to have it made unique just for them.
I personally LOVE Initial Outfitters’ Backpacks and Lunchbags. The company had a desire to help children in need. So they committed to giving 100% of the profits from these bags to ministries that feed undernourished children around the world and here in the United States. So I had to put a little plug in here for these personalized Backpacks and Lunchbags! Why not make your purchases purposefully and help those in need?
2. Personalize their Lunches
I have debated this in my home for some years. When I gave my children freedom to choose what they want for lunch for a long period of time, they began to expect to be able to choose all the time. A sense of entitlement emerged. So then I thought, maybe it’d be better to not give them a choice and just have a set lunch schedule, kind of like I had at school. But I already knew that one kid didn’t like this and one kid didn’t like that and so on. So, I’ve landed somewhere in the middle. I try to decide what they will have for lunch each day, but I personalize it to their tastes. So each day I’ll say something like, “What would you like for lunch: Leftover _______, a Ham and Lettuce Sandwich, or a Corn Dog?” And then I just decide what fruit and veggies they will have with that, but I try to keep in mind their preferences. My oldest daughter doesn’t like purple grapes, but she likes green grapes. She also doesn’t like “Day-old” bananas. Now I know some of you are saying, “How can I possibly remember all their likes and dislikes? Isn’t that spoiling them?” Well…like I said, I give them some choices, and then other decisions I just make for them. I see this as cutting down on waste. If I try to give my daughter a “squishy” banana or purple grapes, she’s not going to eat them and then I either have to throw them out, eat them myself, or waste time putting them away. And then she has no fruit for the meal and she’s missing out on nutrients. That’s how I see it. So to me, it saves time and frustration to just be a little more attentive to their preferences and personalize their lunches in this way.
3. Create a Special Space for them
Not only will this save your sanity, but it will also help your child feel more validated. They will take more ownership of “their desk” than they will of the dining room table. My younger daughter LOVES to do crafts and does them sometimes at the dining table still while we’re schooling. But she was always wanting to leave her mess on the table, because she wasn’t done with the craft. She often wished for her own space where she could do her crafts and leave them until she was done, then clean up all the supplies so she only had to clean them up once. She got creative and used a side table in the corner of their bedroom to make an “office.” Now she has her own space that she takes responsibility for. She knows no one else is going to clean it up for her. She also knows her activities are safe there.
Maybe your child is struggling in math or reading. Think about creating a special space for them to do their reading or math work after school.
4. Write them Notes
This is one I need to work on more. I recently gave this suggestion to my mom and it dawned on me, that I could be a little better at it myself. She was wanting to get rid of some little mailboxes she had at her house for my children, which would have been fine. But I just made the suggestion that she could write a little note to them whenever she thought of them and stick it in there. Then they could check their mailboxes when they came over. It dawned on me that I could write them some special notes too. Don’t feel like a failure if you miss a day or a week. I’m setting a goal of writing one a week to start with. Then I’ll work my way up to one or more a day. I’ve seen variations of this on Pinterest over the years. Some people write them as they are making their child’s lunch and put them in their lunch box. Some write it in a notebook and leave it in their bedroom for when they get home. You can figure out what works best for your family. No matter what method you choose, the purpose is what counts. You’re letting your child know you are thinking of them throughout the day, and you’re telling them something positive or giving them some praise that they desperately need to hear. This article from SheKnows states, “According to a research study at the University of Iowa, the average 2-year-old child hears 432 negative statements per day but only 32 positive statements each day.” Only 32 positive statements a day!! Who knows, but these little notes may be just what they need!
5. Eat Dinner Together and Talk
This one may seem obvious. But think over how many nights a week you actually sit down and talk with your family over dinner. During the school year, we are out of the house at least 3-4 nights a week. Between soccer, violin, networking events, and church we wind up with only a few days each week where we are all sitting down to dinner together, talking. Here are a few things we’ve done throughout the years to help find time together and make our time together personal:
- Go to events together if possible. I know, I know…It’s easier for one parent to take junior to their practice and the other parent take the other children home. Sometimes that might be the best thing to do too. But when you can, when it’s feasible, load up everyone to go to that one child’s practice. You’ll be together, you’ll be supporting that one child, and you have 30 minutes to an hour of just sitting there to talk with your other children or play a game with them, or help them with their homework. Plus you’ll have the time in the car to sing songs, talk, and laugh with your family on the way there and back.
- Limit the number of activities you say yes to. This is a hard one for our culture. If you live near a town, there’s a lot of things to do. FOMO is real. We struggle to say no to good things because we fear missing out on them. There’s a lot of great things to do out there these days. But if we are prioritizing and our children and family are high on that list, then we have to say no to some things. We, personally, typically only let our child participate in one physical activity, like soccer or basketball, at a time. And one extracurricular activity at a time, like music lessons or art lessons. Keep in mind that when they’re young they’re figuring out what they like. Let them try one thing this season, something else next season. Then as they get older, they’ll begin to figure out what they like and what they want to pursue further. They don’t need to do everything. This is something I struggled with growing up. I was determined to get scholarships to pay for college and I felt like I had to do EVERYTHING so my “resume” would look amazing. But now as a parent, I see the efficiency and wisdom in just honing in on their skills and talents. Help them find what they are good at and help develop those skills and talents. They can be an average Joe, Jack-of-all-trades. Or they can develop an expertise at a few things, and strengthen those talents, getting really good at them. The same for us adults. If your evenings are full of networking events, girls’ nights out, small group meetings, etc… you may need to pray about what needs to go. You only have your children under your wing for discipleship for so long. They will be out of the house before you know it and you will have plenty of time for more of those other good things then. I’m not saying to cut them all out. We need girls’ nights and we grow our businesses by networking, and small groups are wonderful. But if they’re keeping you from having dinner with your family most of the week, you might want to reconsider some of them. How often you do external activities is up to you; you have to decide what’s right for your family.
- Use TableTopics conversation starter questions. We got some of these in the kids’ Chick-fil-A meals and fell in love with them! If you get hung up on “How was your day?” these are great for other topics of conversation.
- We’ve also done a variety of “activities” during dinnertime when we’re at home. Sometimes we’ve read a short devotional with dinner. God’s Names by Sally Michael was one we liked. Then one year we kept a small gift bag by the table and every night at dinner we would write down one thing we were grateful for and put it in the bag. Then at the end of the year we could go back and read through all the “gifts” God had given us that year. Then one year when I was reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, we kept a journal of daily blessings by each listing off three things that were gifts that day. You could ask them other questions to instill good character, like “How did you serve someone today?” or “How were you a blessing to someone today?” “Did you notice anyone today at school that looked lonely? How can you be a friend to them tomorrow?” What you focus on, they will focus on. Use these precious moments to disciple your children.
I hope these tips help you have a great year with your children and please share below what you do to make back-to-school memorable!
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