The first day of school represents a major milestone for kids, and this year is no different...even if your brood will be doing their lessons via Zoom for the foreseeable future. But how can you make this time-honored rite of passage for kids feel special during these strange circumstances? We've got you covered. A little ingenuity and these first day of homeschool ideas are all you need to quell any disappointment over distance learning and recreate the back-to-school magic.
1. Do an Outdoor Scavenger Hunt
Education is a journey of discovery that, when done right, is energizing and fun...and the same is true of scavenger hunts. This quintessential kid-friendly activity hones powers of observation and encourages critical thinking skills. Ring in the school year with a rousing outdoor adventure and your kid’s first day will be anything but snoozy. Best of all, you can design the hunt to incorporate aspects of the curriculum (like a shape scavenger hunt for toddlers or a bookshelf scavenger hunt for older kids) for an inaugural learning experience that will ease your child into more academic rigors.
2. Organize the Classroom with your Child
One of the best ways to set yourself up for homeschool success is by carving out a designated learning space in your home (even if it's just a corner in the kitchen). Of course, you could get a headstart on this before teaching time begins—or you could just squeeze in another family beach day and start reorganizing on Day 1 for an activity that invites your child’s participation. (Easy choice, right?) Kids will feel empowered by the opportunity to design a classroom that reflects their own ideal learning environment, and even the youngest students can get in on the fun. Just keep in mind that impractical input is a given with the kindergarten crowd, so you might want to steer children of that age group away from feng shui and have them focus on decor instead. (Psst: Here are some essential supplies for the pre-k to fourth grade set)
3. Plan the Curriculum Together
One of the benefits of homeschooling is that it allows for a more individualized approach to learning—a flexible education program that’s tailored to both the needs and interests of the student (i.e., your kid). Start the first day off on the right foot by inviting your pupil to the lesson planning party. The privilege of being able to guide the curriculum is sure to inspire and thrill any child. Plus, it’s a lot harder to educate a disinterested child, so your job performance will likely get a boost from a first day tete-a-tete as well.
4. Share a Celebratory Breakfast
Start the day with a celebration by planning an extra special breakfast feast for your child. The morning spread will give your kid fuel for learning, plus the fancy meal is also a festive way to make the transition from summer to school year more concrete for homeschooled kids who might otherwise be confused by (or even protest) the arbitrary return to scheduled learning. And come one, who can turn down Nutella pancakes?
5. Host a (Virtual) Playdate
Meeting new friends and playing with old pals are both integral parts of the back-to-school experience—it’s a post-summer break meet-and-greet for all. While it’s hard to recreate those conditions in the context of social distancing, a little face time with peers on the first day will go a long way by providing meaningful interactions as well as a sense of community for kids who are confused about the shift. Gather your pod and schedule a socially distanced play date at a nearby park or arrange a day one hangout on a virtual platform so your child doesn’t think of homeschooling as just another quarantine bummer.
6. Make It a Craft Day
If a budding artist is on your homeroom roster, consider a day of crafting as a salute to the start of the school year. Creativity is a key component when it comes to inspiring kids (and everyone) to learn. Plus, research shows that engaging in arts and crafts has health benefits, including improved mood and reduced stress (three cheers for a calmer learning environment). Need a little DIY inspiration? Check out these back-to-school crafts before you map out an art-filled first day.
7. Take a Field Trip
Worried that kids (and parents) will go stir-crazy staying indoors all day? Start the school year off on a celebratory note with a trip to a nearby attraction—just be sure to bring a lesson plan, no matter how loose, along for the ride to distinguish the outing from summer vacation thrills. Mask up and take your child on an excursion to the zoo, aquarium or museum in your area, or simply take a scenic hike (provided you follow local health and safety guidelines, of course). Either way, a field trip is a stimulating first day experience that ensures a change of scenery to boot. (Note: If you’re avoiding public places entirely due to Covid-19, try a virtual field trip instead.)
8. Start with Play-Based Learning
Before you break out the writing workbook and multiplication table, win the hearts and minds of your homeschooled brood with a little bit of good old-fashioned play. While the quality time with toys will make a good impression on your (possibly skeptical) student, this first day game plan doesn’t have to be a bait-and-switch maneuver. Age-appropriate play is an excellent and effective mode of learning and, if you introduce it early, this approach promises to get your kid excited about taking a seat in the ‘classroom’ on day one and every day thereafter. If your child is no longer entertained by the usual suspects after months of quarantine, you can refresh your selection with some educational winners like these fun picks from Fat Brain Toys and Maisonette.
9. Stage a Photoshoot
Help your child feel proud on the first day of school with a photoshoot to honor the occasion. Kids can dress themselves for the picture and even provide a quote about what they’re looking forward to learning over the course of the upcoming year. Even better, scoop up a kid-friendly camera and charge your child with the task of documenting the rest of the school day so you can both look back on the highs and lows from your pupil’s perspective.
10. Make It Feel like a Special Occasion
Is there any event in a child’s life that can rival the excitement and pure joy of unwrapping presents on a birthday or other celebration? Answer: Nope. It’s a bit of a cheap trick, but with a little bit of wrapping paper (and an extra-large trash bag for clean-up) you can recreate such ecstasy and start the school year off with a bang. We’re not suggesting you lavish your child with extravagant gifts—just wrap up all those binders and number 2 pencils in shiny paper and let your kid enjoy an exciting at-home shopping spree for all the stuff you needed to buy anyway. At the very least, this one promises to create positive associations with homeschooling (and some Insta-worthy memories, too).