The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Tips for Making Back To School Memorable

By Amy Despain

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Almost as good as Christmas, not quite as fun as Halloween at our house, but a time to rejoice nonetheless. Back to school time! Time to buy an overabundant amount of lined paper, sharpened pencils, brightly colored folders, tissue, and hand sanitizer. Time to thank the schoolteachers for showing up for another year! (I personally believe they should be given gifts all year long.) Time to shoo your little darlings out the door for six blissful hours!

This time of year, you will find me dancing in the aisles at Walmart or Target with all five kids (depending on our back-to-school budget that year), dodging other parents, trying to get everything on “the list”—not for the faint-hearted. I am more than excited for that first day back to school. Don’t get me wrong, I adore my kids. I loved it when they finished the school year. No more homework, more time for family, more movie nights, camping, swimming at grandma’s, and road trips to visit cousins. But I LOVE the beginning of the school year even more. Not just because the kids are at school learning socially and academically, but because my house stays clean-ish, no one is arguing with their siblings (or their parents for that matter), and I can breathe just a little easier for a few hours. Plus, I feel like the first day back at school is meant to be exciting for everyone involved. A new backpack, a new pair of tennis shoes, maybe a new outfit (for me or them). I’m looking forward to getting up early and making a fun breakfast of waffles or pancakes to move things along! I was and still am that mom that is a stickler about doing your hair (even if getting five heads of hair out the door makes me sweaty). Everyone looks good. At least, for a few minutes anyway; living in Arizona they don’t come home looking that way. In fact, in August with 120-degree heat at recess, it means they come home looking like bog witches or maybe swamp monsters. But they are happy-looking swamp monsters! And usually, we go for a treat after school on their first day (again, depending on the budget), and I cannot wait to hear all about their day. Everyone wins when school starts. The kids seem happier to be busy and social again, and I am happy with just a little bit more time to drink my soda alone while I fold clothes. (It’s the little things, right!)

Back-to-school Shopping

Back-to-school shopping can be a daunting task, especially with five kids. When I was growing up, my mom would take me to Fashion Gal (for those that remember that store) as it was a less-expensive option. We now are definitely on a budget at our house, so I like to take the kids to stores with lower prices. Old Navy historically has a huge, cute selection for the whole family. Some years, I have taken our kids to the store and we make memories laughing and trying on clothes together, and other years, I put them in front of the computer to select their outfits together online. Either way has been effective and doesn’t break the bank.


School Supply shopping can be a killer . . . lots of parents and kids running around with their lists, kids wanting the most expensive supplies, and parents pretending to be thrilled to be there while trying not to disappoint their children and, at the same time, still have money for school lunches the following week. By the way, school supply shopping is my husband’s least favorite activity. Some years, the kids get cute matching pencil boxes with coordinated folders and lunch boxes. Other years, everything has been blue and lime green–whatever was the cheapest. We quickly learned not to “divide and conquer” with the kids. Usually, it ended up that whoever went with mom got the cuter stuff, and whoever went with dad got whatever was seen first that “would work.” Generally, we spent more on the backpack than the supplies, but we tried to lean toward whichever was more important to the kids at the time. If youre going to spend a lot of money on a backpack, get one that will last the whole year. (Our son had one that lasted two years, which was a shocker because his shoes only lasted about two months before there were huge holes in them.)

Mornings on the First Day of School

Music is essential in our home. We used to play CDs before Alexa moved in, but she is the best DJ so far. We cook to music, do dishes to music, play holiday music, or just turn the Frozen soundtrack on to “happy up” a grouch or two. I love waking the kids up to music. Beatles are a favorite, as well as Billy Joel, and Taylor Swift. Something upbeat seems to get them a little more excited, put pep in their step, and start the day off in a fun way.

Breakfast: The Most Important Meal of the Day

Our families’ traditions usually center around some kind of food. A fantastic breakfast on the first day of school has always been a must. A good breakfast full of carbs (always a favorite at our house) with a side of sugar. We have kids that like bacon, ones that mostly just want cereal, and pancake lovers. So, I usually supply a mix of options, at least that first week to make them more excited to go back. Waffles, French toast, or pancakes usually do the trick, always with homemade syrup—not the kind of buttermilk syrup that takes extra love to make, just plain homemade syrup.

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 capful of maple flavoring brought to a boil

Once it boils, it’s done. Voila, mom loves you; here is homemade syrup!

My dad made the best pancakes in the world. I’ve made them for my kids their whole lives. Here is the recipe:

  • 4 cups flour
  • ½ cup + 1 Tablespoon sugar (don’t ask why the extra tablespoon—I have no idea—but it’s good)
  • 3 Tablespoons baking powder
  • 3 eggs
  • ¼ cup Vegetable oil
  • 3 cups of milk (I add a little more milk if it’s too thick)

After-school treats

When I mentioned taking the kiddos for a treat after the first day of school, I wasn’t talking about Bahama Bucks or Dairy Queen (although both are awesome but can be a little pricey for five kids). Most days, we just ran to Circle K or Water ‘n’ Ice for a $1 soda or ice cream cone, something little and fun to eat while we talked about their first days of school. Some leaner years, I would bake cookies or banana bread for an after-school snack, anything to draw them back into my circle and get them talking to me about their day’s experiences.

Family Dinner Time

At the end of the day, we usually gather around the dinner table and encourage everyone to say one good thing that happened to them that day. Sometimes one of them wanted to tell everyone at the table the negative things too, and we would try to listen to their frustrations and then end on something positive.

I love my kids. I love every memory we’ve made together.

Whether we all were happy or riding the struggle bus, we were in it together and we still are. I have loved our time together during the school breaks, and I’ve loved the time we shared getting ready for school to start again. Making memories no matter what you are doing is so important. Kids will remember them for a long, long time. Or they will remember them totally different from the way that you do, and that’s fine too. At least you gave it your best shot. Never give up, never surrender.

Amy Despain is the author of The Hair Fairies, Tangled Trouble, and (soon to be released) The Bellybutton Express.

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