First Day of School

Found In: Childhood Milestones

By Rabbi Rona Shapiro | Article
  • Jewish children traditionally began their study of the alphabet with festivities. Honey was placed on the chalkboard and the children licked it off to remind them that the study of Torah is as sweet as honey. At our daughter's day school, they had a special celebration to which parents were invited, where kindergardeners formally began their study of the aleph-bet. After singing an Aleph-Bet song, the children were given charts of the aleph-bet with an M & M on each letter (today, some children are allergic to honey!) As the teacher said the name of the letter, they ate the appropriate M & M.
  • It is also appropriate to say the shehecheyanu (a prayer for reaching joyous occasions) together before your child heads off for school on the first day. Some parents might choose to accompany this blessing with a gift of new clothes, for which Jews traditionally say shehecheyanu when they wear them for the first time.
  • On a beautiful recording by an Israeli group called Habrera Hativit, the singer describes how Moroccan Jewish children in the Atlas Mountains began their study of Torah. They paraded through the village with garlands on their heads until they arrived at the school house where they also began their studies with honey.
  • Virginia Lang, in her book How to Bury a Goldfish... and 113 Other Family Rituals for Everyday Life, suggests that the parent take a soft felt heart and cut it in two irregular pieces. Write a message on one such as, "I am with you in my heart" and tell the child to look for it in her pocket. Show her that you have the other half and that you will always return to complete the heart. When you return, match the hearts together and let her see that you have been missing her just as much as she has been missing you.
  • Although our daughter had been going to daycare and pre-school for many years, kindergarten seemed like a big deal. The night before she began school, she laid out her clothes and we talked a little bit about our own memories of starting school. We gave her a "big girl" lunchbox and thermos and we put a note in her lunchbox about how proud we were of her. Some parents give special presents like a children's dictionary or a pencil case. Some families have a feast at which they serve the children's favorite foods. (Some families also hold a feast at the end of the school year in addition to a special meal, the children's accomplishments are celebrated and plans are made for the summer. Another family, after a dinner out, gives the children money to buy books for the school's library as a way of expressing gratitude.
  • There are many wonderful children's books about school or starting school. Two of our favorites are The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn and Oh My Baby, Little One by Kathy Appelt and Jane Dyer. In the first, Mother Raccoon kisses Chester Racoon's hand and tells him that this is a special kissing hand that he can keep with him all day. The second is a story/poem about a mother's love staying with her baby all day while they are apart and also with her. Each beautiful illustration has a hidden heart in it which children love to find.
  • From time to time, we wrote love notes on our children's napkins and put them in their lunchboxes. They love these little surprises.
  • One family photographs the children every year before school starts in the backyard standing against a tree. They can mark their growth from year to year by the photos.
  • Related to, but separate from school, is playing hooky. Many parents allow the children one day a year when they play hooky. After establishing that on the chosen day there are no tests or special events, Mom picks up the child at school after about an hour and off they go to do whatever they like for the day. This ritual enables the kids to feel like they have a small modicum of choice around school and heads off future sick days.

Used by permission of the author