Whenever I taste a soft-serve turtle sundae, I'm transported to the last day of school. Not a particular one, just the general memory. I'm sitting in the hard plastic booth at Wares Bros. Ice Cream with my parents on what was typically a warm, sunny day. I feel proud as my parents gush over my report card, and I have the entire summer stretching out in front of me. Even as I'm writing this, it makes me smile.
It turns out memories like this are beneficial beyond the feel-good you get from reminiscing upon them. For several reasons, milestone memories, or significant memories of important events or achievements, are essential for kids as they grow into adults. They shape identity and provide a sense of personal growth. They offer reflection, perspective, and motivation for setting new goals. Finally, having these memories strengthens relationships and contributes to personal narratives and legacies, fostering a sense of purpose and meaning in life.
I'm sure my parents did many things to celebrate my accomplishments as a kid. Still, this small thing we did every year became a big thing for a few reasons backed by psychology. So, as we're approaching the last day of school, here are three tips for making the last day of school a treasured memory.
Create a tradition
It comes as no surprise that repetition strengthens memories. Each time you do something, it reinforces memories and enhances the chances of them being retained in long-term memory. The familiarity of the tradition can make it easier to recall and re-experience the associated memories.
Plan to do the same thing or something similar at the end of every school year. It's even better if the activity is unique to that specific occasion. If it's an activity that you do often or sometimes, connecting it to that particular milestone will be harder. Not only does this help cement the happy memory to be recalled in adulthood, but it also gives kids something tangible to look forward to at the end of the year.
To make your tradition extra impactful, get the senses involved. They are essential to long-term memory creation. Many practices engage multiple senses, incorporating elements like music, food, decorations, or specific activities. Using various sensory cues during traditions provides a multi-dimensional experience that can enhance memory formation. The sensory richness creates a more vivid and detailed memory, making recalling and reliving the associated tradition easier.
Here are a few ideas for fun, affordable, repeatable celebrations:
- Go to a late-night movie: Summer vacation might mean loosening your kiddo's schedule and a little leeway on bedtime. Celebrate with a late-night movie of their choosing. Wear your pajamas to make it extra-memorable.
- Eat out at a special restaurant or make a specific meal together: It could be sushi or greasy pizza with their name or the grade they completed spelled in pepperoni but make it unique to the last day of school.
- Pick a Reflection or Celebration Place: Go to a local park or playground and recount their favorite parts and biggest challenges from the last year together or have a silly string fight!
- Sing a Song of Celebration: Choose a graduation song you belt out at the top of your lungs together on the way home from the last day. "Schools Out for Summer," anyone?
Document the Occasion
Documenting memories in tangible form makes it easier to revisit and share them with others. As time passes, the physical mementos can bring us back to another time and place instantaneously in a way nothing else can.
By revisiting physical records of past accomplishments and happy moments, one can reignite motivation, remind oneself of their capabilities, and provide a source of encouragement during challenging times. They serve as a visual or written testimony of what one has achieved and encourage continued progress and pursuit of goals.
I'm sure there will be photo evidence of your child's last day of school, but here are some unique ways to give them a memento from that school day:
- Write them a diary entry or letter: Tell them how much you have seen them grow in the past year and what you're so proud of. At the end of their schooling, they will have a book to remember their accomplishments and your support.
- Make a collage or scrapbook of that school year: This doesn't have to be with only photos, either. It could be a folder of some of their best/favorite school work or a select reading of lunch notes you wrote that year.
- Take a last day of school picture that plots their growth: Recreate their first day of school picture in the same spot and compare them to see how much they have changed, or take a last day of school picture in the same place each year to show growth year over year.
Celebrate their success
Completing another year in school is a significant accomplishment, so treat it as such! Reward them with something they love for their hard work and perseverance. It can be a new video game or book, but it will have a special spot in their heart since it's earned. This can also be a great motivational tool if you set the agreement at the beginning of the school year.
If you're looking for rewards that are easy on the wallet, you're in luck. There are a lot of businesses that give out free treats for good report card grades. Here are a few we found, but be sure to check your local locations to confirm the details and participation:
- Krispy Kreme: 6 glazed donuts for a report card A.
- Chik-Fil-A: As and Bs earn a free eight-piece nugget or ice cream
- Wendy's: Free Frosty for As and Bs
- Your Local Bank: Some banks will provide small monetary awards for good grades
- McDonald's: Bring in a great report card for kids through 5th grade for a free Happy Meal.
The end of the school year presents an excellent opportunity to build an identity of accomplishment in children. As parents, we hope they will take these experiences into adulthood to serve as motivation and assurance that they can do anything they put their effort into. So follow these tips and make this school year a memory they won't forget.