Remember your first day of school? Maybe you lined up in front of your mom, grinning nervously while she snapped that “first-day” picture. Then you marched off to the bus, your shoes squeaking on the sidewalk and your new backpack swinging off your shoulder.

Your homeschooler may have a slightly different experience. There’s no school bus, no new backpack, no squeaky shoes. Instead they might spend the day in their PJs, barefoot and comfortable, with their siblings as their classmates and you as their teacher, the same as they did last year and probably will do next year.

It’s different, but different is what homeschooling is all about, right?

In homeschool, those back-to-school butterflies can be replaced by smiles. Starting school every year is a fun, exciting time and you, as a homeschooling parent, have the opportunity to make it even more so.

How do you go about that? Good question! Here are some ideas to get you started.

Make it special – You know how children always look forward to Christmas and birthdays because of the surprises they find beneath all that wrapping paper? Why not surprise them on the first day of school, too? Hide all their curriculum until the day you choose to start. When that day rolls around, get it out and organize it on the kitchen table or their desks for a “big reveal” when you call them in to “ooh” and “ahh” at all their new books. Take it from someone whose mom put a lot of time and effort into making the first day of school nearly as exciting as Christmas … it works. I never dreaded starting school a day in my life.

Cook a special breakfast – Surprise your kids by making a special breakfast. Do they like pancakes, French toast casserole, or cinnamon rolls? Make it for them! After all, it is a special day and there’s no better way to start than with their favorite foods.

Take back-to-school photos – Still have those pictures your mom took on your first day of school? They’re fun to pull out and show to your kids, who will probably giggle about how you looked when you were 10. Do the same for your children! Photos capture memories, and what a better memory to capture than their first day of school?

Get them new school supplies – Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something special about getting new notebooks to write in and pens to write with. Growing up, my mom would spend hours in the stationery store, choosing color-coordinated notebooks for us. Seeing all those new things on our desks the first day of school, got us excited to get started. If you can, splurge a little and get them school supplies they’ll enjoy using all year. You can even bring your kids along and let them choose their own!

Decorate the classroom – If you have a homeschool room, create an environment that’s fun to work in. Having a room that’s full of colors and pictures makes it even more motivating, especially for elementary students. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated it can be as simple as putting a map and posters on the wall. You can even let your children help you decorate by hanging up their artwork or a craft you worked together to create.

Do a time capsule – Start a tradition where you make a time capsule at the beginning of every school year. Add memories of where they are at the beginning of the year, what their interests are, their favorite things. For older children, you could have them write down what they hope to accomplish through the school year. Open it up at the end of the school year to see how much they’ve grown and learned!

Don’t do school! – First day of school and you don’t do school? Yes! Give your kids time to get organized, to look through their new books, and see what they are going to be learning in the coming year. Talk to them about your expectations and listen to what they’re hoping for. It can be a big adjustment to transition from summer to school, and allowing them to take their first day slowly eases them in to a new routine.

The first day of school shouldn’t be dreaded by either you or your kids. While homeschool certainly isn’t easy and there are going to be times you wonder why you even started, starting up a new year should be a much anticipated event for your whole family.

How do you make the first day special for you and your kids?