Whether your child is headed back to home school or back to a bricks-and-mortar school, there are ways to ease and acknowledge the transition from summer to studies.

"Everyone needs rituals to help mark the change in time," says Susan Richman, co-editor of Pennsylvania Homeschoolers newsletter. She and other educators suggest:

Planning a family outing that blends fun with learning - a day trip to Valley Forge, a visit to an art museum - to inaugurate the school year. Many such places are less busy in September, and a fall outing can give kids something to look forward to.

Shopping for something special. In addition to the items on the teacher's (or Mom's) list, let each child choose something - a journal, a fancy pen, some art supplies - to build a sense of newness and potential for the year.

Setting goals - academic, extracurricular and social. Does your child want to learn French? Long division? Double-dutch? Is there a classmate he'd like to make friends with? Encourage your child to think about how she hopes to grow and change this year; parents can do the same.

Celebrating with an end-of-summer dinner. Talk about your most memorable summer moments, then document them with photos, drawings or a family journal. Cap it off with one last trip for water ice or an evening of stargazing.

- Anndee Hochman