I’ll save you the preamble of excuses as to why the blog has gone silent, and just jump in, because, hello… I threw a pretty awesome party (ahem, if I do say so myself!) and I just have to share it with you all!
But, first, the “WHY.” (Isn’t that what most motivational speakers tell you first and foremost, is to “find your ‘why’”? ) Well, here is mine: CHANGE.
Our poor kinders….they, collectively endured a LOT of change this summer with a staggering number of families moving away (like thousands-of-miles-away) from our tight-knit, small-town community. So theses kiddos, who’d all grown so close, not only were anticipating new classmates as they enter 1st grade this coming Thursday, but were also so very sad to be losing close friends this summer.
So, enters my idea to host a playdate towards the end of the summer, once the homeroom teachers were assigned. Well. My playdate sort of took on a life of its own, and a full-blown back-to-school backyard bash began to take shape.
And let me be honest….it was no small task to pull off. BUT. I did it. And I did it well. And now I’m going to share with you all the things I learned along the way to help ease the process.
1. Plan in advance.
Oh, my girlfriends mocked me. Oh, yes they did, when the Facebook event invite was sent out in late June. “WHY are you planning a back-to-school party? Summer just started!” But, I knew. I knew what I wanted this event to be, and I knew that I needed people to save the date, and to get on board with the idea of a get-together the last Friday of summer vacation. Planning this far out also gave me time to play around with the exact timing of the party, to see what worked best for the majority of the families. Sadly, I wasn’t able to accommodate the full-time working parents, but listening to the feedback of my invited guests, and opening up the timeframe from 10 AM to 3 PM gave the majority of parents and children a chance to attend, if not all of, than at least some of, the event.
2. Create a welcoming presence.
Many of the families attending had never been to my home. And let’s be honest….we’ve all done the drive-by when we are looking for a new-to-us house number. So I wanted to have something visible to say, “Yep, party’s here!!!”
A few embellishments tucked into my versatile, always-changing wreath gave a true “September” vibe, and some creative chalk art on our IKEA easel, placed in a visible, prominent spot near our driveway, welcomed our guests as they arrived.
3. Use what you have.
I can’t stress this point enough. Nothing spoils a party faster than “buyer’s remorse” over the cost incurred to throw said party. Other than one semi-extravagant purchase (we’ll get to that point), I spent VERY little on this mega-party.
For some of my welcome decor, I placed red apples on hydrangea leaves (that I clipped from my front bushes that morning) onto the tray of the easel. Cost: FREE.
For the main tablescape, I gathered items from my office and playroom. Some Dr. Suess books; mason jars of pencils, markers, and paintbrushes; a globe; some toy school busses; small American flags…. all of these things were pulled from other rooms in my home – all FREE – and all perfect for the all-American, classroom look I wanted.
I unrolled a length of craft paper down the center of the table, not only to protect from cake frosting, but to add a layer of visual interest after I quickly penned the upper and lowercase alphabet onto the surface. Again, FREE. The ONLY expense I incurred with this table decor almost doesn’t even count, since I’m not one to shy away from the self-indulgent splurge of grocery store flowers. For $4.99, I purchased a half-dozen sunflowers, added more of my own (free!) hydrangea stems, and placed them in a (free!) mason jar that I surrounded with some (free!) No. 2 pencils I merely secured with washi tape.
Again, I can’t reiterate this point enough: USE WHAT YOU HAVE. You’d be surprised at how quickly and easily you can pull together an impressive table with little to no cost!
4. Pray for good weather.
Okay, in all fairness, I realize this can’t really be a MUST DO, because weather is one of the things that will be completely out of your control. That said, I felt it worth mentioning because it is something to most definitely consider.
In my case, there was no “back up plan” in case of foul weather. My back up plan, sadly, would have been a cancellation. I simply would not have been able to fit 70 people in my house – especially given that 50+ of those people are 6 or 7 years old. ;) That said. We were VERY blessed with a gorgeous, unheard-of-67-degrees-in-August, sunshiny day. But again. Have a back up plan. You just never know.
5. Have ample seating.
And keep in mind, I say ample, not fancy. I moved our everyday patio furniture off the actual concrete to create room for a standard umbrella table with 6 chairs (borrowed from my dad’s backyard), giving me total seating for 14. A girlfriend lent two 8-foot tables and a dozen metal folding chairs to provide seating for the actual lunch-eating. Additionally, two children’s tables and chairs were set up for the preschool-age siblings in attendance. Lastly, on a whim, I set up our tent and tossed a couple beanbags and a “dummy” mattress in for a comfy, alternative hangout spot.
6. Have multiple activities available.
The one splurge I did make for this party was renting a ginormous inflatable. You can’t quite tell from the photos, but we have a very steep grade to our backyard that prohibits us from having any kind of swingset, and since I knew I wanted the party to remain outdoors (read: away from Legos and the Wii, etc.), I needed an alternative activity, and, selfishly, one that required minimal mom participation. (Another “why” for the party was definitely getting some more moms introduced to one another, as new class rosters brought about new relationships. I really wanted my mommy friends to enjoy this day as much as the kids.)
That said, for $200 (for FIVE HOURS!!!), the bounce house was a HUGE hit, and my generous friends chipped in to help defray the cost. Win, win, win.
As an alternative to the bounce house, I set up an extra 8-foot table and chairs with art supplies, since I knew a handful of little sisters in attendance are uber-artists. I simply rolled another length of craft paper down the center, taped the ends, and let them know they could color, stamp, paint, and sticker to their hearts content.
In addition, I also debuted my drop cloth Radiator Springs (separate post coming soon!) and set out all of Seth’s cars, planes, and trailers. We had several little guys who do better with some less physical activities (I also had soccer balls and goals set up in addition to the bounce house), so this was a great item to have on hand.
This point is a close second to the “use what you have” mandate. There was NO WAY I was going to plan for and adequately feed 70+ people without hiring a caterer. So, when my girlfriends asked (as I’m sure yours will, too), “What can I bring,” I had an answer ready.
Initially I felt a little bossy saying, “5 boxes of mac and cheese” or “veggie tray, heavy on the ones the kids will actually eat,” but in the end, (a), I think they appreciated a direct request, and (b), it saved us from having a dozen people bring a dessert or having 20 bags of potato chips and pretzels.
I spilt the “assignments” into paper products, hot dogs, hot dog buns, fruit, veggies, spinach salad, pasta salad, snack mix, bottled water, soda cans, kids’ juice chugs, fruit snacks, freezer pops, and unfrosted sugar cookies and strawberry cream cheese. I provided a cake (see #8), classic PBJ halves, and diced fruit to go with the cookies, so the kiddos could do a “build your own fruit pizza.”
(I’m kicking myself for not getting a good photo of the “pizza” set up….it was pretty neat! You can kind of see it in the foreground of the photo. And, ahem, those are 2 spreaders with red handles in the sundae cup, not hotdogs. #facepalm!)
I think everyone was happy to contribute something specific, and I wasn’t one bit overwhelmed with the idea of feeding that many people. It was a perfect way to do things.
8. Consider bulk stores.
All I have to say is, if you don’t have a Costco near you, I’m sorry. Because for $17.99, you can get an OMG-delicious sheet cake that will have everyone wanting seconds – and since you can’t beat the value for the size, there is plenty of cake to do just that! I will say, however, that their decor options are more limited than what you’d find with a traditional bakery or even your local grocer, but I made it work (and I think it turned out great!), and again, you can’t beat the price!
9. Have a game plan.
But keep it flexible. ;)
But, really. Even when kids this age can be counted on to make their own fun, it is true that they still thrive on boundaries and direction. So, the one activity I had up my sleeve for when I could tell we may need to introduce just a wee bit of structure was water balloons.
My mommy friends were great helpers in filling and tying off about 100 water balloons (read: 6 seconds worth of fun).
While the moms filled the last balloons, I commandeered Tiffany’s whistle and gathered all the kids. I had the soon-to-be-first graders separate into corners based on their new teachers (so, win win there, too, in having them gather with their new classmates) and then divided up the remaining siblings in attendance onto the four respective teams. They were instructed to launch their one (I know, ONE! I’m mean!) balloon at the sound of my whistle blow, but, if they caught a balloon without breaking it, their “class” would get a point. (How cute is James, by the way?!)
Needless to say, the water balloons were gone in about 3 seconds; in true “dump-gatorade-on-the-coach” fashion, I was blasted with the last remaining water balloon; and the kiddos were left clamoring for more action, but it still was the perfect 10-minute activity to start winding down the party.
10. Create memorable photo opportunities.
You will have put a lot of effort into this day, and you want to make sure that in addition to tucking some private smiles away in your heart, you can both share the experience, and look back for years to come.
I picked up a piece of scrap lumber at Home Depot for less than $2, and after a quick sand-and-stain that took me no time at all, I freehanded a 6’ ruler. I LOVE this piece. Not only did we get some fun pictures at the party, I plan to use this for years and years to come to measure and record my children’s heights on their first days of each grade. (Granted, I won’t have Seth’s first day of kindergarten mark, but going forward, I’ll have this photo prop on hand.)
I also picked up 3 black foam boards from the dollar store, and using chalk to mimic a blackboard, I created a “class of 2026” trio of signs for the kids to pose with. I made no promises that this party will become an annual event, but IF it is, it will be fun to capture this group of kiddos with these signs through the years as they journey through school together.
And there you have it!
I know this was a long post. =) Consider it an attempt at making up for months of silence. (You didn’t REALLY think I could go a whole post without noting my absence, did you? lol)
Again, I am SO SO SO glad I organized this party. And I don’t say that, or even publish this post, as a way to pat myself on the back for throwing such an event. I just really, really enjoyed everything about this day. Bringing friends together, enjoying a meal, watching kids play…. it was extraordinary for me to get to use my God-given gifts of administration and hospitality to open my home in this way.
I hope that you can take something away from this Top Ten list, whether you tuck the tips away until next summer to throw your own back-to-school bash, or apply some of the tips to a get-together of your own. If you do, please share! I’d love to see!
One last thing…..Serious thanks and praise to my friend Stacy of Cookie Canvas
for the extraordinary artistry on the cookies I had her make as party favors….
talk about using God-given talents! Check these out: