So-Long Summer Party
Bid farewell to vacation and welcome fall with a backyard party that's fun for all.
Pass the watermelon for a sweet "send off summer" picnic party.
Schedule your send-off party for lunchtime the week (or even the day) before school starts: Everyone's back from vacation and still free for one last blast of carefree fun. Have your party at a local park where there are plenty of picnic tables and lots of room to spread out, or use your own backyard. As for the guest list, the more the merrier: moms, dads, caregivers, and younger siblings are welcome. The kids can see each other and find out who's in their class while the adults compare notes on bus routes, teachers, car pools, and dismissal times for the coming school year.
Make the invitation look like a detention notice. Use wording like this: "Because you have been caught surfing, camping, and generally loafing around, please report to Riverside Park at 11 a.m. Monday for a So-Long Summer Party."
As guests arrive, hand them a paper cup filled with munchies (M&Ms, raisins, dry cereal, dried cranberries) to stave off hunger until lunch is served. Have everyone write down (or draw a picture) of where they went on vacation. Before lunch, announce winners and give out prizes to the person who went the furthest, who stayed away the longest, and who stayed closest to home.
Of course, no party's complete without music. Bring a boom box and set a party mood with lively CDs such as Putumayo's "Gypsy Caravan" or "Islands," or a compilation of pop tunes from the "Now That's What I Call Music" series. Toss out some hula hoops and have an ongoing dance contest and a limbo competition.
Everyone likes to laugh! If the kids at the party are old enough, ask for volunteers to line up and share one funny thing that happened to them this summer or last year in school. Use a timer and give everyone a turn. The stage can be a big boulder, your front steps, or a corner of the deck. Sharing funny memories helps breaks the ice, and when the kids run out of stories, the grownups can chime in.
Before lunch, divide into teams and play some all-time-favorite relays and team competitions, such as an egg toss, racing with an egg on a spoon, a potato race, an over/under pass-the-ball race, and a peanut hunt. Older kids will get a laugh out of the suitcase race, where you change into a funny outfit of old clothes for each leg of the relay; face painting and stick-on tattoos keep little ones happy. Give the sandbox-set paper combs cut from corrugated cardboard to draw squiggles in the sand.
Stage a "Daily Dozen" scavenger hunt: Give each team an egg carton and a list of twelve things to collect — one for each compartment of the carton. The items on the list should be simple: things like pine cone, leaf, stone, something white or something black, something that doesn't belong outdoors, and so on. A prize goes to the group who collects everything first.
Super Souvenirs and Crafts
Remember the day by making hand or footprints for a walk of fame using quick-dry plaster of Paris poured into trays made of aluminum foil or Styrofoam; everyone takes home his print at the end of the party.
Make a street quilt by blocking off a section of the park's parking lot or your driveway to make a giant canvas. Hand out chalk, assign each child a square, and ask them all to draw a favorite memory from the summer. The finished work is a panorama of the recent past. Older kids can make a sand painting on a stiff piece of cardboard, which at the end of the party is tossed into the air (over a campfire if you have one) to symbolize the end of a special time.
Use paint pens to draw slogans or names on smooth beach rocks you've collected or bought at a crafts store. Phrases like Breathe, Study, Relax, Laugh, and Sleep will gently remind kids about the responsibilities of the coming months. Have everyone write their name on a rock and leave them around the base of a tree in your yard as a remembrance of the party during the months to come.
At the end of the party, hand out goodie bags made from ordinary brown paper lunch sacks, writing each child's name on a bag in big block letters using a black marker. Then grade each bag with an A+ and circle it using a red marker. Treats for the bag can include shoelaces, a small note pad, a yellow pencil and pink eraser, reinforcements, and a sheet of gold stars. If you're really organized, include a daffodil bulb and planting instructions (as simple as "pointed side up") so everyone can plant something in the yard this fall and watch it come up in the spring.
Keep the eats simple so there's more time for fun. Serve hamburgers and hot dogs cooked on the grill, or a typical school lunch including peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, baby carrots with ranch dressing dip, a plate of Oreos and oatmeal raisin cookies, and juice boxes. For dessert, slice up a watermelon and have a seed-spitting contest, or hand out giant sugar cookies (slice-and-bakes are easy) painted with the hands of the clock, some pointing to the time school starts, others pointing to dismissal time.