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, carpools, 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. 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.
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.
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.
PLUS: BACKYARD GAMES AND ACTIVITIES
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 notepad, a yellow pencil and pink eraser, reinforcements, and a sheet of gold stars.
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.