When my son and I sat down to make a list of all the things he wanted to do this summer, I was both surprised and delighted to hear him ask, “Are we going to have a Back to School party again this year?”
For most kids, back to school represents a bittersweet time. It’s the end of a fun summer and the beginning of the unknown. But for some kids, the transition really presents an anxiety-ridden challenge. Will I like my teacher? Who will sit with me at lunch? and Will I be able to keep up with the classwork? are some of the more common concerns kids have as they return to school in September.
For years, we prepared my son beginning in mid-August, by returning to the school grounds to play ball or ride bikes, by meeting the teacher in advance as she was setting up her classroom, by playing pretend school to address any fears, and by scheduling a few play dates to get reacquainted with some school friends.
Last year, when my friend invited us to a Back to School party at our local park, it brought Back to School preparedness to a whole new level. Some very smart mommies, had planned an “open house” at our local park for “new mommies” and “new students” to our elementary school, to meet, and for existing ones to reconnect.
Invitations were emailed and all were encouraged to keep forwarding the emails to extended friends with the school community. No RSVPs were required. Guests were asked to either bring a back to school craft/activity or a snack. Pizza would be ordered and delivered to the park and all siblings were welcome. No house cleaning. No commitment. And no better way to end the summer. Genius.
My son reconnected with his old friends, made some new friends and leaned that some of his friends from his baseball team, would also be in his class. I made some new mommy friends, got the lowdown on the curriculum, and watched fear and angst turn into confidence and smiles.
Here are some Back to School activities designed to alleviate anxiety and be help kids connect at the party and continue throughout the first few weeks of school. Use them to encourage excitement at your Back to School party.
Decorate a Snack Bag
Bring brown paper snack bags, markers, crayons, stickers, and stamps. Ask kids to put their names on 25 of the bags and ask the other kids to decorate each other’s bags with pictures, doodles, and funny messages that will be helpful reminders of their friends and support during the school day.
Write a Note
Kids love to get notes in their lunchbox, and why not? It’s a nice reminder half-way through the day that someone is thinking of them! Ask kids to write five encouraging notes each that will be distributed randomly to the other kids at the party - it's a great way to encourage everyone to be nice and get along.
Decorate a T-Shirt
Bring some plain white t-shirts and permanent markers to the party and ask kids to autograph or write encouraging messages on the shirts. They'll make great conversation pieces for the first day of school and a nice memory of summer’s end.
Celebrate the School Mascot’s Birthday
Our school has an unofficial mascot, Mario, who is a lizard. What better time to celebrate Mario’s unofficial birthday then at our back to school party? Sometimes, distracting attention off the idea of back to school onto something that is seemingly completely different, puts kids at ease.
Lemonade Sale for Charity
Set up a lemonade stand at the park and have all proceeds either go to the school’s PTA or a charity that your school supports. Have the kids buddy up with kids they have never met before from their grade and take turns working the booth and talking to other students.
Give Back to the Community
Focusing on others is the best way to take your mind off your worries. See if the park has any volunteer programs and get the kids to chip in cleaning, planting, or painting a particular area. Volunteering helps strangers become friends and helps build self-esteem.
Whenever my son gets nervous, I acknowledge his fears but remind him that his younger sister is probably even more scared. Suddenly he emerges into big brother/protector mode. By asking some of the older students to look out for some of the younger students, it takes the focus off themselves, and gives them a new responsibility. Play some relay race games partnering older and younger students, asking the older students to give the younger ones some first day advice and ask them to look out for them in the hallways.
Make Em Laugh
Nothing eases anxiety better than a good laugh. Download the” Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” App and watch mommies and daddies go head to head against each other and against the kids. Laughs, lots of laugh. I guarantee.
Back to School Snacks
Let moms show their creative side by bringing some themed snacks to the party. Here are some of our favorites.
Back to School Cupcakes
Cupcakes are an instant hit at any party. Celebrate with themed toppers such as composition notebooks, apples, crayons or schoolhouses.
At the end of the day, what's most important to ease your child's back to school anxiety is to just give your child extra support, encouragement, and hugs!