As summer winds down and the first day of classes quickly approaches, it can be a time of excitement – and some anxiety – for kids. With a few solid back-to-school event ideas in your pocket, though, parents can help remove some of the worry from all those new changes.
After all, everyone can use a little breather from the big list of stuff to do: hauling out last year’s lunchboxes, upgrading backpacks, trying to snag best prices on school supplies and much more. Sometimes the best way to ease your kids back into the school year – and quell those jitters – is to find activities to strengthen relationships with old friends, teachers and even with you, mom and dad.
Miranda Meleski, a fourth-grade teacher at Lighthouse Elementary in New Baltimore, Michigan, says she recommends attending events, whether it’s the softball team tryouts or a school-thrown ice cream social, to reconnect with classmates.
“Doing things with your children will get them emotionally, mentally and physically ready,” she says. “It’s all part of the process – the discussions about what teacher they have and joking around about bedtimes. Of course, you hear the moans and groans, but my daughter will have a smile on her face before bed – and that’s a sign of eagerness to start a new school year.”
Check out our tips below for back-to-school event ideas.
Out-of-school events with friends
Meleski says for her own two children – son Cal, 13, and daughter Lainie, 10 – she keeps it simple when putting together events.
“It’s basic things, like having a playdate with a friend in their class who they haven’t seen in the summer,” she says.
She signed both her children up for sports teams, too, so they can “keep those connections with their classmates going from one of the year to the other.”
If you’re set on having a playdate at your home, there’s a slew of playdate ideas online. Some, like hosting a dance party or getting out the sprinkler, are good for younger children, while letting kids try their hand at kid-friendly recipes or singing along to karaoke are options for the tweens and teens.
Taking your child and some friends out is another option for rebuilding and strengthening friendships before the first day back. Spending some time at one of the region’s bowling centers, roller rinks, water parks or local fairs and other family events are all options.
For older children with later bedtimes, the Ford Drive-In theater in Dearborn typically plays at least one kid-appropriate film every night. Or round up the kids to see a first-run flick at one of the great movie theaters in metro Detroit and Ann Arbor.
Taking the film fest al fresco is another approach. Many parks, especially in Detroit, are still hosting outdoor movie nights in the late summer. Just be sure to bring a few lawn chairs, bug spray, blankets, some cash for snacks and plenty of your child’s pals.
If a student is new to a school building, particularly if he or she is new to the district, parents can sometimes request a tour of the school to put the child at ease, Meleski says.
“If you are new to a building, try to contact a principal before the school year starts,” she says. “Make sure to take advantage of the open house days, too.”
She recommends checking the school’s website and signing up for the email lists to make sure you’re not missing anything, like ice cream socials or other scheduled events.
If there isn’t anything scheduled, you can always work with the parent-teacher organization to set something up – and it doesn’t have to be laborious. If you’re struggling to come up with back to school event ideas, putting together a paint night for elementary-age kids is one option (some PTOs charge a fee for each child and donate the profits to the art department; check in with canvas painting studios in our area) or try a block party, complete with grilled foods and easy carnival games.
Parent and child events
In the weeks leading up to the first day of school, Maleski weaves questions and ideas about the new school year into her quality time with her daughter and son.
“As a parent, I try to have my children as organized as we can be for the first day,” she says. “We go school shopping, but it’s not me going out and doing the school shopping – it’s them coming with me and being excited about supplies or a new pair of tennis shoes.”
She adds, “We go out to lunch and chat about the new school year. We talk about the classroom, locker and work habits. We set the scene to get them started off strong in the fall.”
Try taking your child out for an event where the two of you can talk uninterrupted about expectations and goals for the start of the school year. Spending time together strolling some of the best hiking trails in metro Detroit and Ann Arbor, including Huron-Clinton Metroparks – or even roaming around a shopping center (and blowing off some steam a mall play area) – should do the trick.