These activities, gift favors, and menu ideas will have kids excited.

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It's hard to believe, just as summer was in full swing, that back-to-school season is upon us once again. For many returning students, this fall marks their first time back in the classroom since the pandemic began, and while COVID-19 precautions and safety measures may still be in effect, it's a good idea to help get kids excited for this big return. One of our favorite ways to do just that? Try hosting a back-to-school party.

Right now, teachers are planning ahead and prepping their classrooms, using the latest back-to-school trends and looking for creative ways to help kids stay stay organized at the start of the new year. So, why not follow their example? Ahead, we asked teacher-turned-blogger and mother Emily Lawson of Sandbox Academy to share her favorite ideas.

kids having party at table outdoors
Credit: Solskin / Getty Images

Set the table.

Get them into homework mode. "For a back-to-school party, lay out a table runner and place school supplies on top, jars filled with pencils or crayons set the mood and can be used for homework in the future," suggests Lawson. It's nice to create a thematic place setting for each party guest. "You can use name tags like the ones a teacher would put on a child's desk. Add a composition journal tied together with flair pens for a practical and adorable place setting."

Gift everyone a back-to-school basket.

Kids will love receiving a back-to-school basket that is filled with the items on their school supply list, a new outfit or two, a new lunch box, and a new water bottle. "Maybe spring for a pack of smelly markers or cute erasers and you have a back-to-school basket that will spark lots of joy in your kiddo," says Lawson. "You can also skip the basket and use your child's backpack."

Take "First Day" school photos.

The morning of the first day of school is going to be busy—after all, you need to make sure that lunches are packed, backpacks are prepared, and the kids look presentable. Therefore, the last thing you want is a super rushed snapshot. "Instead, take the photo the day before," suggests Lawson. "It will allow your child to pick their first day outfit in advance and for you to get the perfect shot. When you're done, have your kid change out of their outfit and lay it out for the first day."

Make friendship bracelets.

The first day of school can be nerve-wracking for kids who have spent the summer (or the entire last year) at home with their families. "Make friendship bracelets to exchange with your kids," suggests Lawson. "Wear them on the first day of school and, when your kid is missing you, they can look down at their wrist and be reminded of how much you love them."

Read school-themed books.

Books are always a winning resource when you are starting something new. "The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn is a favorite for incoming preschoolers and kindergarteners who are feeling anxious about leaving their parents," says Lawson. "Our Class Is a Family by Shannon Olsen or The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson are great reads for older students who need reminders that they are valued members of any classroom."

Serve a back-to-school menu.

What should you serve during the party? Lawson suggests you create a fun brunch-themed buffet board with pancakes, eggs, bacon, breakfast cereal, and fruit. It's their last big, leisurely breakfast before quick weekday mornings. Another option is a "favorite things" themed dinner: Each member of your family picks one thing from the grocery store for dinner, even if it is something you typically say "no" to. "You may end up with orange chicken with a side of fried macaroni-and-cheese bites," she says, "but those are the memories that make you smile. Your kids will love the autonomy of getting to pick the food of their choice."

Create a "back to school" time capsule.

Our kids grow so much each year and we want to remember all the small details. Interview your child and jot down the answers to store in a mason jar until summer or even graduation. Ask about: their favorites, who is their best friend, what is their dream job, what they are looking forward to this year, what do they want to learn, and what are they nervous about. "This is a great way to start some really valuable conversations while preserving memories and admiring how they have grown," as Lawson explains.

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