20 back to school event ideas to kick off the school year right

Three young children blow bubbles at an outdoor party with streamers behind them.
Paperless Post BlogBusiness > 20 back to school event ideas to kick off the school year right

It’s back to school season, and everyone is feeling all the feelings—hope, nervousness, excitement—and everything in between. Students and teachers alike have a big adjustment period ahead of them, and parents and the PTA or PTO can help the adjustment by stepping up with the best back to school party ideas to help everyone feel a little more comfortable and excited. 

The days before school starts are an excellent opportunity to start building school engagement for all grade levels. Help contribute to a thriving school community with these back to school party ideas for everyone from students to teachers to parents.


Back to school party ideas for students

Welcome students to campus in style with back to school ideas for every PTA budget—even if that budget is $0. You can have these events at the school, at a local park, or at a school family’s home, depending on the type of party. back to school parties are also a great time to celebrate kids with summer birthdays who didn’t get to party with their classmates.

To make sure the whole community gets an invite, use Paperless Post back to school invitations, import your address book, and create separate, segmented guest lists for each grade. Then, visit the Paperless Post Party Shop for adorable back to school decoration ideas to tie your event together. 


Left: An invitation for a back-to-school picnic shows a large red apple on a green backdrop. Right: A young girl hugs a woman seated on a picnic blanket in the park from behind.
Apple in Season” by Paperless Post; Image via Kampus Production.


1. Back to school picnic

Soon enough, kids will be spending their days inside a classroom. So it’s a great idea to organize an outdoor back to school picnic for the whole school or a single grade while the weather is still nice.

  • Location: Choose somewhere that’s centrally located and accessible to all, such as a park or the school playground. 
  • Invitation: Send a picnic-themed invitation so guests know what to expect. 
  • Food and drink: Make things a bit easier on yourself by providing drinks and inviting students to bring their own food—it’s a great option for picky eaters and, of course, kids with allergies.
  • Activities: If the weather is hot, plan on some water games for kids to play, such as squirt guns, slip-and-slide, or sprinklers.
  • Cost: $

2. Back to school BBQ

Celebrate the last days of summer with a back to school barbecue. It’s a great setup: Kids get to know each other on the playground, and parents get to know each other over the grill. 

  • Location: Use a park that has public grills or the school playground, if someone can provide a couple grills to use. 
  • Invitation: Try a fun and fully customizable back to school BBQ invitation to stay on theme.
  • Take a children versus adults headcount—available in your Paperless Post invitation—so you know how much food to provide.
  • Food and drink: Pair hot dogs and burgers with classic cafeteria and after-school grub such as SunButter-and-jelly sandwiches, apple slices, and ants-on-a-log. Or get extra cute (and nostalgic) with a Lunchables-style cheese and charcuterie or bite-sized pizza snacks. 
  • Hand out popsicles to cool students down if it’s a hot afternoon.
  • Cost: $$


Left: A pool party invitation shows an illustration of a pool from above with a diving board and fun pool floats. Right: A yellow and white striped pool float, a paper plate with monstera leaves and matching cocktail napkins, and a striped pink straw with a paper flamingo attached.
Cool Pool” by Paperless Post; 1. Tropical Jungle Tube by Funboy; 2. Flamingo Honeycomb Straws by Coterie; 3. Palm Leaf Large Plates by Coterie; 4. Palm Leaf Cocktail Napkins by Coterie, all available at Paperless Post Party Shop.


3. Back to school pool party

Have a pool, or know someone who does? Host a back to school pool party so kids can cool off before they go back to class. 

  • Location: Your pool, a family’s pool, or a local community or school pool.
  • Invitation: Use a pool-party-themed invitation to let everyone know about the main event. 
  • Use the Guest Questions section of your Paperless Post invite to remind parents to say if their children don’t know how to swim.
  • Activities: Fill the pool with fun, trendy floats. Pass out water guns and water balloons.
  • No matter how uncool it might seem, make sure there’s a grownup on the scene at all times to keep things safe.
  • Food and drink: Supply lots of fruity snacks and plenty of drinking water for hydration. 
  • Cost: $$$

4. School campout

A camping trip at school? Turn the dream into reality with a last-days-of-summer campout on the school campus. You can pull this off on the last weekend before school starts or on the first weekend of the school year.

  • Location: Invite parents to set up tents and sleeping bags on the grassy area of your school playground or in the gym. 
  • Invitation: Use a camping-themed Flyer to let parents and students know what to bring and who’s invited. 
  • Food and drink: Have families sign up for parts of the meal, or have them pay in advance for an experience that includes a meal that’s catered or provided by a food truck.
  • Activities: Set quiet hours—the neighbors want to sleep, too!
  • Cost: $$$

5. School scavenger hunt

The first day of school can be daunting for kids of any age. Get them familiar with—or help them remember—their way around school with a school scavenger hunt. 

  • Location: The school.
  • Invitation: Give the scavenger hunt a theme, like a pirate treasure hunt
  • Food and drink: Light drinks and snacks are all that are needed to keep kids energized during their hunt. 
  • Activities: Hand out a scavenger hunt paper, or email a copy to parents. Scavenger hunts can include campus items, such as drinking fountains, backpack stations, the library, and their classroom.
  • Have parents come to campus and help their kids fill out the scavenger hunt papers.
  • Give prizes to kids with completed scavenger hunts on the first day of school!
  • Cost: $


Left: A young boy holds a melting ice cream cone with rainbow sprinkles in front of his face. Right: An ice cream social invitation has a light purple background and an illustration of a cone on the left with eight colorful scoops on top.
Image via Adobe Stock; “Ice Cream Cone” by Paperless Post.


6. Ice cream social

If there’s anything better than an ice-cream sundae in the last days of summer, we don’t know what it is. Make students happy with some special treats before the school year begins. 

  • Location: Set up a sundae station at the school playground, in the MPR, or at a local park. 
  • Invitation: Use an ice cream invitation to get the word out.
  • Food and drink: Include lots of toppings, such as cherries, whipped cream, and sprinkles.
  • Avoid nuts for allergen purposes, and provide a dairy-free option for students as well.
  • Cost: $

7. School sing-a-long

You know that animated movie that everyone’s been talking—and singing—about this summer? Ride the wave of popularity, and host a movie sing-a-long night for students to belt out their favorite tunes.

  • Location: Use the school MPR’s projection system or rent an inflatable screen for the playground.
  • Invitation: Send out movie night invitations.
  • Food and drink: Rent a popcorn maker or hand out individual bags of popcorn for students to enjoy.
  • Activities: Put on the movie and sing along!
  • Cost: $$

8. Chalk drawing party

Younger students or new kids at a school may be shaking in their boots when they think of the first day of school. Give students and parents some chalk, and invite them to write welcoming messages to newer students on the sidewalk into school! Newer students can join the event to see how welcoming the community is. 

  • Time: Host the event over one afternoon, or have students come whenever they can in the days before school starts.
  • Food and drink: Provide some light snacks and drinks to keep students energized while they write. 
  • Activities: Have students write messages such as “Welcome to our school!” and “We’re glad you’re here!”
  • For an extra sweet back to school surprise, have students write messages to teachers outside their classrooms as well.
  • Cost: $


Left: A family fun night invitation with illustrations around the border of colorful ball and racquet sports. Right: Two children play soccer in a yard with a palm tree behind them.
Balling Out” by Hello!Lucky for Paperless Post; Image via Kampus Production.


9. Family fun night

Get the whole family involved in a game-filled night before school starts. Friends can reunite, and parents can chat about their summer as they play outdoor field games under the bright lights.

  • Location: The school sports field. 
  • Invitation: Use a sports-themed invitation to get everyone excited. 
  • Activities: Play back to school bingo with squares filled in with summertime activities and goals for the school year ahead.
  • Classic field-day games like three-legged races and potato sack relays are always a hit.
  • Make your event even more memorable with custom-made back to school t-shirts that everyone can sign with colorful permanent markers. 
  • Cost: $$

10. Students vs. teachers baseball game

Just because the summer’s almost over doesn’t mean baseball season is. Invite students to play in a baseball or kickball game (or any other summer sport) against teachers who have some skills to share.

  • Location: The school sports field.
  • Invitation: Use an invitation that looks like a ticket to the big game
  • Food and drink: Have light snacks available, such as popcorn, popsicles, and orange slices, of course. 
  • Activities: Rotate students through the positions so everyone gets a chance to play.
  • Provide sports equipment or have students bring their own stuff.
  • Cost: $$

Back to school event ideas for teachers

Believe it or not, teachers feel a little nervous about going back to school, too. They’ve got lesson plans to finish, meetings to attend, a classroom to set up, and first day of school activities to design—all before the first students walk through the door.

Help ease them into the school year with some creative back to school ideas just for teachers. The key for planning events for teachers is to make their job easier, so avoid planning events that will take away their classroom prep time.

11. Brunch or coffee hour

Since teachers often return to campus several days before school actually begins, you can set up an early brunch or coffee hour before they unlock their classroom.

  • Location: Host the event in the teachers’ lounge or MPR—depending on the amount of space.
  • Invitation: Invite teachers with a cute invitation, and include a Guest Question in your invitation to ask about dietary restrictions or preferences.
  • Food and drink: Have parents or PTO/PTA members donate delicious breakfast foods and coffee supplies.
  • Activities: Provide places for teachers to sit and relax, but don’t get offended if they’d rather take their treats and get right to work.
  • If teachers have an early meeting or training to attend, keep the brunch open until an hour after the meeting ends.
  • Cost: $


Left: Fluorescent colored pencils, children’s pink scissors, and some small round containers on a pink surface. Right: A light pink invitation for a school supplies drive with illustrated school supplies around the border on a blue backdrop, with a pink envelope with a liner of yellow pencils.
Image via Karolina Grabowska; “Bookbag Essentials” by Paperless Post.


12. School supplies drive

Many parents don’t know how much money teachers spend on school supplies. But a surprising amount of pencils, paper, and glue sticks—so many dried-out glue sticks!—come from a teacher’s personal account. Welcome them back to school with the supplies they’ll need on day one.

  • Location: Host an afternoon at the school for parents to create gift baskets with gathered supplies.
  • Bring baskets to teachers during a back to school work day.
  • Activities: Ask parents for donations of varied school supplies. This list can come from teachers, the office, or other teacher wish lists online.
  • Make sure to include items like pencils, dry erase markers, erasers, paper, notebooks, crayons, and scissors—enough for a full class.
  • Food and drink: Add some chocolate or gift cards to a coffee shop for a bonus teacher treat. 
  • Cost: $$

13. Open house reception

Teachers working in their classroom in the days before school begins don’t have time for an event during the day. Instead, set up an open house reception so they can stop in whenever they have a few free minutes or just need a break.

  • Location: Decorate the school MPR, gym, or teachers’ lounge with school colors and lots of back to school decor.
  • Invitation: Make it a summer fling-themed event for a fun twist. 
  • Food and drink: Have snacks and treats that won’t melt or get soggy if they’re left out for the work day, such as individually wrapped cookies or muffins.
  • Provide water and other drinks in a cooler for teachers to grab whenever they need one.
  • Cater lunch if you have some money in your PTA or PTO budget.
  • Cost: $$

14. Teachers’ night out

All work and no play makes teachers dread the new school year. Sponsor a fun night out for teachers to enjoy before school begins—or after the first day of school if they need to relieve stress then.

  • Location: Host a two-drink ticket night at a local bar, restaurant, or adult arcade.
  • Contact a local movie theater to see if you can get a deal for bulk movie tickets for teachers.
  • Reserve several lanes at a bowling alley or rounds of golf at a miniature golf venue.
  • Have a night for teachers to stop by a parent’s house—preferably one who lives close and has a large home—for snacks or even dinner.
  • Invitation: Encourage teachers to dress up with a fancy invitation
  • Cost: $$$


Left: A “taco truck Tuesday” invitation with an illustration of a yellow taco and simple shapes representing cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and beans. Right: A vintage van repurposed as a taco truck.
Taco Placeros” by Paperless Post; Image via The El Felix.


15. Taco truck

Even the most diligent teacher will leave their classroom at the sight of a taco truck pulling into the parking lot. 

  • Location: Provide seating space in the MPR or cafeteria for teachers to take a break from all their planning and catch up with each other.
  • Food and drink: Use PTO/PTA money to buy teachers a taco lunch from a taco truck, or give them a voucher to choose their own meals.
  • If tacos aren’t your teachers’ thing, try a burger truck, ice cream truck, or shaved ice truck instead.
  • Cost: $$$


An online invitation for the Nayland PTA Fall Kickoff with an outline of a turkey and a gif of moving autumn leaves with the words “BACK TO SCHOOL.”
Gold Leaves” Flyer by Paperless Post.


More back to school event ideas

While some back to school ideas are fun and games, others are needed to get down to business—school business, that is. Plan those necessary first-week events and meetings to excite everyone to get ready for the best school year ever.

16. PTA/PTO get-together

Get the word out early about the first PTA/PTO meeting of the year. Make sure everyone knows they are welcome, and that their time and participation is valuable.

  • Location: The school auditorium. 
  • Invitation: Use a fun theme to encourage everyone to join. 
  • Food and drink: Provide some light snacks and drinks that are applicable to your theme. 
  • Activities: Greet parents at the door and encourage them to wear name badges.
  • Have babysitters on hand if you’re meeting in the evening. Try to bring in teenage siblings, and pay them in community service hours.
  • Set an agenda. Keep it to four to six key topics, and note how long you’ll spend on each one. Include time for questions.
  • Start and end on time. Distribute minutes to keep everyone on track.
  • Be clear and consider that you’ll be speaking to new parents. Explain the different school events so they’re not wondering what fall carnival is and why it’s important.
  • Cost: $

17. Back to school night

A back to school night or parent open house is an exciting time to show off your thriving school community. 

  • Location: The whole school.
  • Invitation: Use invitations for school events to spread the word in the first days of the school year.
  • Activities: Involve current parents—station them at the entrance as greeters or in the gym to answer questions over refreshments.
  • Start with a short program in the auditorium or gymnasium. Encourage students to be available to share their experiences with school programs like the science fair, chorus, and art classes. 
  • Include a map of the school and the schedule of events. Leave time for self-guided tours. Station teachers (and students, if you’d like) in their classrooms to answer questions.
  • Set up interactive tables for academic disciplines and any other relevant groups like the library, sports, or arts programs. 
  • Cost: $


Left: Three cupcakes with pink frosting. Right: A yellow invitation for a back-to-school bake sale with three colorful illustrated cupcakes and a red envelope with a liner of sprinkles.
Image via Jess Bailey; “Cupcake Social” by Paperless Post.


18. School fundraiser event

School fundraising events can get a bad rap, but they’re essential to fund school initiatives. Make yours a seasonal event that the community looks forward to every winter or spring. 

Remember to plan early. Start with a core team of three to five people, including a people person, a money person, and a project manager. Then, figure out your monetary goal, and make it clear what it will do for students.

  • Invitation: Expand your reach by sharing the invitation with the school email listserv using a Paperless Post Flyer
  • Activities: Consider using a theme to keep the event feeling fresh year after year. Bake sales, pizza days, raffles, silent actions, and carnivals are all fun ideas that are geared toward success.
  • Cost: $$–$$$

19. School spirit party

Show school pride and make some money for your school at the same time. 

  • Location: Have a school merchandise sale in the front of the school or online in the days before school starts, as well as the whole first week of school.
  • Activities: On a specific day, like a Friday early in the school year, encourage students and parents to wear their school shirts, hats, pins, socks, and anything else they’ve got.
  • The class who wears the most school pride items wins a special prize. Think pizza days, ice cream parties, extra recess… the choice is yours.
  • Cost: $$


An online invitation for a Parent Dinner” has a photo of a brick school with columns and a clock, and a gif with the words “Parents night.”
Campus Culture” Flyer by Paperless Post.


20. Parents’ night out

Parents who are new to the school might feel overwhelmed when it comes to all the different back to school activities. Welcome the newbies with a parents’ night out or mixer at the school, where they can make friends in an adult setting.

  • Location: Host the night in the school gym or MPR. If you’d like to get the parents away from campus, host the PNO at someone’s home or at a local restaurant.
  • Activities: Encourage parents to wear name tags that include their children’s names and grades.
  • Have parents who have been at the school for a while “adopt” a new family. They can get together and sort out any overwhelming questions the new parents may have.
  • Have childcare available on the playground or another part of campus.
  • Food and drink: If hosting at the school, provide light refreshments, such as drinks and appetizers.
  • Cost: $$–$$$

Not too much, not too little

The first days of school set an important tone for the rest of the year. But when the school year is underway, the work is just beginning. Bringing parents into the circle of school leadership is a great way to build community, support struggling families, and create the best learning environment possible for everyone. And don’t forget to thank teachers for all they do at any time of the year, too.

Inspire parents and other members of the community to join committees, share ideas, and reach out to others—you never know what you can contribute until you try. And when it’s time to send invitations for an end-of-the-school-year party? You’ll have an amazing reason to celebrate. 


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