Back-to-school dinner 2021

14 September 2021

I thought I’d share a bit about our inaugural back-to-school dinner, for those who might be interested! Many others have hosted these before me: Merrick has shared some details, Stephanie’s are legendary, and ours was inspired by the Clarkson’s Family Day, too.

I would not classify our 2021 dinner as legendary – it was quite simple and low-key. I anticipate it will be a family tradition for many years to come, though, so there’s plenty of time to build on what we’ve started! While our decorations were fun (June declared them “fancy!” when she saw the candles lit), our kids are still VERY young and were mostly not interested in our introduction of the family scripture theme, ha. Banking on that part coming with time!

So why have a back-to-school dinner?

First, I’ll take any chance to make some everyday magic. And a fresh school year is certainly something to celebrate!

Some years, a special dinner may be needed to bolster a kiddo who feels nervous or reluctant (definitely not the case for us this year – June was PUMPED).

But mostly, I think a well-timed dinner like this helps to ground our kids in our family culture, family values, and family unit before they’re sent back out into the absorbing and sometimes cold world of school. It’s one more opportunity to remind them they’re loved, they’re liked, they’re valuable, and they’re capable.

Our back-to-school dinner decorations:

Table decorations may just seem like fluff, but as I so passionately argued for years in the wedding space, the setting sets the tone: it tells the attendees this is an out-of-the-ordinary night. It tells them they’re worthy of some fun and fanfare. And it makes the evening more memorable by being unusual.

This year, I set the table with our gray gingham tablecloth (bought many years ago and still going strong!) and everyday placemats. June contributed the place cards, we sprinkled some sequins and star confetti, and I added tea lights in mini mason jars we had on hand. The piece de resistance was the centerpiece: flowers from our yard in a pencil-wrapped vase.

To make the vase, I bought a mega pack of pencils and stuck them onto a simple glass vase with double-sided tape, then tied on the satin bow. Pro tip: I was worried the tape wouldn’t come off the vase, but if you dab it with water, it peels right off!

What we ate at our back-to-school dinner:

I was prepared to cook a family favorite, but the kids requested our beloved Chinese takeout, so that’s what we did! We had build-your-own ice cream sundaes for dessert (Neopolitan ice cream, peanuts, hot fudge, caramel sauce, sprinkles, whipped cream, cherries) and June talked for days leading up to it about how she was going to make her OWN without any HELP, ha. These little bowls were perfect and we’ve been using them daily for after-school snacks, too.

What we did at our back-to-school dinner:

Mostly, we just chatted and enjoyed each other’s company! Such as it is with a five year old, a three year old, and an infant :) We also introduced our scripture theme for the year (Matthew 22:37-39). I feel like I fumbled through this as I do explaining many things about faith, but reminded myself it’s the effort that counts – hopefully that encourages you if you feel this way, too!

The goal is that we would all memorize these verses and be more likely to bring them up in conversation and teaching moments throughout the year. To help with this, I printed out a copy for each of the kids and let them paint simple wooden frames to display them in their rooms. This turned out to be very popular, and they did such a good job! As for memorization, we’re just planning to recite the verses together before bed for as long as it takes! :)

Other than that, John and I told them about some of our memories from kindergarten, and we talked again through how the next day would unfold.

In future years, I would love to include more words of affirmation between parents and kids and between siblings – either in written notes or just going around the table and encouraging each other in a specific way! I also think a back-to-school/first day outfit fashion show and/or dressing up would be fun additions.

And that’s it! Aside from the little bit of decoration prep (my love language), it was really very simple, but a lovely evening to mark a big milestone. I’m looking forward to seeing how this tradition evolves in the years to come! If you have any back-to-school dinner or first day of school traditions, I’d love to hear.

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September 14, 2021 1:15 pm

Thanks for sharing your sweet celebration! This is new territory for us too with a 1st grader and pre-K (but last year’s kindergarten year for my oldest was spent in virtual school). This year we went out for a pizza dinner with the family that we spent last year with (our boys did virtual school together) and it was the perfect way to celebrate the return to in person school! I’d love to make this an annual tradition to mark the transition (and also keeping the effort level minimized for us parents since back to school prep is enough work!).

September 16, 2021 10:57 am

I love that this seems like just the right amount of „extra“ to make it special while still being manageable enough to actually pull off every year without it being too much. Love it! And that pencil vase! Gaaah! So cute!!!

September 16, 2021 4:15 pm

Ohhh I love this so much! It looked like the perfect mix of meaningful and low-stress family fun. Saving that pencil flower vase idea for future reference!