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Back To School Party

by Maxwell Tielman

During the waning days of summer, when hot, humid afternoons give way to chilled autumn breezes, a sense of nervous anticipation fills the air. Although fall signals the beginning of the year’s end, September is all about beginnings. The school year ahead is full of promise, like a blank sheet of paper or a newly opened box of crayons — the kind with fresh, pointy tips and a deep, waxy smell.

There’s nothing quite like the first day of school. Early in the morning, youngsters will wake up, excitedly put on their shiny new shoes, and go out to wait for the yellow school bus. It’s a day of familiar faces and new introductions, of freshly cleaned chalkboards and the feeling that anything’s possible. Although many of us are now well beyond our grammar school years, it’s never too late to relive those fond childhood memories. Come with us back in time as we, through a Back-to-School-themed party, celebrate the magic of this wonderful time of year. — Max

Also, be sure to check out the shopping guide at the bottom of this post for all of our back-to-school favorites!

Read the full post after the jump . . .

Above image: Bouquets of sharpened pencils (à la Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail) decorate a charming serving table filled with all the necessary back-to-school accouterments. The absolutely delicious candy apples are from Williams Candy in Coney Island. The confetti was created using construction paper and a hole punch. A wall painted with black chalkboard paint makes the perfect backdrop.

Above image: Using school supplies that can be picked up at any dollar store, we crafted invitations that capture the delight that comes with passing notes behind teacher’s back. Using standard-sized graph paper, we printed out four typed invites per page, leaving a little bit of room at the top of each. We used a typewriter font in bright pink to mimic the look of an analog typewriter, but feel free to use the real thing if you’re feeling adventurous! Above the invite information, we wrote a simple “You’re invited” in pencil and added gold star stickers to the corners. A+!

Above image: Another pencil bouquet — this time in color! A metal school bus toy accompanies building blocks from Todd Oldham’s Kid Made Modern line at Target.

Above image: Classic addition flashcards make wonderful party decorations, whether you hang them on a wall, prop them up on a table or build a house out of them.

Above image: Using some twine, circles cut from craft paper and letter stamps from Curiosity Shoppe for Target, we crafted some cute and totally school-appropriate garland for stringing around. Simply glue two stamped circles together every inch over the twine and voilà! See below for the finished product!

Above image: For some added flair, we dressed up standard juice boxes with a bit of gift wrap, craft paper, crayons and stickers. Achieving this look is stunningly simple — just trace all four corners of your juice box onto craft paper, adding a little extra as a tab to tape down. Beginning with your tab, tape the paper to all four corners of your juice box and hold down the flap with a simple strip of plain masking tape. Decorate to your heart’s delight! The dinosaur approves.

Above image: Party guest Julie Mollo has certainly dressed the part!

Above image: Eeboo’s Alphabet Wall Cards look fabulous strung up with some twine or framed on the wall.

Above image: Tough spelling words written onto index cards make an entertaining and brain-building party game. Playing cards decorated with Charley Harper art perfectly complement the theme.

Above image: These lined-paper cupcakes were as easy as 1-2-3! Using standard recipes or pre-made mixes for vanilla cupcakes and sugar cookies, simply frost your cupcakes with vanilla frosting and top with a sugar cookie decorated with pink and blue cake decorating frosting.

Some more items for partying “Back-to-School” style year round . . .

1. Academic Planner from Annie’s Blue Ribbon General Store | 2. Tourne Eraser from Brookfarm | 3. Red School Chair | 4. Italian Pushpins from The Curiosity Shoppe | 5. Spencerian Penmanship Copybook | 6. Memo Notebook Tray from Fishs Eddy | 7. Drei Stern Chalk from Dry Goods

1. Gus Modern School Chair | 2. Vintage School Clock | 3. Periodic Table Wall Chart | 4. Vintage Glucose Molecule Model | 5. Manual Pencil Sharpener | 6. Wooden Abacus

1. Vintage School Chalkboard | 2. Sectional Paper Globe from Acorn | 3. Building Block Set from Acorn | 4. Wooden Folding Ruler | 5. Vintage Red Marquee Numbers | 6. Apica Notebook from Spartan

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  • Lovely ideas; great styled shots! Sigh. I still remember the smell of the freshly sharpened pencils and the feel of them on the brand new crisp notebook paper. (And then reality set in and I wished it were summer again-ha!)

  • How fun! I love all the elements you included into this shoot! Lunch boxes, candy apples, pencils, paper garlands….love it all! Great post!

  • I love that molecule model! It brings me back to my childhood, when my dad (who was a high school chemistry teacher) used to bring me and my sister to his office on weekends and let us play with the “chemicule” model.

  • Love it…I have vintage reading charts and flash cards in my studio, among other school-related goodness. And I happened to Post a drawing on my blog earlier this week that couldn’t be a better fit with your words about blank paper and new crayons!

  • So many great photos, the flashcards shot brings back memories of classroom competitions.

    Cool idea to throw a themed party and get the kiddos ready for the year.

  • The styling of this post is right on the money. Love every detail, every item, every creative idea!

  • i think i miss elementary school more than any other! but what i miss the most is school supply shopping, the smell of new backpacks and crayons was the best!

  • Very cute idea. Well done. My tweens would love this I will remember for next year as we start school in August so our report cards are already this Friday.

  • Cute styling, however practically speaking I’m not sure what audience would throw this kind of party. Having just been through the transition from vacation to school I wonder when I could have fit this in. Most families are scrambling to get ready for school and make the most of the final days of vacation, while kids are getting the jitters thinking about going back. Perhaps it would be a family event. Were there any kids at your event?

    • sue

      we ran this party mid-september because we thought it would be applicable any time in early fall. we were inspired by memories of getting ready for school – so this doesn’t necessarily need to be done for kids. i would be happy to have a back to school themed party with friends my own age- just to have a bit of nostalgia.

      also, like any party idea, you can tailor it up or down to suit your needs. you could pair things down to just include juice boxes and cupcakes, which took us only an hour or two to make. if you have extra time you can throw in garland, etc, but it’s not necessary. we like to include as many options as possible to inspire people but they’re certainly not required if you are working with less time.


  • Great vignettes and photography! Max, I have been a follower of your personal blog (and Daniel’s) for some time and I am happy to see you are now a D*S contributor. Congrats!

  • Grace— my mistake; I assumed it was for kids with the youthful theme. And certainly you make good points about tailoring parties to suit your time and audience. :-)

  • Great photos and fun ideas! Max, you are a great writer and it has been fun to have a new, fresh voice on D*S. Keep up the good work!

  • Sue and Grace, I threw a back-to-school-themed-going-away party for a bunch of 30 year olds. A friend was moving away for grad school, so we played up pencils, graph paper and chalkboards – it was a great success!

  • I love everything school related and vintage, plus I’m a high school art teacher. I could see using this theme with my teacher friends, or maybe to celebrate someone’s 30th or a school themed baby shower. I just love this idea. Will use it some way for sure!

    And Natalie, I love the idea of using this theme for a going away party for someone heading off to grad school. Gotta keep that in mind!

  • I like the cupcakes and the way they are presented. They are just calling your name. They are so playful. Also, everything is in very good taste including photography.

  • Love the ideas, my daughter is 16 and in highschool now but she she still loves for me to make her lunches and treats. She loved the cupcake ideas and asked me to make some for her and her friends.