As a military family, we have moved eight times in 15 years. For me, that means eight sets of new communities, neighborhoods, and friends. Experience has taught me that the neighbors and new people I meet are very welcoming and helpful when we first arrive, but it can be challenging to keep that momentum going long enough to establish a friendship. I have found one of the best ways for me to establish friendships with new people is to throw a party within the first month or two I am in a new home.
At Operation Dandelion Kids, we recognize our kids are in the same boat, trying to establish friendships in a new community. As the new school year begins, our advice for helping kids make new friends: have a party!
The GTKY Party
Regardless if a child is transitioning to a new school because of a move or typical school transition (elementary to middle school), she will want to know there will be some familiar faces on the bus, at lunch, or near their locker on the first day.
My daughter will be starting a large middle school this year. Although she was in the same school district last year, we have only been in the community one year, so her circle of friends is rather small. Two of her closest friends are very well connected, have lived in the area most of their lives, and have larger social networks. Together my daughter and I came up with the Get To Know You Party. The GTKY Party is a great way for tweens and teens to take the lead in getting to know some new faces.
Here is what we are planning:
My daughter has asked three of her closest friends to invite a friend of theirs who will be attending the same middle school and whom none of the other girls knows. We are suggesting they choose a friend who is open to new friendships or someone who is new to the community who would like to meet new people. My daughter will be inviting a new friend who has recently moved to our area.
As my daughter is a middle schooler, I will leave most of the planning up to her. Her favorite hobbies to date are life hacks, DIYs, and Pinterest so I am confident she will come up with fun activities to keep everyone entertained and treats to keep them well fed. That being said, I feel the need to “encourage” an activity or two that helps the girls get to know each other.
Personal Collage Icebreaker: Have the guests cut their initial out of cardstock and find pictures from magazines that relate to their personality, talents, and interests. When everyone is done creating their own collage they can share what they created and learn about each other.
Keep it in the air: Keep it in the air is a cooperative learning game, fun for all ages. Have the kids make a big circle, have a bunch of blown up balloons ready to throw in the circle one at a time. The goal is simple, keep the balloons in the air by hitting them back and forth to one another. Start with one balloon and gradually add more balloons to make it fun and challenging.
Water balloon toss: Have the kids work together to get some balloons filled up with water. Have them pair up with someone brand new to them. Make two lines with kids facing each other and give each pair a water balloon. Have the kids toss their balloons back and forth to each other. After each successful toss and catch they pair takes a giant step away from each other. The pair who does not break their balloon wins!
GTKY note cards: As the party concludes, we will ensure everyone has shared contact information so they can stay in touch. Their take home favor can be note cards with each guest’s name and number on one side. If you have the ability take a group picture, print it and stick it to the back side of the note card.
A note for parents: I have learned from my first middle schooler that the kids are making great friendships in school, but still need quite a bit of parental oversight to connect with one another outside of school. As the parent in charge, make sure you have a piece of paper handy to get a parents’ information when they drop off or pick up.
The Bus Stop Party
One summer we moved to a great neighborhood that seemed like it should have a lot of kids, but we never saw any until the first day of school when they all showed up at the bus stop. Although we had been there a couple of months, we didn’t know any of them. To avoid this from happening to your kids, prior to the first day of school hold a Bus Stop Party. Essentially this is a neighborhood family party held towards the end of the summer to celebrate the beginning of school and help kids establish friendships in their neighborhoods.
Encourage neighbors to invite other classmates regardless if they are at the same bus stop. Make it a potluck and utilize as many driveways, front yards, or backyards as possible. If you have a gaggle of kids, it won’t take them long to talk about what grades they are in and who their teacher may be. To get creative grab some sidewalk chalk and decorate the bus stop sidewalk with fun pictures and messages for the first day of school.
Once back-to-school season is over the stores will be stocking up for Halloween. When my kids were in 2nd and 3rd grade, we decided to throw a Halloween party. This was great timing because the kids were establishing new friendships, but we needed a little something to carry their friendships from school to after school and weekend playdates. The same was true for me. I had run into a few parents who seemed nice, but I hadn’t the chance to get to know them very well in the hallway or at back-to-school night. Having a family-friendly Halloween Party was a great way for me to meet the classmates my kids were talking about, meet their parents, get contact information, and open the door for future playdates – for all of us. There will be an abundance of Halloween Party ideas online! My advice…take parents up on their offer to help, make it a potluck with a fall or Halloween focus, and always have a place to write down contact information.
At Operation Dandelion Kids, our goal is to help military families find ways to ease the transition into a new school. Healthy socialization is a big factor in these transitions and what better way to be social than to have a party?!?!
We’d love to hear effective strategies that help your children socialize. Please share!