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Special Touches to Make Your School Party Contribution a Standout

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School parties offer a great chance to peek into your child's world while also lending teachers a helping hand. Whether seasonal or themed, here are some ways to make what you bring to the party stand out.

"Always run your ideas past the teacher first," says Donna Pilato, the guide to entertaining at About.com. Also make sure there are no restrictions on what you can bring. Some children have food allergies, and many districts prohibit home-baked goods. Pay close attention to any handouts about the party, which often list items parents can provide.

When it comes to bringing food, surprisingly, healthier choices will stand out amid a sea of prepackaged, chemical-laden treats (which might be forbidden, anyway). Look for prewashed, precut vegetables, including sugar snap peas kids can crack open. Bags of apples are both convenient to carry and disappear quickly. Think "finger foods" to eliminate the need for cutlery -- cherry or grape tomatoes, prewashed baby carrots, and seedless grapes add color and provide healthy fuel for guests. Wash all produce at home and serve using unbreakable bowls or platters.

Bringing a portable music player and a CD of seasonal or kid-friendly popular music not only adds to the fun, but also provides a built-in backdrop for games like freeze dance, musical chairs, or hot potato, says Pilato. Don't forget to bring prizes to reward winners, such as pencils, books, or school-spirit items.

Teamwork is a key ingredient for any successful classroom celebration. "Plan on group craft projects and games," says Pilato. "Kids have more fun at a party when they can work together." Fill lunch bags with craft supplies for each classmate before the party, which saves time in distributing supplies. "Always plan a few extra games just in case your activities progress more quickly than anticipated," she says. Finally, Pilato suggests parents look for ways to provide unique keepsakes like beach balls each child can autograph at an end-of-year bash or glitzy gel pens for signing yearbooks.

Stephanie Denton, author of "The Organized Life: Secrets of an Expert Organizer," suggests creating a "party bin" using a plastic storage bin filled with party-themed items. "Keep a stock of paper plates, napkins, disposable cups, and plastic silverware on hand," she says. "You can use it when it's your child's birthday and you bring the treats." Denton suggests purchasing holiday decorations and party supplies on clearance throughout the year and keeping them in your party bin.

Here are some other ideas to keep in mind.

  • Balloons and streamers in school colors will add a unique touch to celebrations throughout the school year.

  • Bring items tied to the season or theme of the party, but keep it simple to avoid unwanted distractions or messes.

  • Choose decorations (cut flowers, miniature pumpkins, holiday cookie cutters) that can be reused or given to the teachers or students -- a treat and built-in cleanup all in one!

  • Bring a camera to parties and events throughout the year to create scrapbooks for your child, teachers, and classmates.

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CeReality: 5 Families, 5 Stories, 1 Critical Meal

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