Graduation — your child has reached this momentous milestone, and now it’s time to celebrate! Whether you plan to keep it simple or go all out for your middle or high school grad, we’ve got ideas for parties and gifts.

Parties with a theme

Dr. Seuss: Check out the book Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss, and you’ll find rhymes with the graduate in mind: “You’ll be on your way up! You’ll be seeing great sights! You’ll join the high fliers who soar to high heights!” Include some of the rhymes on posters as decorations for your party space. Find paper goods with a Dr. Seuss theme at your local stationery store. Serve green eggs and ham!
Alma mater: Whether your graduate is off to high school or college, you can use the school colors to decorate your party space with streamers and balloons. Serve jelly beans and a sheet cake with icing in the appropriate colors, too.
Mexican fiesta: With this theme, menu planning is a snap. Serve make-your-own tacos or burritos with all the fixings: meat, shredded cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and salsa. A big sombrero filled with tortilla chips and guacamole makes an easy hors d’oeuvre. For entertainment, your blindfolded guests can try to break open a piñata filled with candy.
Ice-cream social: This makes an easy late-afternoon or evening party. Get several large tubs of ice cream and provide whipped cream, sauces, nuts and sprinkles, and your guests will take care of themselves.
Dance party: Hire a DJ. Clear a space for dancing. “One of the best parties I ever attended was the one I threw for my son when he graduated,” says Ginger Venable, coauthor of Graduation Parties: Everything You Need to Know From Start to Finish (Lanewood Marketing, 2007). She cohosted the party in her own backyard with several other grads and their families. “It was exciting when the DJ arrived with his lights, microphone and setup, and it was great entertainment.”

Who’s on the guest list?

One party or two? Some readers on the GreatSchools Community suggest having two separate celebrations — a small one for the family and a separate one for your grad and his friends.
An open house means you can include everyone. Invite family, friends, kids and adults. Added bonus — the party is less likely to get out of control when your child’s friends are there with their families. A simple open house on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon for a few hours with light snacks and lots of mingling is a good way to include everyone while also minding your budget.
Pool your resources. GreatSchools Content Developer Marian Wilde, mother of a graduating senior, suggests banding together with other families to host a joint graduation party. She’ll be doing just that when she joins a few other moms who will be hosting a party at a waterfront restaurant this June. A less expensive alternative would be having a joint party at a park or in someone’s backyard. When several families host, you can divide up the food and preparations.

Party do’s and don’ts

Author Venable offers these tips:

  • Do include your grad in the planning. Ask her what food she’d like you to serve and which friends she’d like on the guest list. Make sure she knows who you are adding to the invitation list, and familiarize her with relatives she may not have seen in a while. Let her know you’ll expect her to help with setting and cleaning up.
  • Don’t be too selective. Venable says she often hears from families who felt guilty for not including someone after the invitations went out. She thinks having more guests makes for a better party.
  • Do talk to your teen about her behavior. Remind her to be polite to guests and to think ahead of time about her responses to questions she’ll get about why she chose the college she’ll be attending or what she’ll be majoring in.
  • Don’t plan your party the same weekend as everyone else’s party. Venable suggests hosting your party a week or two before graduation to avoid conflicts with other celebrations.
  • Don’t be dull. Serve unusual food or ethnic specialties. For something different, rent a cotton candy machine or a moon bounce for kids to jump on. Hire a fortune teller or a DJ.

Best graduation gifts

Gift cards galore: For the middle or high school grad, you can’t go wrong with a gift card to a local book or clothing store, Starbucks or iTunes.
Off-to-college gifts: Purchase a cap, sweatshirt or T-shirt from the college she’ll be attending. Most colleges have Web sites where you can purchase these items online.
The high school grad will soon be furnishing her dorm room. That creates lots of gift possibilities:

  • Towels (A monogram adds a personal touch.)
  • A laundry basket filled with practical items: a screwdriver, a hammer and nails, duct tape, Scotch tape, Post-Its and highlighters
  • A coffee mug or two; add a selection of teas and hot-chocolate packets and an electric teapot
  • A tin filled with quarters (Students never seem to have enough for the washing machines in the dorms.)
  • A picture frame (perhaps a personalized one or one that says “Class of 2009”)

Say thank you in style. Personalized stationery makes a proper gift for all those thank-you notes she’ll be writing.
There’s always money. Kim Pessah, a California mother of four boys, two of whom are recent high school grads, suggests that cash is best. “My recommendation for a gift is money because most of them need to buy a computer and they really appreciate the money.”
Venable suggests talking to your teen ahead of time about gifts of money to avoid arguments later. “Warn him that he’ll probably get some gifts of money and it’s not just cash for fun,” she says. “Discuss with him how it would be wise to put money in the bank for college necessities.”
If you’re looking for more party and gift ideas, check out Venable and Mary Anderson’s Graduation Parties: Everything You Need to Know From Start to Finish. The authors, two moms, have lots of party-planning experience. The idea for their book came from Anderson, who was looking for party ideas when her own son was graduating from high school. She teamed up with Venable, an event planner and writer, and they interviewed hundreds of parents and party experts and created this 100-page book. They also host a Web site,