Back to School Backyard Movie Night party ideas by Memory in the Making
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Back to School Backyard Movie Night

Backyard movie night parties are all the rage these days and for good reason! You can have soooo much fun making them look adorable and Insta-worthy of course, but it’s truly THE BEST summer night activity! I highly recommend putting this at the top of your summer bucket list for kids << check out my slay list here for 140 “boredom” fighters that your kiddos will love!

The Last Hoorah!

For the last several years, we have hosted a Back to School Backyard Movie Night for tons of our kids’ friends and their parents. It is a super fun last hoorah for the kids which gets them pumped about the new school year beginning and seeing all their friends again! Check your schedule now, and block a night a couple days before the first day of school!

I’ll be honest. Throwing an all-out back to school backyard movie night for a large group, especially the first time, is no easy feat. Well, not without my backyard movie night guide of course! I’ve totally got you covered. Below is everything you need to hack the entire process. You will be the ultimate party planner, hostess, and the coolest. mom. ever!!!

What You Need to Host Super Fun Backyard Movie Night

First, I’ll break down all of the items you’ll need to host your backyard movie night for kids. While some items are necessary (such as the projector), others are my tried-and-true, quick-buy optional recommendations. These ideas will save you a TON of time, both creatively and scouring Amazon shopping for waaaaay too long. I guarantee this shopping list will pull the whole back to school party theme together, create a great vibe and have everyone wishing you’ll host this party year after year!

Backyard Movie Night Must-Haves

First and foremost, you need to get the outdoor movie part planned out. I recommend you get this equipment as far in advance as possible and TEST IT OUT BEFORE THE DAY OF THE PARTY! There’s way too much going on with all the hyped up kids and parents who want to chat to be tinkering with technology during the party.

Depending on your party guest size, backyard size and shape, and budget, there are of course several different options available. First, I’ll get you up to speed on the technology options. I’ll also discuss my personal setup that has worked very successfully this past few years.

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning that if you click through & make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support!

Outdoor Projector

Outdoor projector variations can be a bit overwhelming if you’re not a tech nerd. Newer versions continue to come out, while older models are still available with more competitive pricing in exchange for less quality and fancy features. I recommend you start by considering how often you’ll be putting this equipment to use, what and where you’d like to project with it.

Our projector was bought a few years back and prefers a physical Blu-Ray DVD. Not ideal, but we don’t use it often enough that I cringe over purchasing a DVD. If you intend to use an Amazon Fire Stick to stream movies or concerts often, make sure your outdoor projector is compatible. When I upgrade in the future, I will opt for streaming ability AND ability to watch before sunset.

Here’s an overview by the experts at Consumer Buddy, “Top 8 Outdoor Movie Projectors of 2023“.

Summary of some Outdoor Projector Considerations:
  • Distance between projector and the screen
  • How big of screen coverage you need (dimensions of white area)
  • Picture brightness and clarity preference (i.e. Lumens, HD, 4K, 1080p, HDR, 3D, blah blah, etc.)
  • Sound bar included or your willingness to Bluetooth pair or physically connect an additional speaker
  • Wi-Fi connectivity
  • Built-in Android apps or capability to add an Amazon Fire Stick or other streaming device
  • Stream-ability off of your phone for ease of use
  • Ability to watch BEFORE sunset!!
Optoma HD146X outdoor movie projector
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Optoma HD146X
Epson Home Cinema 1060 outdoor movie projector
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Epson Home Cinema 1060
FANGOR Native 1080P Wifi outdoor movie projector
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FANGOR Native 1080P Wifi
RECAP OF THE TOP 8 RECOMMENDATIONS FOR OUTDOOR MOVIE PROJECTORS OF 2023, BY CONSUMER BUDDY:

Watch the Consumer Buddy YouTube video (above) for full breakdown and to determine the projector most suitable for you.

Finally, if this all sounds like a technology nightmare to you, it’s possible mounting an outdoor TV is the way to go at your home!

Additional Speaker

Depending on the built-in speaker volume capabilities of your projector, as well as the size of your yard and listening party, you may need to attach an additional speaker to your outdoor projector. Mine allows for Bluetooth connection to my huge Bumpboxx Boombox. They come in a variety of cool colors if you’re feeling funky and helps volume carry over my large yard area and rambunctious kids!

Projector Stand

For a few occasions, we used random things we had on hand to set the projector on (step ladder, etc.). Then trial and error to get the right angle to fit the screen… VERY annoying. So we finally wised up and bought a little tripod projector stand to get it to the perfect height and angle. Totally worth it, phew! This is the projector stand I purchased, not too expensive and does the trick!

Projection Screen

First, you need to decide on how big of a screen you would like for your yard. We have a big 20 ft inflatable movie projector screen like this GYUEM 20 feet Inflatable Portable Projector Movie Screen. Amazon has a ton of different options available which aren’t too challenging to navigate their variances and price points.

Next, on to the fun part; choosing your featured movie!

Movie Time

I highly recommend you choose a few options before letting your kids pick. They may throw in a cool idea or two of their own, too. Remember the party is for them! They gotta think it’s cool and something they want to watch with their friends.**But…

**Other key considerations are the movie length, which critically effects your party timeline (see how to calculate it below)! Plus, consider the likelihood of the movie to hold the kids’ attention when they’re surrounded by friends. From my experience, kids don’t stay put the whole time, so you can get that “picture perfect” idea out of your head right now, haha!

Last but not least, here are a few resources to get your wheels spinning!

Reminder, depending on your outdoor projector selection, you may need to purchase a physical Blu-Ray DVD or an Amazon Fire TV Stick to access your favorite movie streaming service app.

Do you ever end up in an argument with your husband before hosting a party? You’re not alone. It’s likely due to unclear goals and deliverables. That’s why I developed my 14 Fundamentals of Personal Project Management for planning fun, lifelong memories. I highly recommend you take a look at and give these principals some thought, in the weeks before your back to school backyard movie night party. Also, read it BEFORE you talk to your husband about the party. Keep in mind, these 14 Fundamentals apply to many of your other fun projects, too!

Next, I’ll give you all of the quick, time hacks to make your backyard movie night super cool and something so special your kids will remember it forever!

Backyard Movie Night Ideas

Here are some nice-to-have ideas for setting up the viewing area. The way I layout this back to school party is designed entirely with the kids in mind. In this case, adults are my secondary audience and most likely they will opt to chat with the other parents during the movie anyway.

Ground Cover

First, layout a ground covering to frame your viewing area. My first year, I used a big tarp and a few moving blankets I had laying around, which certainly did the trick. However it totally killed the grass underneath it, oops! So, the following year I looked into trying something different: beach blankets. Check out the difference here in my before and after pics.

viewing area before:
after:

There are of course adorable options for large outdoor, water-proof blankets like this 5′ x 10′ in midnight poppy color picnic blanket. If your invite list is on the lower-end, this could be a great option! However, my last party needed to accommodate 20 kids. Too expensive, in my opinion for multiple of those. Instead, I found these extra large beach blankets that are also waterproof and very lightweight.

water-proof picnic blanket
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Water-proof picnic blanket
water and sandproof beach blanket used for backyard movie night viewing area ground cover
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Water and sand-proof beach blanket

Pictured in my photos above are 4 of these 118” X 110” Cabjiang Beach Blanket (currently showing unavailable, but may be restocked), so I have another very similar choice here for your convenience: ECCOSOPHY Sandproof Beach Blanket 9’x10′ (available in multiple cute color combos).

These beach blankets come with stakes for the ground which was an added bonus for keeping everything in place! Next, let me save you a bunch of time and money to setup a cozy and functional seating area!

Seating

For the kids viewing area, I invested in some floor pillows. In previous years, I had hauled out every throw pillow and old comforters in my house. While that worked just fine, they of course got dirty and I didn’t want to mess with that again. I did a lot of shopping around various websites for packs of these that didn’t break the bank. So save yourself the time and trust me these were an excellent choice. These WONDER MIRACLE 4 Pack Seat Cushions come in numerous color choices (I chose the flannel 16″Grey color, pictured).

4 pack seat cushions floor pillows for kids backyard movie night seating
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Floor pillow 4 pack
inflatable lounger air sofa chairs for outdoor movie night
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Inflatable lounger air sofa

My kids are in elementary school, so while I seriously considered these adorable inflatable lounger air sofa chairs, I opted out in fear my littles would pop them. And, of course, I needed a ton of them, $$$.

Lastly, I tell the adults to BYO lawn chairs in case they want to setup in the yard to enjoy the movie, too!

Lighting

Once it’s dark outside, I can guarantee you the kids will start tripping all over your ground covering if the area isn’t well lit. I used this pack of low to the ground, solar tiki torch lights last year and they worked perfectly and looked fantastic flickering! They are low enough to the edges of the beach blankets to catch kids’ attention (most of the time, haha!), so I put one by each stake in the ground to protect their feet.

solar tiki torch lights
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Solar tiki torch lights
Edison bulb LED string lights for backyard
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Edison bulb backyard string lights

Lastly, if you’re looking to jazz up the backyard ambiance, these Edison bulb LED string lights are a great option! Next up: my favorite backyard movie night addition!

Lap Desk/Trays

While certainly not necessary, these lap desk/trays are definitely functional!! I really wanted to find some because I knew they would help the kids eat the food from our “concessions stand” (see the menu below!!), the popcorn, candy and their water bottles during the movie. Helped with clean-up, too!

So, I scoured the (entire!) web for an affordable option and found this perfect 12 pack!! Highly recommend.

12 pack of lap desks for backyard movie night trays
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12 pack of lap desks for outdoor movie trays

Now, since we have covered all the backyard movie night must-haves and viewing-area ideas, I have a ton more short-cuts for you in the decorations category!

Decoration Ideas for Backyard Movie Night

Back to School Backyard Movie Night Concessions banner over kitchen island buffet
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My inspiration came from the classic drive-in movie theater aesthetic. Concession stands not only have a nostalgic vibe, but the food is very simple! SWEET BONUS! Especially when feeding a crowd. My kitchen island is a major gathering spot in my house, so it is the perfect place to setup the decorations and buffet.

Concession Stand Theme

First, I started with this cool CONCESSIONS banner.

Second, I liked having a “Now Showing” chalk board to write the featured movie, the occasion and the date on.

Third, this simple battery operated, LED marquee star sign makes the movie theme pop.

Fourth, a popcorn bucket is an easy touch.

Lastly, there are a few concession stand accessories below that coordinate with the concession food menu!

Back to School Party Theme

Certainly, back to school parties aren’t the only occasion you can put all this awesome outdoor movie night equipment to good use. With these few small extra touches, boom! you’ve got a back to school party theme!

Start with a themed napkin, like this 100 Pack of Back to School Napkins. You can place theme on the kitchen island display, in the buffet line, other tables and by the drink station to carry the theme throughout.

Secondly, incorporate your theme onto the popcorn boxes. The first year I found these perfect Back to School popcorn boxes they were super cute!

Since then, I discovered a big 100 pack of 46oz. plain white popcorn boxes that for all sorts of occasions, like Christmas movie nights, Halloween Spooky movie nights, birthday parties, sleepover parties, and more! Then, I either buy a cheap sticker pack (Dollar Store is a great resource for these) or draw on the white boxes. (See my Halloween ghosts pictured above.)

BONUS POINTS for a sticker that kids can write their names on, like these Crayon Box Name Tags for the back to school party!

Simplest Party Favor Idea

Your third, cheap opportunity to incorporate a back to school theme is on pencils. Easiest party favor ever! In my last party’s case, I opted for Hawaiian pencils because my daughters chose “Finding Ohana” movie. Of course Back to School pencil packs work great, too!

back to school party favor pencil pack
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Back to School Pencil Pack
backyard movie night party favor pencil pack
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Hawaiian Luau Pencil Pack

Lastly, don’t overdo decorations for the theme. Instead, opt to include the theme in the invitation (see what info to include on them below!) and that will plenty set the vibe!

Other Outdoor Movie Night Themes

Birthday, anniversary, family fun night, date night, sleepover parties, “dive-in” pool party… this list of occasions can go on and on! Once you invest in the outdoor movie equipment, take advantage as often as you can! Keep an eye out for my upcoming post on how to repurpose your outdoor movie equipment throw a “dive-in” pool party! <<Subscribe now so you don’t miss a beat and follow me on socials:

Aside from the occasion’s theme, another theme opportunity to spice things up is to go along with the movie itself. For example, for “Finding Ohana” movie I bought a pack of Hawaiian leis that I sprinkled around as decoration and for guests to wear. When our movie was “Freaky Friday“, we served fortune cookies! I like to think of this as more of an ode to the movie theme and keep it as simple as possible for myself.

The Concession Stand

While backyard parties typically call for a grilling burgers or BBQ, for my Back to School Backyard Movie Night party I like to stick to the classic drive-in movie concession stand theme. I absolutely love it because it is a kid-pleaser and very simple to feed a crowd. However, with this sample menu, I highly recommend that you set the expectations with the parents before hand. So many people have special dietary preferences and restrictions, this menu isn’t ideal for. I include this info in the invitation (see what info to include below!)

EXAMPLE PARTY MENU

Not only is this concession stand theme party menu kid pallet friendly, but what I serve the food in perfectly suits kids carrying it back to their lap trays in the yard! Plus, it’s great for adults to snack on as they mingle. Remember to K.I.S.S. and give yourself time to breath and have fun with the kids!

easy concession stand style menu:
  • Bite size frozen pretzels
  • Mini corn dogs
  • Nachos (round tortilla chips, nacho cheese in the crock pot, and jalapeños for the adults)
  • Popcorn
  • Boxes of movie candy
concession stand supplies:

First, heat the frozen pretzels in foil pans for easy clean-up and to keep warm in the oven until you’re ready to serve. Keep nacho cheese warm in a crock pot.

Second, I serve the pretzels and corn dogs in these 2.5lb. disposable paper food trays. Makes it easy to squirt in their ketchup and mustard in and walk around. Plastic nacho trays like these are perfect, too!

Third, I feel like I’m hyping up the kids on sugar enough. So, I also include on the invitation for kids to BYO refillable water bottle. Then I have an Igloo big water jug setup at my drink station for them to refill. For this event, I skip the juice boxes and sodas.

As for adults, I have coolers for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. If it’s a big party, I like to put a label on the top of the coolers with what’s inside, especially when there’s a big variety.

Cooler Packing Beer Can Hack!

Lastly, dessert! You can’t have an outdoor movie night without popcorn and candy! I like to support my local popcorn shop and buy a couple of extra large bags. Put the popcorn, next to the name tag labeled popcorn boxes and a marker. Put a 12 oz. scooper out to make it easy for guests to self-serve. My local Dollar Store carries movie theater style boxes of candy. Choose a big variety and if you buy too much, send some home with some guests! I roughly buy 1.5 boxes per kid. Stack them on the counter and they serve double-duty as a decoration!

More Backyard Movie Night Party Tips!

As you now can see, there’s a lot that goes into preparing for this party. But, it’s soooo worth it! Trust me. I’ve got a few final tips to make sure your party goes off without a hitch and makes your to do list a whole lot easier to tackle! Give your hubby his honey-do list well in advance so he can get started on projects sooner than later. And don’t hesitate to putting the kids to work, too!

Home & Yard Prep

Never overwhelm yourself with trying to knock out your ENTIRE home project list before a party. You’ll make yourself crazy. Only put must-do’s on yours and the honey-do list and avoid tangents.

Inside Tips:

  • More than likely, you’ll be serving the buffet spread on your kitchen island. If so, de-clutter your kitchen counters. Now is not the time to re-organize your junk drawer!
  • Designate an area, away from the kitchen island or buffet, for a drinks station. I pop open a folding table with a plastic table cloth, on tile floor ideally. Place the coolers, water refill jug, cups, a Sharpee marker, napkins and a roll of paper towels there. Something is gonna spill, ha!
  • Lay out all of your recipes. Ask yourself:
  • How much time do they take to prep?
  • Do they need to be in the oven?
  • What temperature?
  • What can be in the oven at the same time?
  • What’s messy that you want out of your way first?
  • Where are my serving spoons and tongs?
  • The goal is to to do and think as little as possible while your guests in your kitchen.
  • People are going to ask what they can do to help. Have an answer for them. Give them something they can do while you do something that you want or need to personally do.
  • If possible, hire a cleaning service to come by, the Friday before the party. Give the bathrooms and floors a once over, so you can focus on your must-do list.
  • Make sure your dishwasher is empty prior to guests arriving. Will make it easier to throw in last minute dirty dishes or cooking utensils and make the post-party cleanup much easier.
  • Lay out and tinker with your kitchen island decorations well before guests arrive. This will give you piece of mind and allow you to snap a pic before you forget!

Outside Tips:

  • Pick up allll the dog poop! The kids will be running around in the yard after dark. They will not dodge it and it will definitely get tracked through the house!
  • If possible, pre-schedule a landscaping company to come out right before. This will save you a ton of time.
  • Wipe down the patio furniture. Don’t rinse down cushions the day of the party because everything will be wet! (Oops, we’ve made that mistake before!)
  • If possible, pre-schedule a kid-safe and pet-safe mosquito yard spray service come the day before the party. Or DIY with OFF! Outdoor Fogger.
  • If it is going to be a chilly night, put blankets on chairs for the parents.
  • If your projector screen has strings and stakes to hold in place, put glow sticks or solar lights by each to prevent tripping after dark.
  • Set out bug spray for guests to use. When someone arrives and asks how they can help, put them in charge of bug spraying.

Prepare Your Guests

First, consider sending a Save The Date as a heads up to your invitees. Summer break calendars are absolutely bananas, amiright?!

Second, prepare an invitation with a lot of detail. For some parties, like this one, it’s important to set the expectations of the guests. Not only is it helpful for the parents planning, but it also allows them to set expectations with their kids beforehand. Avoiding meltdowns is priceless! *See how to calculate your party timeline below.

Also, parents want to consider kids bedtime schedules because they may have younger children or are working to practice the upcoming school-night routine. This party WILL go late. Parents also timeout their kids dinner time, as well as decide if they want to eat a healthy or diet-accommodating meal beforehand. Concessions food menu doesn’t work for everyone, obvi.

Third, in my experience the amount of people who actually retain or reference the information in the invitation is around 10%. That being said, do yourself a favor and send a reminder out to the RSVP YES group that includes all of the detail again. Send out a day or two max in advance. Schedule a reminder in your phone for yourself to do so! Trust me on this…

Information to include in your invitation:

  • Date
  • Your name & address
  • RSVP by date (and means you’d like them to reply, i.e. text Leigh Anne (###) ###-####)
  • Party name, i.e. Back to School Backyard Movie Night
  • Featured movie title
  • Timeline**
  • Menu
  • Kids BYO water bottles
  • Parents BYO lawn chairs
Back to School Backyard Movie Night Party Invitation by Memory in the Making with free Canva template
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Back to School Backyard Movie Night Party Invitation >>FREE CANVA TEMPLATE by Memory in the Making

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Party Timeline

In my opinion, calculating the party timeline is not only SUPER helpful for you as the host, but it goes a long way with the other parents.

  1. Start by searching for the sunset time and dusk time (the darker stage of twilight) for your city on the date of your party. I used SunriseSunsetTime.org to find mine. Especially if your projector requires the movie not begin until its dark enough to view; a.k.a. dusk. For example, in Chicago, I expect mid-August sunset to be approximately 7:55pm and dusk 8:25pm.
  2. If you must wait until dusk, give yourself about 5 minutes to adjust the screen and press play. So on my invitation it will say movie will begin once dark, approximately 8:30pm. IF this late start sounds horrible to you, consider an outdoor projector that is visible before sunset (see the projector buying guide above!)
  3. Select the movie before you send the invitation. It’s fun to include it in the invitation, but also you’ll know when you can expect the movie to be over. *PRO TIP: choose a short movie!! Parents know their kids. It’s nice for them to set expectation with their kid beforehand: “The movie won’t be over until 10:15pm. We won’t be able to stay until the end, so no throwing a fit when we tell you it’s time to leave the party.”
  4. Back into the party’s start time and what time food will be served.
  5. Set alarms on your phone so you are alerted when to warm and serve food, tell kids to start grabbing their popcorn and candy, and start the movie! OMG can you say life saver?!!
  6. Lastly, you’re going to be pretty exhausted by the end of the movie. Think through the minimum amount of clean-up you have to do before turning in for the night. Also, guests who stay until the end will likely offer to help clean up. Take their help! Great examples include: carry in all the floor pillows, wipe off and stack tray tables, etc.

It’s Show Time!!

I bet you’re as excited for your Back to School Backyard Movie Night party as I am! To recap…

steps to make your backyard movie night party stress-free:
  1. Review my 14 Fundamentals of Personal Project Management for planning fun, lifelong memories
  2. Research and purchase outdoor movie equipment
  3. Send Save the Date out to invitees (optional)
  4. Pick a movie with your kid(s)
  5. Confirm your theme, sub-theme
  6. Confirm your menu
  7. Send out invitations with all info included
  8. Begin to gather and purchase items for viewing area
  9. Purchase theme and food-related decorations/supplies
  10. Make your must-do list and honey-do list for the home & yard prep
  11. Test out setting up and working the new outdoor movie equipment
  12. Get final RSVP head count
  13. Finish purchasing remaining items for viewing area, decorations, or supplies based on head count
  14. Send out reminder to guests with all info
  15. Set reminder alarms to stay on track with the party’s timeline
  16. IT’S SHOW TIME!!
  17. Tag me on social with a pic of your awesome setup! I’d LOVE to hear and see how it goes!!

Finally, the most important step of all: Be present in the moment and enjoy the fun! You’re creating and making lifelong memories with your family! You’ve done all you can to prepare so you can avoid feeling stressed in the moment. Should something go “wrong”, just go with the flow!

…it’s Show Time!

Without a doubt, save this Back to School Backyard Movie Night Party Pin on your board!

…Or text a link to your partner in crime!

Finally, follow me @memoryinthemaking on Pinterest or
@meminthemaking on Instagram and Facebook!

If you think this is cool, visit my Memory in the Making blog for tons more inspiration! And get your next Memory in the Making!

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