I AM: Proud: Donna Smith Stauffer, Boyertown Grad, Creates Back-to-School Picnics


Lesley and I have amazingly creative and energetic friends. When Donna asked if she could write an article for the "I AM: Proud to Be" project, I was delighted. But I had no idea how inspired I'd be by the story she told of her Back-to-School picnics over 20 years. Perhaps, like me, you'll need a nap after you read it! I am hopeful, however, that you will be inspired to share your story of your "pride and joy"--perhaps different than Donna's, but equally inspiring! ~Ed. (janeEstahl@comcast.net)

by  Donna Stauffer. Photographs by Marcy Stauffer Behr

Wow! August is just around the corner and it’s almost time for the grandchildren to go back to school. It won’t be long before the cars pull up out front, and I'll watch them jump out and race around the house into the garage to see what "Nana" has created this time for their back-to-school picnic.


Such wonderful memories! For twenty years I watched and waited for my grandchildren to come. I held a picnic each August a couple of weeks before school started to let them vent and have a great time. And we did have a great time. I started this annual picnic many years ago where I make all kinds of food into animals, flowers, sports items, and just about anything you can imagine.

Fun foods included sandwiches that look like school buses, pencils made out of pretzel logs, Octopus hot dogs, an owl veggie tray, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made into flowers.

But the fun part of the day for them was the games. We played many, many different kinds of old-fashioned games during this fun and active day before the school years began. We held a boat race in the creek behind our house. They couldn't wait for the obstacle course—nothing fancy but a lot of fun things, like crawling under the picnic table or over the top of the hammock, jumping rope, filling buckets with water, for example. They always got so excited.

Since it was always so hot in August, we played lots and lots of water games; they always enjoyed a water balloon toss!  There were ball tosses, hula hoop games, and all sorts of team games. They threw a ball through the steps on a step ladder to accumulate points, wore a shower cap topped with shaving cream and threw Cheetos at the cap to see who could catch the most.

Some "sit down games" included sucking an M&M onto a straw and then transporting it to another dish. They put six ping pong balls into a dish which they then had to transfer to another dish using a spoon held in their mouths but no hands.

And we always timed them with a stop watch. They had so much fun doing it, not caring   who had the fastest time, but, instead, who had the most fun doing it. Competition is a great thing, but enjoying the competition is the fun part.

Back to the food. At the very first picnic, I made a watermelon into a pig and they loved it. They then instructed me to make something different out of a watermelon every year. So my main concern was to see what kind of a watermelon I could make as their main centerpiece. I’ve done an owl, a monster, a football, or whatever struck my fancy. 

I usually had a theme, so most things made related to that theme. It might have been a certain animal, a bird, a sports theme, movie theme or anything. One year I chose a flamingo, so many of the food items had something to do with a flamingo. We held the picnic in our back yard gazebo, so I would decorate that accordingly.

I also made them plates and cups personalized with their names on them. Those plates were filled with favors and souvenirs for them to take along home, with perhaps a necklace, a key chain, or a sports magnet. Sometimes I decorated a can and filled it with pencils, erasers, and crayons.

Our picnic time was within a five-hour window, so we had plenty of time to do lots of fun things.

 One  year I went out along the road and picked a big bouquet of Queen Ann’s Lace. I put it in 5 different vases; and as the children arrived, I gave them each a bottle of different food coloring and had them squeeze a few drops of their color into one of the vases…and VOILA! When they were ready to leave the picnic, they had pink, blue, green, yellow and purple Queen Ann’s Lace. They were totally fascinated. So simple, so special, and what a memory! This was something I had done as a child all the time.

At the end of every picnic I always had either a large bucket, a big bag or a container, fully decorated for each child with their name on it, filled with school supplies, “THANKING” them for letting Nana and Pop Pop plan this fun day for them.

Kids today need to picnic, play outside, kick up the dust, and take nature walks. We can , as grandparents, plan for some of those fun things to happen. Eventually they will get too involved in their school activities to attend thse fun picnics. While they are young, pick a day once a month and plan an activity or a fun day. Make some memories!

Unfortunately, my grandchildren grew up and Nana’s picnic had to stop…but, fortunately, I had one grandchild come on behind; and when he turned seven, my daughter felt it was not fair that her son never got to see all that fun food or play all those games and make all those memories…so guess what, I started up Nana’s “Back to School Picnic” again and loved every minute of it.

When I had that second chance, I couldn’t wait. Since he was the only child, he invited some of his friends. So now I was holding a picnic for 8-10 children... and their parents...since they all lived a distance away--too far away to just drop them off and pick them up later.  Those picnics lasted for eight more years.

That grandchild is now a sophomore and playing basketball and football, so all his summer time is tied up. No more Nana picnics, but what a great time we all had! And what great memories!

During the years when I was not doing the picnics and--even today--I find myself at the grocery store and see different things and think, "Why didn’t I ever use those pearl onions for eyes?" or "I could have made those Doritos into butterfly wings." I guess my picnics are not quite out of my blood yet.

So, to Grandmas and Pop Pops everywhere, it is so simple to make a football sandwich, pencils out of pretzel logs, a praying mantis out of celery, spiders out of cookies or even dolphins out of bananas. Just one of these will create a wonderful memory.

Set up a crazy obstacle course one afternoon for another great memory. Create memories for your grandchildren. The smallest memory could last forever. Twenty years from now, they will not remember the games they used to play on their cell phone but, trust me, they will remember those crazy foods and all those fun games they used to play with Nana and Pop Pop at “Nana’s Back to School Picnic.”

I am so very proud when I think back to their faces and expressions all those years ago and that they have shared their memories with me out of “love” for what those picnics meant to them.

Donna Smith Stauffer is the proud mother of three children, grandmother of five and great grandmother of three toddlers. Over the years she’s made memories and showcased her creativity as a hair stylist and cake decorator and her love of children as a paraprofessional teaching math at Boyertown's junior high schools for 10 years. Donna loves reading, mowing grass, hosting picnics and get-togethers with friends and family. High school sweethearts, she and her husband Karl have traveled all over the country and around the world throughout their 62 years of marriage.

More News from Boyertown
I'm interested
I disagree with this
This is unverified