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How To Host An Inclusive School Theme Day

Updated: Aug 4, 2023

If you’ve ever resented spending what should be a perfectly boring Tuesday night scouring the dollar store for an elaborate school spirit day ensemble for your child, you likely share my aversion to school theme days. Dress like a teacher day, Superhero day, Be 100 years old for the 100th day of school...the list goes on.


A few months ago, I shared what I thought would be my unpopular opinion on this phenomenon to my Facebook feed. While there were a few dissenting views, I was surprised with the number of people who felt similarly and shared their thoughts. Here is a representative sample of the comments to my post-


  • “I thought I was the only one! I’m way too busy to keep up with these requests, especially with two kids. It’s a struggle to make sure homework is done and the library book gets in the backpack on library day. Have mercy on me.”

  • “There is nothing fun about forced ‘fun’ that falls largely on overworked moms. And it’s expensive. No thank you.”

  • “Seriously had the same thoughts as I was finding and buying tutus and tiaras this weekend…it’s exhausting.”

  • “My pet peeve is all the ‘new’ other things. Elf on the Shelf, disruptive Leprechaun... Who thought up this stuff? I really want to karate chop them in the throat.”


That last comment might be a blog for another day (but I need to become best friends with this woman).


Listen, I’m all for having fun at school. I certainly don’t think that educators are purposely looking to impose stress on families. And with so much stress in the world right now, I absolutely agree that we need to bring more joy into our classrooms. I’m just not sure that outlandish theme days are the right way to go about it.


Aside from an inconvenience to busy families, schools risk excluding students or alienating certain populations when theme days are not thoughtfully planned. Consider the family that can’t afford expensive sports paraphernalia for “Team Jersey Day,” or the student whose ethnic hairstyle is one that is imitated on “Crazy Hair Day.” What about the child who can’t find a friend with whom to dress similarly on “Twins Day?” While all of these theme days seem benign on the surface, they can be highly problematic and have the opposite effect of the intended result.


Since I’ve never been one to admire a problem (and because I really do want kids to have fun), I've shared the questions below to help us reflect on how to create more positive, inclusive theme days.


Will this theme require students to go out and purchase something? If the answer to this question is yes, it’s a no-go. Instead, think of something that does not require a budget and that everyone is likely to have at home. You might try school colors day, winter warm-up day, backwards day, or mismatched day.


Does this theme single out a particular group of people? Avoid identity-based theme days that reinforce stereotypes, mock cultures, or poke fun at someone’s lived experience. As an alternative to spirit days where students dress a certain way, consider activity-based themes like a scavenger hunt, arts and crafts, or a pep rally. Better yet, link this activity to a topic you are covering in the curriculum and make LEARNING fun!


Have families been provided with clear communication? A surefire way to exclude students is to restrict access through poor communication. All students and families need information provided through accessible means. This means engaging in translation practices typically available for multi-lingual families and providing accommodations for families with vision, print, or other disabilities. While these practices generally occur for larger-scale communications, it’s important to implement them across the board for the smaller ones as well.


Have families received enough notice? In addition to being thoughtful about access, provide notice of the theme day at least one week in advance. This will not only increase participation for those who want to take theme day to the extreme, it’s just good manners.


And if you can’t help yourself….If you simply can’t resist requiring your students to wear tutus for 2/22/2022 (thankfully this day will never happen again) or asking them to bring in objects starting with different letters on each of the last 26 days of school, have extra provisions on hand. Inform families that students may wear their own costume, bring in their own items, OR, they may use what is provided in the classroom. Stock your classroom with extras for children who can’t afford what’s required, kids who forget the theme day is happening altogether, or those whose parents are about to be pushed over the edge if they are forced to engage in one more mid-week dollar store run.


Reflecting on these considerations will help you better engage a wider band of students in joyful activities that respect them as individuals. And isn’t that the point of a good theme day after all?



A picture of parents and children entering some type of outdoor fair or event.  There is a large, purple handwritten "WELCOME" sign with brightly colored balloons decorating the setting.

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