Back to School with a Backyard Movie

Woodbury family hosts a movie night in their backyard to celebrate the start of a new school year and foster neighborhood community.
Creative foods and blankets add fun to the Kriels' backyard movie night, which draws lots of neighborhood kids.

As the summer draws to a close and the kids head back to school, one Woodbury neighborhood has one last hurrah to celebrate the warm weather and build community. This September will mark the second year that Elizabeth and Nathan Kriel have hosted a backyard movie night for neighborhood families to eat, catch up, watch a movie and get to know their neighbors as they start a new school year.

“The people around us are our village,” Elizabeth Kriel says. “They’re helping us raise our kids, they’re keeping an eye out for them; even if they don’t have kids, we all lean on each other. It’s just a way for Nathan and I to take one time a year to connect.”

The Kriels, whose children are five and seven years old, have lived in their Woodbury home for three years, and had hosted a movie night at their previous home. Elizabeth says her goal the first year was simply to reach out to the other families in the cul-de-sac. It’s only grown throughout the neighborhood. And it’s not just for families with kids—those without or with grown children come to the movie night just to meet the neighbors.

Last year’s camp-themed movie night hosted about 15 kids, complete with blankets, tents, trail mix and s’mores bar and featured the movie Ernest Goes to Camp. The Kriels provided all the snacks and beverages for the families who joined them, and set up a potluck for the neighbors to bring a dish to share. While the kids hung out in the backyard to watch a movie, the adults caught up with each other and met new people.

“I wanted everybody to feel included,” Elizabeth says. “We’ve built awesome relationships with these neighbors throughout the years that we might not otherwise have a ton in common with, but now we know who they are and we’re all willing to help each other out.”

The Kriels’ neighbor, Gayle Schaber, says this movie night is special to her and her family. Having moved from a neighborhood where there weren’t many kids and the community feel was lacking, Schaber says it captures why this neighborhood feels like a dream come true. “The whole entire neighborhood is amazing,” Schaber says. “Movie night is just the opportunity to bring everybody together, to have the kids distracted and then the adults can sit and talk and unwind.”

This year’s movie night is going for a carnival theme. With her 13 years of experience in planning corporate events, Elizabeth, the promotions and digital marketing manager at Jerry’s Foods, is no rookie to making events successful. Her inspiration always starts with one idea—for this year, that idea is food on a stick. Then she orchestrates the event, looking for ways to use or repurpose things they already have at the house.

Nathan is the craftsman behind most of the movie night—he built the projector screen, last year’s camping tents, outdoor tables, and, on the whole, helps make Elizabeth’s vision come time life in their backyard. “My favorite part is watching the kids have a blast,” Nathan says.

Elizabeth’s Event Planning Tips
•Always start with one inspiration, whatever sparks your thought process, and roll with that theme. Trying to change your theme as you go along can lead to frustration and added expense.
•Look for things you can easily orchestrate, whether that’s reusing or repurposing what you already have, or shopping consignment stores.
•Prepare early. The less you leave until the last minute, the less stress you’ll have and the more you’ll enjoy the event.