How to Plan A “Honk & Wave” Parade

How to Plan A “Honk & Wave” Parade

by Ellie Heiking, Community Relations Manager and Kim Hinkley, Programming Director/Brand Manager

The Who & What:

Honk & Wave Parade

A Honk & Wave Parade is a great way to bring teachers,  families and students together safely during this time. You can show your support for the community that you’ve built and everyone can reconnect, see the familiar faces of their teachers and friends, and have some fun!

It’s also a way to connect with and support local businesses, which we will go into more detail later on in this post. 

We are excited to share some advice on how to plan and celebrate your community with a Honk & Wave Parade!


We are lucky because we have a large parking lot that winds around in an oval, and we are located on a cul-de-sac, so it was easy to make a parade route. Walk around your building – would driving back and forth in a loop through your parking lot work? Would a lap around the block be best? Survey your area and map out the best route – and make it as simple and straightforward as possible while also allowing for proper social distancing among staff members.

Honk & Wave Parade Location

We suggest having it near/around your building since your parade stations might require equipment that you can prep the days before the parade and store near your entrance. Plus, your families are used to the location and probably won’t have any issues finding the starting point of the parade, even if they arrive late. Having the parade at your school will also allow for children to reacquaint themselves with the school, making the transition back to school easier when it comes time! 

If you have surrounding businesses like we do, it’s best to contact them a week in advance to let them know about some details of the parade such as: when it will take place, how long it will last, and that they may see some extra traffic during that time. Having open communication with them will allow you to maintain good neighbor status! You may also want to contact your local police department or any other officials, and your property management company if you lease your building, to give them the head’s up. They may be able to share with you any regulations (noise ordinances, etc). 


Plan the parade for a time when you think the majority of your families will be available. We held ours on a Saturday since it was outside of our normal operational hours and most of the nearby business wouldn’t create extra traffic as they were closed too. Also, think about the time. We picked 11:00AM based on when our typical nap or rest times were for students (which happen after 12:00PM). 

Pro Tips

Draw a parade map for your staff to reference, noting the different stations, where they are, who will be at them, and a list of what materials will be needed at each one.

Parade Decorations

Use preparation time to decorate windows, signs or the front of your school as a way to promote team bonding. The time spent decorating was a great way for our staff members to work together as a team in a low-stress environment. We taped hearts to the windows to create messages, strung ribbons and attached different shapes on them to create rainbow patterns, and displayed student artwork. This added so much to our parade route, giving families something to read and enjoy as they drove from station to station. 

Send an invitation to parents two weeks ahead of time. Use Mailchimp or Evite to best track whether people view your invitation. Make it easy to RSVP with a hyperlinked email address if you do use an digital invitation platform. We suggest having the RSVP deadline 5 days in advance so you you have enough time to buy treats (see next 2 tips) for all the cars/attendees as well as other necessary supplies and materials. We also sent messages to parents via our childcare communication app with the invitation image and a message noting the deadline to RSVP. 

Honk & Wave Parade Balloons

We ordered 2 helium-filled balloons for each car (to be tied on each of the side view mirrors. We encouraged families to decorate their cars (and themselves in face paint, costumes) but in case they didn’t, we wanted to have their car look special anyway! We had parents roll up their windows to attach the balloons to the mirrors so that we followed CDC social distancing guidelines with a barrier between us when we were closer than 6 feet away from each other.

We gave gift bags to all the children who attended the parade. We made special ones for the infants that had safe toys in them (plus a sensory bag!), ones for our enrolled students (toddlers and preschool-aged kids), and ones for the elementary-aged siblings of our students. We assigned a color to each age group, which allowed for the staff members at the gift bag station to quickly grab the one(s) needed for each car/family as they pulled up. 

Honk & Wave Gift Bags

We used a 6 foot pole to lower the bags to the driver of each car. One staff member retrieved the goody bag, handed it to the other staff member at the station (who was standing on a step ladder – see photo), and they gently slid it down the pole so it reached the drivers’ ready hands. This was a quick and easy way to get each gift bag to the families in a safe yet fun way! 

Honk & Wave Gift Bags

As you plan out your gift bags think about how this parade could serve as a source of support and free advertising  for local businesses. It is important during these times that we use whatever platform we have to not only lift ourselves but also others. All the local businesses we reached out to were more than willing to donate items for our parade. When reaching out, be understanding and supportive; tell them how this will benefit their business not only now but in the future. It is best to contact these businesses at least two weeks in advance to allow them time to prepare any items they may choose to donate. Ultimately, we included a voucher for a drink or treat at a nearby coffee shop that our teachers and families frequent, a “buy one get one” coupon at a local restaurant known for making healthy, unique salads, and a voucher for a free ice cream treat at a Wisconsin-based chain of restaurants. This way, there were items for the parents too!

Some of the kid-friendly items we included in the gift bags:

Paperback children’s books (donated by our local university)



Fun notepads



A kid-friendly snack

When preparing the gift bags be sure to do so in a safe and sanitary manner. To decrease the risk of spreading germs we designated one staff member to prepare the bags in a designated “clean room” (cleaned with disinfectant and closed off to other staff members and students). This staff member wore gloves and cleaned each item with disinfectant before it was placed into a pre-sanitized gift bag. 

Honk & Wave Parade Clown

Encourage your staff to dress up in bright, colorful clothing! Reuse those Halloween costumes you have packed away in storage, take out the tutus and leis, and rummage through your wig or crazy hat collection. Funky socks are fun too! 

The Week Before:

Walk around your building’s outdoor area to plan out the parade route and write down any notes as you decide where stations and other features will be

Work on decorations, gift bag preparation and written outlines of what each station will consist of. This will allow for the day before the parade to be dedicated to final touches and the construction of station buckets.

Decorate or paint poster boards in bright colors for your parade signs. We still have children in our care as we are considered an essential business, so we had them paint the poster boards and used artwork as a background. We wrote “Welcome” for a welcome sign, “See you soon!” for the goodbye sign, and also labeled certain stations.

Send details to your staff at least 1 or 2 days ahead of time in case they have questions about their roles. 

The Day Before:

Make supply buckets for each station (see station descriptions below for more details). Create a fun, kid-appropriate playlist with upbeat music to play at the DJ station.

Station Bucket

Our station buckets were each labeled with their station number and had a list attached of all the items associated with the station. Inside each bucket was everything that station might need, such as costumes, gloves, speakers, signs and noise makers. This made for quick and easy pick-up the day of as staff members arrived, and ensured nothing was left behind. 

Send another email or communication to your families to let them know what to expect for the next day, including a preview of the different stations and any special reminders you may have for them.

Review the RSVP list. Make sure you have enough treats for the goody bags and balloons and purchase any last minute supplies you may have forgotten or need because of last-minute RSVPs (which there may be even if you’ve given a deadline!)

The Day Of: 

Spend time marking and measuring out where each station will be, and set out the signs that indicate the parade route as well as any that are needed at stations.

Mark out the different station locations with taped “X”s so staff know where to stand. 

Have staff arrive 20 minutes before the parade begins to check in with the lead person upon arrival to pick up your station’s bucket or supplies, and then report to the station. Each staff person should have a parade map.

Some Helpful Do’s and Don‘ts

Do wear gloves if your role requires you going up to certain cars, and a mask or face covering if your city/state requires it

Do NOT get within 6 feet of any car or person unless your role indicates otherwise (i.e. balloon tying)

Do make noise and be high energy! Say hello using children’s names.

Do stay at your designated station to maintain social distancing.

Do have fun!

Station Themes

These are the stations that we created. Use them as suggestions and/or starting points, and add your own style to them that best fits your school or organization!

Station 0: PHOTOGRAPHY Designate a staff member as the event photographer and videographer. Use the images and media to add to any social media pages you have. We posted Instagram stories in the moment as well as attempted to do Facebook live but it sadly didn’t upload well due to low Wi-Fi, so keep that in mind! We put together albums for Instagram and Facebook that we posted later in the week and included a shout out to the businesses who donated goody item bags to us.

Station 1: WELCOME Greet cars as they arrive and direct them to the parade route. If you have a megaphone, this is a great time to use it!  Place this station at the start of the parade with a fun welcome sign or other eye-catching large item – including maybe a team member dressed as a mascot!

Honk & Wave Parade Welcome

Station 2: BALLOONS Have 1 or 2 helium balloons per car. If you have 2 per car, we suggest having 2 people at this station to make tying balloons to mirrors go quickly. 

Station 3: SILLY STRING Spray silly string toward the cars as they drive by!

DJ Station Parade

Station 4: DJ & Car Dancing Materials needed: Table, speaker, extension cord (or a good Bluetooth speaker), phone (to play a kid-friendly music playlist). Engage the participants in some car dances from a distance! 

Honk & Wave Bubbles

Station 5: BUBBLES Materials needed: Bubble machine or long bubble wand to make large bubbles. Position machine to blow bubbles toward the cars, or if you are using a bubble wand, make it so the large bubbles go toward their windows. 

Station 6: MAKE SOME NOISE! Materials needed: Cowbell, clappers, horns or other instruments to make noise and get the cars cheering loudly!

Station 7: TRICKS! Rev up the crowd with dancing, cartwheels or any other tricks or talents to entertain the parade participants and get them laughing and smiling! We suggest having Bluetooth speakers and a phone to play music at this station too. This is where we had our teacher who dressed like a clown and could juggle!

Station 8: GOODY BAGS Materials needed: Goody bags separated by color/age group into clear bins, stepladder, pole, gloves. Person 1 will stand on the ladder and hold the stick to create an angle for the gift bag to fall down to the driver. Reference the car and ask person 2 for the gift bag that correlates  with the age of the children in each car. As cars stop, rest the end of the pole on the edge of the driver’s side window. Loop  the handles of the gift bag on the end of the pole and let go, allowing the gift bag(s) to fall to the driver at a gentle speed.

Goodbye Station

Station 9: GOODBYE Materials needed: “Goodbye/See You Soon!” sign, megaphone if you have one. Wave goodbye to the cars as they leave and direct them to the end of the parade route. 

We hope you have a great time at your own Honk & Wave Parade! It truly was amazing to see all our students’ smiling faces and feel the support of our families. We all enjoyed it so much.

Miss You Window Decoration
This blog was written during the COVID-19 pandemic when our daycare was open as an essential business, however many of our children were not regularly attending. While this was a wonderful way to reconnect with our families during an unprecedented time, we think a Honk & Wave Parade could be a special event to hold at any time!

Leave a comment