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38 Ideas To Start the Year Right

From getting organized to getting to know the school's families, a great year for the parent group starts with some advance planning.

by Christy Forhan

As parents, we mark the end of summer with a few important rituals. You take the kids shopping for new clothes, pick out school supplies, receive your child’s teacher assignment. The kids become anxious, sad to see the end of vacation but excited about what lies ahead. The summer quickly pushes toward a close, and everyone’s attention turns to school.

The parent group can have a direct role in getting the school year off to a strong start. PTO can spruce things up around the school, help make everyone feel welcome, and encourage parents, students, staff, and faculty to get reacquainted. Internally, the PTO needs to get organized for the year ahead and set expectations for the projects and activities planned.

Your main goal should be to create a community that supports your school, the teachers, the staff, and the children. Whether school’s already started or you’re still gearing up, there are many things you can do now to accomplish that goal successfully. Here are 38 ideas to recharge your PTO engines.

Welcome (Back)

Buy a Little Breakfast
Do something special for the kindergarten parents. Whether sending their first child off to school or their last, kindergarten parents have a heightened sense of emotion. The PTO can acknowledge this special transition with a simple parents-only breakfast on the first day of school. This boo hoo/yahoo breakfast is a great opportunity to introduce new parents to the activities of the PTO and for “old” parents to reassure the first-timers that their babies will be just fine.

Let Them Know How You Feel
Hang a big sign on the school fence, over the front door, or near the bus loop on the first day of school. Add a bundle of helium balloons at each entrance to show this is a special day. Place welcome signs on the classroom doors. Distribute personal notes of well-wishes to each teacher and staff member. Make it clear that your school is a great place to be and that your PTO is proud to support the school.

Be a Part of Open House
Whether your school calls it Open House, Meet the Teacher, or Curriculum Night, be sure the PTO has a presence at this parents-only school event. Staff a display touting the successes of the past and the plans for the future, including the date of your first meeting. Set out committee sign-up sheets and membership forms, if appropriate. Provide samples of your fundraising merchandise. Be sure to have at least one officer on hand to answer any questions and engage parents.

‘Treat’ the Students Right
Make a memorable, positive impression with the students. Have volunteers distribute doughnuts to each classroom at the start of the first day of school, courtesy of the PTO. Or if sweets are taboo, consider a specially printed pencil or folder for each student.

Hold a Special Kickoff Meeting
The Haviland Elementary PTA in Waterford, Mich., sponsors a family ice cream social in conjunction with the first meeting of the year. After ice cream, the parents gather for the business meeting while the children are supervised in the gym.

Everyone Loves a Fun Family Night

Host a School Family Night and get more parents to connect with your school. Our FREE SFN planning kits make planning and organizing your event a breeze. Order yours now.

Distribute a Welcome Packet
You want to make a great first impression with parents, right? Then delay sending home your fundraising appeal and distribute an information packet first.

Prepare a comprehensive packet that includes the PTO’s mission, key projects and plans for the year, the names and phone numbers of the officers and committee chairs, meeting dates and locations, membership information, a volunteer sign-up form, and other appropriate information. Market the PTO!

Make the Teachers Feel Special
The PTO at John S. Hobart Elementary in Shirley, N.Y., sponsors a “Welcome Back Luncheon” for the faculty and staff the day before school opens, complete with small welcome-back gifts.

Manage Expectations

Publish Dates
Set an annual calendar of meetings and events sponsored by the PTO. Post the calendar in the school on the PTO bulletin board and in the school newsletter. If you have monthly meetings, try to follow a consistent pattern (for example, the second Tuesday of every month) so your members can work the meetings into their personal routines.

Don’t Assume They’re Listening
Prepare a list of executive board meeting dates, times, and locations, and distribute a copy to each officer. Don’t assume everyone marked the dates in their day planners.

Post a list of all the officers and committee chairs, along with their phone numbers, in the PTO display case. Update the list as changes occur. Make it easy for parents to know who to call with their questions.

Don’t Scare Them Off
You’re likely to have several new attendees for your first meeting of the year. Make sure this meeting starts and ends on time. Don’t let it get bogged down; you don’t want meeting attendance to seem like a drag. Be sure to explain to the attendees what they can expect from future meetings so they know the value of attending. Set start and end times for all meetings, and work hard to stay on schedule. Your members will appreciate your consideration of their time.

Help Them Make a Commitment
Every PTO has a variety of ways members can get involved. When recruiting volunteers, describe the time commitment and estimated workload so people know what’s expected and can select a job that suits their availability, their interests, and their talents.

Show Off Your Successes
Create a display in the school lobby or other common area where you show ways the PTO has benefited the school in the past.

Consider including photographs of family events, assemblies, and special projects; statistics of fundraising success; lists of items purchased with PTO funds; thank-you notes received; testimonials from members and staff; and more.

If your PTO does not already “own” a prominently located bulletin board or display case, ask to take over an existing case or purchase and install a new one. Assure the principal that the PTO will keep the display current and newsworthy. Our own PTO replaced a faded chess club sign that had filled the primary display case in our main lobby for six months. When we asked for permission, the principal said, “What chess club sign?”

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(41 Votes)


  1. Posted by - Edna V. Cabuhat on Aug. 07, 2013

    Thank you so much for the great ideas. This will be very helpful for the school leaders and officers of any organization. I realized that I need to do more efforts for the success of our association. More power!
  2. Posted by - Judean on Jun. 21, 2012

    Thank you all for your input. Another addition for the welcome folders may include a coupon from a local store, or your local library schedule of events taking place there. This way, we are getting the community involved as well.
  3. avatar

    Posted by ewb7279 on Jun. 21, 2011

    All good ideas, I will definetly share this information with my vice president.!!!
  4. Posted by - Joan Perry on Sep. 17, 2010

    Thank you for your suggestions on parental involvement. In our effort to educate our students in the 21st century, it is very important to get parents on board. Your suggestions are practical and meaningful. Thank you, Joan Perry, PS#26
  5. Posted by - Stephanie Nelson on Sep. 10, 2010

    I really like these ideas. Our school is located in a neighborhood where 95% of the families are below the poverty level. These are simple and easy ideas that will build pride in our school and our community without having to spend a lot of money that is so desperately needed elsewhere.
  6. Posted by - cheryl on Aug. 17, 2010

    Very helpful information. Our school is still fairly new but any of these ideas would have been helpful by now. Hopefully, we can begin a new tradition and put some of these ideas in place. I'm looking forward to the results.
  7. Posted by - alicia nelson on Sep. 15, 2009

    i read all the good ideas, i am very impress and will put all these ideas to good use and will let you know how it turns out. Thank you so much
  8. Posted by - Kristy on Aug. 12, 2009

    Love the information! One thing we do every year is bring in Omega-Man for a Kick-Off school assembly. The presentation has for the last two years set the kids on the right path for the school year.
  9. Posted by - Lisa @ PTO Today on Aug. 03, 2009

    Jim- Would say you're off to a great start but it sounded more like you never stopped... Good for you and your school! Your site and pics look terrific. Good Luck this year. Hope you come back to our site often and share your ideas on our message boards:
  10. Posted by - Jim Dunnavant on Aug. 02, 2009

    Our group had an aggressive plan for summer and back to school. Not only did we have Board Meetings, but sponsored a Spirit Night in mid summer to "keep the momentum" from late spring. Our return to school includes a "Take Pride In Your School" cleanup Saturday, PTO event fair at Meet The Teacher Day, and Back to School Cookout for all students/parents/teachers on the first Saturday after school starts.

    We had about 50 people show up to help spruce up campus today. We're excited about a big year for our group and our school.

    Visit our site for pics and notes....
  11. Posted by - Tim Sullivan _ PTO Today on Jul. 21, 2009

    Thanks Anthony. You made our day. So cool to hear that kind of feedback.

    Tim Sullivan
    PTO Today
  12. Posted by - Anthony Domenech on Jul. 21, 2009

    Thank you all for your input, advise on every area needed to help Harmony School of Science PTO first year a very succeful one. I live by PTO today as our building blocks of our foundation. Keep up the great work parents,teachers, and most of all Students!
  13. Posted by - Shawn-Marie on Jul. 23, 2008

    Thank-You so much for your pump it-up article!! I am an incoming President as well, and now I am even more excited. Thanks for sharing the wealth, once again!
  14. Posted by - Lani Harac, PTO Today on Jul. 23, 2008

    Hi, Cynthia -- we do have samples! There's a category on our File Exchange specifically devoted to welcome letters. There are also some general parent involvement letters in the "Other Communications and Outreach" category. Check it out at , and please feel free to post your own files to share with others.
  15. Posted by - Cynthia Kelly on Jul. 21, 2008

    This is great information. This is my first year of being the President of our Parent Alliance. Would you happen to have a sample of a welcome letter to families to start the school year??
  16. Posted by - dennialopez on May. 14, 2008


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