Check out these suggestions for events and programs that work at the middle school level.
PTO and PTA members love to plan events. Bringing students, parents, and staff together for a fun and enriching experience is a big part of the work of most PTOs. There are some considerations unique to the middle school environment that will help increase the success of your events.
Consider maturity differences. In middle school, the most successful events are designed with the age of the students in mind. In other words, just because an event was successful in the elementary school PTO world does not guarantee it will work the same way in middle school. Having parents read to their kids at Family Reading Night might be a big hit with 2nd graders but a complete flop for 7th graders. There is also a noticeable difference in maturity within the student body itself. A 6th grader in September is more like an elementary student, and an 8th grader in May is looking ahead to high school. It’s OK to design separate PTO events that cater to different groups of students so that their own interests and needs are met.
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Involve the students. Young teens will decide for themselves whether they want to participate in a PTO event; if they don’t think it’s “cool,” they will stay away. Smart PTO leaders will involve the middle school students when planning events and activities on their behalf. The coolness factor goes up significantly if kids feel they have ownership of an event. One way to initiate input from students is to have an official student representative join the PTO executive board. Another way is to hold a poster design contest to encourage student artists to help promote an upcoming event.
Set up an environment for interaction. Many middle schoolers feel awkward in groups of their peers. They wonder who they should stand with, whether anyone will talk to them, whether any of their friends will be there. They worry about how they look and what others think of them. If your event involves physical activity such as a game night or welcome-back picnic, acknowledge that awkwardness and design your event to encourage interaction among all participants.
It’s OK to keep parents separate. As much as we parents try to delay it, our children grow more and more independent of our care, particularly in the middle school years. Many middle schoolers don’t want to socialize with their moms and dads. Parents need peer support and bonding during their children’s teen years as much as teens need to connect with friends of their own. So design PTO events that serve parents and students separately.
Work with school staff members to extend existing activities. In middle school, the curriculum becomes more focused, classes become more serious, and the workload seems to go up. Teachers, counselors, and other staff members may want to take an existing student activity to a new level but are constrained by lack of time or resources. Work with your principal and teachers to identify ways the PTO can provide assistance and financial support to enhance an existing activity (or even bring a new idea to life).
Parents-Only Middle School Activities
Euchre tournament: Hold a parents-only euchre tournament or similar card game in the media center while the kids are at a school dance. Switching partners on every round encourages informal interaction among the players. Charge a modest entry fee to cover snacks and prizes.
Wrap gifts for teachers: During the busy weeks before December holidays, set up a parents-only committee to wrap gifts as a service for teachers and staff. Teachers bring their gifts to school, and parents wrap them while they rap about their kids, the school, and the fun of raising an adolescent.
“Parents of...” coffee talks: Plan periodic early-morning meetings for parents of students at each grade level. Invite the principal, a teacher, a counselor, or a social worker to answer questions specific to that grade level.
Locker art: Operate a service to decorate lockers and classroom doors to celebrate special events such as a birthday, accomplishment, or holiday. PTO members accept paid orders for locker art, create the decorations, and hang them up as requested.
Sports-Related Middle School Activities
Sports banquet: Sponsor a celebration for all student athletes at the end of each sports season. PTO members can prepare the invitations, set up the food and facility, and work with the coaches to plan an agenda.
Running/walking club: Coordinate and supervise a running or walking club. Track miles completed and celebrate the accomplishments of participants as they achieve various goals.
Field day or Olympics day: Work with the PE teacher to plan and coordinate an afternoon of fun, sports-theme activities and friendly competitions.
Dodgeball tournament: Coordinate and supervise an after-school dodgeball tournament. Students sign up in teams or you can assign teams (coed or single-gender, you decide). The top student team faces off against a team of teachers for the big finale. Sell basic concessions, invite parents to watch, and award prizes for best performance, most spirit, and best uniforms.
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Middle School Enrichment Activities
Arts showcase: In conjunction with the art and music teachers, plan an evening that showcases the fine artistic talents of your students.
Community service: Coordinate and supervise a canned food drive, clothing drive, or school supplies drive.
Math or science day: Partner with the secondary education department at a local university or community college to host a fun day of math or science activities for your students. The middle schoolers enjoy hands-on learning, and the college students get valuable experience teaching children in a real-life setting. The PTO can coordinate and promote the event, provide snacks, and oversee the logistics.
Arts alive: Create a weeklong event during the student lunch period that introduces a new artist or work of art each day. Use music, video projection, and table tents to present that day’s featured topic. Have the event culminate with an extended lunch hour to allow for a hands-on art activity.
Career exploration: Another weeklong event during student lunch; this one introduces a new career each day. Use video projections, table tents, hands-on displays, and strolling guest visitors to present that day’s career. Work with the staff to extend the lunch period by a few minutes during the week to allow time for students to take it all in.
Reading appreciation program: Along with the school media center staff, support a special program to encourage students to read. PTO members can help promote the event, provide funding to purchase copies of selected books, and provide adult volunteers to evaluate the students as they complete each book. The PTO can also assist with a culminating activity such as a “meet the author” celebration.
High school tour for 8th graders: In conjunction with any other middle schools that feed into the same high school, plan and coordinate an orientation visit to the high school for the 8th graders. Set up tour groups that mix students from the various middle schools.
Middle School Family Activities
Swim night: Make a splash with a fun night of family swim and games at a school or community pool.
Halloween family costume party: Throw a Halloween party for the whole family. Offer food, music, games, and prizes for a modest admission fee.
Family bingo: Organize a fun evening in the school cafeteria. Provide door prizes and simple eats like pizza and a beverage. Consider setting up your bingo night specifically for students and grandparents. Be sure to check local regulations that might restrict bingo as a gaming event.
Academic honors breakfast: Along with the principal and staff, coordinate a special event to honor those students with high academic achievements each semester. Invite their parents to attend, as well.
School carnival: Carnivals are a lot of work, but they’re always a big hit. Engage your middle schoolers in advance by inviting them to vote on the games they would like to see at the carnival. Hold a poster design contest to further increase excitement. Don’t forget to order the dunk tank for the principal!
Talent show/variety show: Organize a special night to showcase the (hidden?) talents of your parents, students, and school staff members. Encourage fun group acts (e.g., the Singing Cafeteria Ladies) and real talents alike. To ensure a quality show, hold auditions and/or supervised rehearsals in advance.
Doughnuts with dad: Quick, before they realize they don’t really want to hang out with their dads anymore, hold this classic event. Set up your event for October or November, and expect mostly 6th graders and their fathers. That’s OK; it’s still a nice way to start the day.
Welcome-back picnic: Plan and coordinate a big back-to-school event with inflatables, group games, food, and fun. Consider having a special event just for 6th graders and other students new to the school.
Game night: Plan and supervise an evening of friendly competition and fun. Provide a variety of activities: board games, games in the gym, group games, and card games, along with simple food and beverage items. Encourage interaction by requiring multigenerational teams, coed teams, and teams made up of students from various grades or former elementary schools.
Purely Fun Middle School Events
Kids’ night out: Plan and supervise a special kids-only evening at school. Activities could include games, an age-appropriate movie, music and, of course, food. Institute a strict preregistration requirement and drop-off/pickup times so your well-intentioned event doesn’t become a drop-in child care center.
Student dance: With input from the students, plan and supervise a school dance. Accept nominations for songs for the playlist (screen them for appropriateness), invite their help with making decorations, and sponsor a poster design contest. At the dance, provide simple snacks and adequate but unobtrusive supervision. Consider inviting a dance instructor or sponsoring a dance contest for added fun.
In-School Middle School PTO Events
Staff appreciation luncheon: No matter the grade level, teachers still appreciate being appreciated, and the PTO can do it best.
Parent-teacher conferences: Provide PTO hosts and simple snacks for parents and teachers while they attend conferences. If your conference format requires parents to wait in line, take advantage of that time to distribute information about the PTO and to recruit volunteers.
Club and activities fair: The opportunity to join a special-interest club or sports team is often a new experience for middle schoolers. Coordinate with the various teacher sponsors and coaches to create a special event that showcases all of the groups available to the students.
Spirit week: Sponsor a week of special activities that culminate in an all-school event such as a football game or schoolwide assembly. Activities could include Hat Day, Twin Day, Backwards Day, or School Colors Day.
“Design our logo” contests: Hold a contest among the students to select a design for a PTO-sponsored project such as the cover of the school directory, the cover of the student planner, or the T-shirt for a major event.