1. Messy Art Night
At Essex (Mass.) Elementary, Messy Art Night is about trying new materials, being creative, and having fun. Kids can try pottery, wire sculpture, oil painting, and mosaics. The free-for-all environment is a refreshing change from more structured craft activities.
2. Fossil Dig
At Forest Glen Elementary in Glen Ellyn, Ill., a dinosaur and fossil event taught kids what fossils are and how paleontologists study them. Students learned about tools used on a fossil dig and created their own fossil imprint. Some schools hire local experts to bring in real fossils, while others create their own fossil digs and dinosaur events using everyday items such as chicken bones, shells, and plaster of paris.
3. Family Yoga Night
Yoga is part of the curriculum at Reston (Va.) Montessori School, and some kids also like having their parents join them. Everyone brings a mat or towel. The teacher leads families in stretching and poses. And in nice weather, the event can be held outdoors. “It’s a great way for kids of all ages and their parents to spend time together in a positive way,” says PTA president Susan Estes.
4. Wildlife Night
J.D. Parker Elementary in Stuart, Fla., partnered with a local wildlife sanctuary to bring animals to the school for a presentation. Snakes, skunks, and even an alligator made an appearance. The animals available for such an event will vary by region. This event ties in well when students are studying habitats.
5. Lego Love
The most popular family event at Stony Lane Elementary in Paramus, N.J., was also the easiest to pull off. Volunteers dumped out 25,000 Legos, and the kids had a blast. Billed as a Get Connected “block party,” the event provided imaginative play for all with minimal time commitment from parents.
6. Rockin’ Through the Ages
If you envision a dance party that gets everyone out on the dance floor, have the DJ spin tunes from different eras. A dance party at Vine Hill Elementary in Scotts Valley, Calif., included music from the ’50s through the present day. Parents and students wore costumes from their favorite decades. Work with the DJ to identify the songs guaranteed to get everybody grooving. Or let parents and kids make requests in advance of the event.
7. Count Day
Attendance on Oct. 1 determines funding in Colorado schools. At Rocky Mountain Classical Academy in Colorado Springs, the parent group turned Count Day into a fun day no student would want to miss. Teachers wore silly outfits and kids wore their pajamas. Much of the day was spent reading for pleasure. Among the highlights, students watched their teachers compete in basketball and then played volleyball in the afternoon.
8. Instrument Petting Zoo
During Jazz Night at Shepherd Elementary in Washington, D.C., students got to touch instruments and listen to how each one sounded. Students from a local college performed, and children learned to recognize ragtime, bop, swing, and fusion. Local orchestras are often happy to help stage an instrument petting zoo.
9. Chili Cook-off
At Chester (N.H.) Academy, the PTA has held this successful event for four years. Dads and other men in the school community prepare their favorite chili recipe. The winner gets to take home a coveted trophy, but just for one year—the next year, the trophy gets passed to the next winner. This event could tie in well with a football or pep rally theme.
10. Eco-friendly Fashion Show
At Waccamaw Intermediate School on Pawleys Island, S.C., PTO leaders combined their students’ love of fashion with the school’s emphasis on environmental responsibility. Kids created a fashion show with clothes made out of recyclable materials. A local salon provided hair and makeup services using eco-friendly products.
11. Night of the Wild Things
Where the Wild Things Are provides great opportunities to engage younger children and parents in a literacy event. Kids can come dressed as wild things, make wild thing masks, and enjoy acting out the classic book. They can create paintings of wild things as they imagine them. Everett Dirksen Elementary in Schaumburg, Ill., drew inspiration from the book for a family literacy night and reported, “It was a wild rumpus indeed!”
12. Wacky Game Night
Russell I. Doig Middle School in Trumansburg, N.Y., put a fun spin on family game night with a hilarious game called Wheel of Misfortune, based on the TV classic. Meanwhile, at Thomas Elementary in Gretna, Neb., the PTO enlivened game night by creating oversize versions of Twister, Yahtzee, and Scrabble.
13. Tailgating Night
Football is a great way to build school spirit and teamwork. At Durbin Creek Elementary in Jacksonville, Fla., a tailgate theme promoted reading, math, and fitness. At a pep rally, students were encouraged to score touchdowns through reading and math. A local fitness instructor led everyone in a fun workout.
14. Puzzle Night
For a fun all-ages event, put down the video games and pick up a jigsaw puzzle. At Oakton (Va.) Elementary, teams of five participants, including at least one adult and one school-age child, competed to see which team could complete a 500-piece puzzle the fastest. Look for puzzles with a lot of detail and contrasting colors. After the competition, families can swap puzzles.
15. American Culture Night
Many schools celebrate their international families by holding multicultural events, but at Hollifield Station Elementary in Ellicott City, Md., the PTA held American Culture Night. Aimed at immigrant parents, it addressed American holidays, school traditions, and the school’s expectations of parents.
16. CSI Night
With this clever spin on science night, kids get the opportunity to solve a crime. At Sand Lake Elementary in Orlando, Fla., parents set up a mystery where something had been stolen and students had to find the culprit by using fingerprints, tread marks, and other clues. A new suspect was announced each day starting on Monday, culminating with an evening event where the culprit was revealed.
17. The Great Book Exchange
A book exchange encourages students to read for pleasure and step outside their comfort zone. Kids can turn in their summer beach reads and take some new books home. The Solana Beach PTA, which serves two California elementary schools, encourages kids to bring in three books that they may exchange for up to three books. Some students bring in more than three books, ensuring enough for everyone to find something.
18. Bikes, Blades, and Boards Rodeo
This event is always a hit at Fall Creek Elementary in Ithaca, N.Y. Kids bring their bikes, skateboards, scooters, or inline skates, along with a helmet, and participate in an obstacle course. It’s a great opportunity for local police officers to offer safety tips and a local bike shop to make repairs. Older kids can teach younger ones some new moves.
19. Craft Night With a Conscience
The Lovell J. Honiss School PTA in Dumont, N.J., held a craft night using recycled materials as art supplies. Students learned facts about recycled products and landfills, and everyone went home with an inventive work of art. And almost 3,000 juice pouches were recycled!
20. Astronomy Night
Durbin Creek Elementary in Jacksonville, Fla., also created a family night with an Out of This World theme. It featured a mini science fair, hands-on activities, a laser light show, and the chance to observe the planets, moon, and sun through telescopes. Members of a local astronomy society provided the telescopes. A NASA representative talked to kids and parents about the Hubble Space Telescope and the Kepler telescope.