If your PTO would like to build community, attract more parents, and have some good old-fashioned fun, a movie night may be just the ticket.
A trip to the movies is usually high on anyone’s list of activities for a fun night out. Whether you’re showing the latest animated flick from Pixar or an old classic like The Wizard of Oz, movies appeal to audiences of all ages and are a nice way to bring people together and build support for the school.
What’s more, family movie nights are easy to organize and run, and when they’re well executed, they can bring tremendous goodwill to a school community. In fact, because movie nights are so easy to organize and children’s films today have such broad appeal, some PTOs open their family movie nights to the entire community, not just the school population.
We consulted parent groups across the country that have hosted movie nights to get their best advice on how to plan a fantastic night and to learn about the benefits they derived from their events.
Kristen Flannery, president of the Jefferson Elementary PTA in Redondo Beach, Calif., says her parent organization invites the entire town, not just Jefferson families, to their movie nights. “We also take that opportunity to sell glow sticks, candy, and food to break even on the screen rental. So we really need [the community] to show up,” Flannery says.
Movie nights can be a great way to showcase the school, whether you invite the residents from the local senior center, families from other schools in the town, or prospective students.
The PTO at the Early Childhood Education Center, a preK and kindergarten school in Dedham, Mass., hosts a Polar Express night every December. Rather than showing the movie The Polar Express, the PTO board created a movie from the book pages and had teachers narrate.
“The little kids got a big kick out of coming to school at night, and their younger brothers and sisters loved seeing the inside of the ‘big kid’ school,” says Monica Linari, past ECEC PTO president. “It made them feel more comfortable when they showed up on their first day of school.”
Linari says the annual event was one of the best-attended at the ECEC. “We saw families that didn’t attend any other events all year, not even the annual end-of-year fun night,” she says. “Even more unbelievable were the parents who stayed after the last show and pulled everything down.
We never had to ask, and they always were willing to clean up and help take it all down.”
Lori Hoag from the Gold Camp Elementary PTO in Colorado Springs, Colo., also sees a jump in family participation for movie nights. “We see people that we wouldn’t normally see at a school function,” says Hoag, a past president of the PTO. “Kids come in their pj’s and bring in sleeping bags and pillows. We serve dinner—pizza and soda—and the principal makes all of the popcorn.”
To generate interest in their movie nights, Hoag’s parent group lets kids vote on the movie through a ballot they send home. Then they entice families to attend by sending home a coupon for free popcorn in advance of the event. “Even families that can’t afford a night at the movies can come see a free movie,” Hoag says. “And the kids are demanding more movie nights at the school.”
Latichia Lee from the Thomson Elementary PTA in Washington, D.C., agrees that the affordability of family movie nights is a major selling point. “The majority of our families are low-income, and a lot of us can’t afford the $12 to $15 per ticket at the movies,” Lee says. “Having a movie night at the school got the kids excited and a lot of parents actually got off work early to be with their kids at the events. This has also brought out some fantastic parent volunteers who did concessions and actually donated gifts at the end of the event.”
Family movie nights provide a good opportunity to make an impression on school parents. Start planning six to eight weeks in advance, and prepare for a successful event with these basic steps.
Pick a time and place. Many groups schedule their movie nights during winter months, when outdoor activities are not an option. Others set up outdoor movie screens and enjoy a night under the stars. If you go the outdoor route, remember to provide plenty of bug spray.
Get a license. A public movie showing requires a public performance site license. PTO Today’s Family Movie Night planning kit makes obtaining a license easy. Movie Licensing USA offers PTO Today readers a one-time license to schools for $100. Annual licenses are also available. Be sure to include the license fee in your event budget.
Advertise the film. Make sure to send home plenty of notices about the movie. And if you pick a PG-rated film, let parents know so they can decide whether they want their children to view it.
Set up early. Whether you hire a company to handle the audiovisual equipment or rely upon a tech-savvy parent, make sure the equipment is tested out before the event to ensure it works.
If you’re serving popcorn, start popping early, too. Leaders of the Gold Camp PTO underestimated how much popcorn they would need at their movie night. “We should have been popping popcorn at least two hours before the arrival time so we had popcorn ready to be purchased,” Hoag says. “Each popping only produced two to three bags, so it was hard to keep up. [At] our next movie night, we will also sell family-size bags of popcorn.”
Be visible. Have board members wear name tags or T-shirts to indicate they’re PTO officers. Have a PTO member greet guests, and staff a table with details on upcoming events and volunteer needs.
Movie Nights Made Simple
Ready to plan a family movie night at your school? PTO Today’s free Family Movie Night planning kit walks you through the process, from start to finish.
In addition to information on obtaining a license, the kit includes materials to promote your family movie night, fun theme ideas, and tips for making the event run smoothly.
Request your free planning kit online for Family Movie Night or other School Family Nights at ptotoday.com/sfn.