Does your parent group hold an annual back-to-school event? It’s a fun way to start off the school year and introduce your group, and school, as welcoming and inviting. The end-of-summer timing also allows you to pull together simple outdoor events that don’t cost a lot of money.

We’ve put together a list of some popular back-to-school events that will start your school year right. We’ve also included links to editable printables to help promote your event.

Ice Cream Social

An ice cream social is a popular kickoff event with plenty of possibilities. Some schools keep it simple by arranging for an ice cream truck to serve cold treats to students and parents or offering single-cup servings only, while others go all out with multiple tubs of ice cream and fixings on the side. If your group decides to scoop, one fun twist is to ask teachers to do the honors—it’s a great opportunity for parents and teachers to make contact in a low-key way before school starts.

Ice Cream Social Flyer

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Boohoo/Yahoo Breakfast

Boohoo/yahoo breakfasts—so named for kindergarten parents’ typical reactions to their child’s transition into elementary school—are a popular way for parents to bond and connect casually. They’re also a good way to introduce the PTO to new parents. The event is usually held on the first day of school after children report to their classrooms. Planners typically serve muffins, fruit, and other easy-to-assemble foods. Lots of parents will have younger children in tow, so it can be helpful to provide paper and crayons or simple crafts for kids to allow parents to mingle.

Boohoo/Yahoo Breakfast Invitation

Welcome Breakfast

In addition to boohoo/yahoo, breakfast-theme events are a simple and inexpensive way to welcome parents who are new to your school and give them a chance to spend some time with their children during the school day. While the Doughnuts With Dad and Muffins With Mom themes are among the easiest to orchestrate, your parent group could serve whatever it wishes (fruit and bagels, for example).

Being creative with the timing of your breakfast event can help make it more successful. A breakfast held the weekend before school starts could make it possible for more working parents to attend, for example.

Welcome Breakfast Flyer
Doughnuts With Dad Invitation
Muffins With Mom Invitation

Barbecue or Potluck

Families at Ardmore Elementary in Villa Park, Ill., enjoy a back-to-school barbecue on Meet the Teacher Night. Every family who attends brings a dish to share, and the PTA contributes drinks, hot dogs, hamburgers, and all the trimmings. Your group could similarly pair a barbecue with another event like meeting the teacher, or treat it as its own event at the school or a local park.

Another similar option is a back-to-school potluck dinner. Like a barbecue, it’s low-cost, it’s easy to organize, and it brings people together in a comfortable, familiar way. For back-to-school time, it can be held as a cookout with families contributing side dishes, desserts, and beverages. Many PTOs provide the drinks and paper goods, which can be bought cheaply in bulk. A door prize drawing can encourage families to stay for a while, and name tags can further promote socializing.

Barbecue Flyer
Potluck Flyer

Picnic

A casual picnic provides a simple venue where families can meet, mingle, and reconnect after the summer break. You can keep costs down by asking families to bring their own food or to bring a dish to share with others. Be sure to have some games on hand so kids are occupied as parents get to know each other. A picnic also works well for middle schoolers. Consider having a special event just for 6th graders and other students new to the school.

Picnic Flyer

Tailgate Party

Several creative parent groups have organized tailgate parties to celebrate back-to-school time. At a tailgate party held by the Lorenzo de Zavala Middle School PTA in Amarillo, Texas, parents could buy spiritwear and fill out volunteer forms while kids ate hot dogs, listened to music, and socialized. For one of its annual tailgate parties, the Durbin Creek Elementary PTO in Jacksonville, Fla., arranged for a performance by the high school drum line. Families participated in football-throwing challenges, Zumba dance, obstacle course races, and more.

Tailgate Party Flyer

Festival or Fair

The end of summer can be a great time to hold a festival, fair, or carnival. One reason so many schools hold such events is that they’re highly attended and can be easily tailored to suit your community—you can go as simple or as over-the-top as you want. And holding one at back-to-school time can also set a fun, positive tone for your group and school. Provide classic activities like a ring toss, face-painting, and crafts. As well, you can help keep families cool in hot weather by renting a few tents or shade structures and offering items such as shaved ice and water toys. If a wet-and-wild play area is an option, let families know in advance to bring bathing suits and towels.

Fair flyer
Festival flyer

Pool Party

Want to make a real splash? Take a cue from the Decorah (Iowa) PTO, which marks the start of school with a pool party. For a small fee (with kids younger than 6 admitted free), kids can swim at the municipal pool, eat pizza, socialize, and more. What’s more, many teachers attend the event, giving parents a chance to meet them sooner than they otherwise might have.

Pool Party Flyer