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16 Ideas for Quick and Easy Events

With a little creativity, you can plan activities that strengthen the school community without breaking the bank or exhausting your volunteers.
by Emily Graham

Call the Experts

You don’t have to do it all. Whether you’re planning a night of fun or an educational event, call upon the people in your community to share their expertise. Many local businesses will offer discounts or donate their services in exchange for a little publicity.

Family dance lessons: Ask a dance instructor to teach families how to waltz, two-step, salsa, line dance, or do the latest hip-hop moves. Follow up the lessons with a dance-off or your very own Dancing With the Stars contest.

Fitness night: Invite a fitness coach to teach kids and parents fun exercises they can do at home. Ask the school nurse to take blood pressure readings or measure body mass index, and offer healthy snacks.

Museum night: Many museums take their family programs on the road for a fee. Typically, the museum brings the materials and leads activities, while families spend the evening doing science experiments or creating art together.

Expert advice: Ask experts to speak to parents about drug abuse prevention, bullying, Internet safety, or other issues. Specify that the programs are for parents only and arrange on-site baby-sitting. Your school’s parents will thank you.

QUICK TIP: Show your appreciation by promoting the businesses or experts on event flyers and thanking them in your school newsletter.

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.

Share the Load

Keep costs and prep time to a minimum by planning events where the guests bring supplies or supply entertainment. Ask attendees to RSVP and be sure to thank them for their part in the event.

Game night: Ask families to bring their favorite board games. You might also call local independent toy stores; some lend or donate games for school events or even teach new ones.

Knowledge bees: Let students show off what they’ve learned with a spelling bee or a competition in math or geography. Or turn the tables and quiz parents to find out whether they’re smarter than a 5th grader!

School picnic: Have a picnic on school grounds, with each family bringing its own food. Plan a few activities for the kids, but give them some free time on the playground while parents mingle.

Trunk or Treat: Invite families to decorate the trunks of their cars and award prizes for the best decorations. Have parents pass out candy to students as they trick-or-treat through the parking lot.

QUICK TIP: Encourage families to get creative, but require that they clean up after themselves.

Take Family Field Trips

Plan an event where someone else does all the work for you! Get a group discount at a popular entertainment venue and invite the entire school community to join in the fun. Kids will have a blast, and parents will enjoy socializing, too.

Skating night: Reserve the roller-skating or ice-skating rink for a few hours and watch everyone strut their stuff. Have some adults on hand to coach beginning skaters, and plan a special skate for school VIPs—the kids will love it!

Sports outing: Take your group to the ball game. Reserve some cheap seats at a major league game, or look into minor league teams in your area. Ask whether your group can be recognized during the game, and arrange for students to meet the team mascot.

Amusement park: Secure discount tickets for school families at an amusement park or water park. Reserve a picnic shelter where participants can eat lunch or hang out between roller coaster rides or water slides.

Bowling: Plan a mother-son bowling tournament, or let families compete against one another. If competition isn’t your group’s thing, look for a bowling alley that offers cosmic bowling, an arcade, or laser tag facilities.

QUICK TIP: Make sure parents know they are expected to enjoy the event with their kids. Don’t allow student drop-offs.

Swap It Out

Plan a swap to help families reduce clutter and get the supplies their kids need. Have a check-in area where families get tickets for each item they bring. They can use the tickets to “pay” for the items they want to take home.

Books: What better way to save families money and promote the importance of reading? Plan a book swap in conjunction with a school literacy program and provide materials for kids to make their own bookmarks.

Halloween costumes: Each fall, invite kids to trade last year’s pirate or princess costume for something new to them. For families with multiple trick-or-treaters, this can be a real money-saver. If there’s enough interest, let adults get in on the act, too.

School uniforms: What do you do with a school uniform your child has outgrown? Let families trade used uniforms in good condition at the beginning or end of the school year.

Sports equipment: Capitalize on the popularity of soccer or baseball in your community by letting families exchange outgrown soccer cleats or baseball mitts. Consider expanding the event to include sports equipment of all kinds, from bicycles to inline skates.

QUICK TIP: Have a plan in advance for how to remove any leftover items from the school.



#14 Craig Bystrynski 2012-03-02 15:12
Hi Teleia -- That's great to hear! Thanks so much for sharing. It makes all of us at PTO Today feel good to hear a story like that. Congratulations on your success, and good luck with your Family Movie Night!

#13 Teleia Tollison 2012-03-02 11:30
We just had a Family Reading Night, and were keeping our fingers crossed for 8 to 10 children and parents. We had 175 people!!! The PTO Kit helped so very much. Everyone had a wonderful time, and we are already planning our next event, the Family Movie Night.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
#12 Becky 2010-03-17 12:57
We have a great turn out with our Donuts with Dad and our Muffins with Mom. We generally have a speaker or activity (something short,dads this year got Harley Davidson speaker, moms got a chance to dance with the kids)and have couple craft tables set up for the kids also.
#11 Amelia Damlo 2010-02-09 23:56
Liz and Janet --

Our middle school has a pretty successful glow in the dark (glo necklaces) capture the flag. Can move inside to gyms for poor weather.
#10 Niki Dexter 2009-09-22 13:31
I am a 'volunteer' mom at our Christian elementary school and another parent suggested us trying a mom and muffins day and then a dad and donuts event the following month. I am trying to research what is involved, if we are legally allowed to use those names, and hoping for any suggestions or advice you might offer. Thank you for your help!

Niki Dexter
#9 Lisa @ PTO Today 2009-07-02 16:15
Hi Liz-
Check out this event run by a middle school PTA group that won last year's PTO Today's Outstanding Family Event:
Also, our message boards are a great place to ask other leaders for ideas:
Let us know what you end up doing!
#8 Liz Davis 2009-06-30 18:00
Can anyone make suggestions for Middle School programs...some thing that will draw a large crowd. Any suggestions will help greatly!
#7 Linda Ryan 2009-02-17 21:04
Our school collects used uniforms and has a monthly sale. The chairperson looks over the donations to make sure they are still in good condition. We sell shorts for $3, pants for about $5. All of the money earned goes to the scholarship fund for the next year. It really is a win-win. The availability to purchase additional uniforms at such a low price makes it affordable to have several for the week. You won't be doing laundry ever night of the week! Always a blessing.
#6 Mary-Pat Davoren 2008-09-30 19:59
Hi Vicki,

We have a monthly Uniform exchange - usually on a Friday when we get out early. Parents can drop off used uniforms anytime during the year. Once a month, those uniforms are put out on the lunch tables and parents can come and take whatever they need. At the end of the year, all of the remaining uniforms are given to charity.
#5 Craig Bystrynski from PTO Today 2008-09-23 20:19
Hi Janet -- You're likely to get more response if you post that question on the message boards. There are lots of people on the boards who are willing to share their experiences. You'll also find some cool ideas in the story "Middle School Magic," which is a profile of a previous Parent Group of the Year winner. That group did some fantastic events, including a very successful welcome-back festival. -- Craig

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