PTO Today

Helping Parent Leaders Make Schools Great

PTO Today Blog

Ideas, news, opinions and tips about what’s happening in the parent group world

3 Basics of Growing Parent Involvement

October 22nd, 2014 by

I know you want more help, right? Both for your own sanity and because we all know that more involvement from more parents is great for your school. But repeated “please helps” don’t tend to work. This week I have three basic building blocks for growing involvement:

1. Talk up often (in snippets, in newsletters, in speeches) the fact that tons of research supports the importance of parent involvement.

2.  Eliminate the “fear of the (volunteering) black hole” that is your number one obstacle.

3.  Create a volunteer job that is literally focused only on finding, welcoming, helping, and appreciating new volunteers.

We fundraise, so we have fundraising chairs. We appreciate teachers, so we have teacher appreciation chairs. How many of you spend the same time and attention on growing involvement? It’s the most important thing your group does and it supports all of your other efforts. It’s worth the time. Good luck!

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Make Community Service Projects More Meaningful to Students

October 20th, 2014 by

With the holidays coming soon, it’s a great time for your PTO or PTA to organize community service projects that not only help members of your town or city, but also provide a learning experience for kids. Here’s Senior Editor Liz Leaver  on how to make these projects special for students:



We have lots of other community service ideas, tips, and resources on our site to that you’ll find helpful, including an article that focused on how to plan a community service project.

Here are some other good resources:

Ideas That Raise Students’ Social Awareness

Help for Your School Food Drive

Community Service Clip Art



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Movie Nights Give Families a Fun Way To Make Connections

October 20th, 2014 by

If you need an idea for a family event this fall, how about our free Family Movie Night kit? Movie nights work well this time of year. With cooler weather and shorter days, it’s nice to spend an evening together watching a favorite film. Kids can snuggle with blankets, and parents can kick back and relax.

Chances are, parents will get to know each other a little bit more and that only helps foster a sense of community at your school.

The beauty of a Family Movie Night is it can be as simple or elaborate as you would like. Some groups go all out with a movie night theme that includes decorations, food, and costumes. Others keep it low-key, serving just popcorn and drinks.

One of the cuter ideas we’ve heard about recently is to collect large cardboard boxes for the younger children to use as cars at the event. The children can sit in their cars in front of the movie screen and pretend they are at a drive-in movie.

A good tip we’ve come across is to provide kids with some time in the school gym before the event so they can run around, blown off steam, and then settle in once the movie starts.

Our Family Movie Night kit includes these ideas as well as many other suggestions to make your event special. Plus, we just created cute (and free) movie night tickets that you can download from our File Exchange. You can hand these out to families ahead of time to give your event more of an at-the-movies feel or use them if you charge admission.

Also, check out our Family Movie Night board on Pinterest where we’ve gathered lots of ideas to enhance your event! You are bound to get inspiration there.


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Different (but Equally Important) Involvement

October 16th, 2014 by

There’s no doubt that middle school PTO and PTA involvement is more difficult than grade school parent leadership. Gone are the cute kiddos who love having Mom and Dad around, and gone are the parents longing to connect with their kids’ every activity. Growing parent involvement at a middle school is tough and can be very frustrating.

But make no mistake – involvement is just as important at the middle school level, and middle school parents still do want to be connected to their kids’ schools.

In my experience, the trick is not to fight the kids or expect parents to be the same now as before, but rather to bring the kids into the mix and serve parents in their new reality. No one wants a pajama reading night for middle schoolers (yikes!). That worked great for the young kids but would be an (empty) disaster for 7th graders. Looking for a middle school family event? Ask the middle schoolers to help. What ideas do they have? How can parents be involved?

You may wind up with a family night at the minor league hockey game or a video game tournament or a “gross-out/fear factor” night — but you’ll have the kids on board and they’ll “let” their parents follow.

Finally, middle school parents have real worries and concerns. How can your group be a resource on those fronts? Whether it’s social media or drugs and alcohol or college readiness or the core curriculum — middle school is a great time for your group to find ways to serve parents with information and solutions. It’s not a pajama party with popcorn, but it serves a very effective involvement purpose.

P.S. If you haven’t already told your teachers and room parents about, now is the time, because three lucky teachers will each win $513 to help them make their classrooms even better! Simply post and share a classroom wish list between now and Dec. 31 for the chance to win! Learn more.

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Direct Donations: Proceed, But With Caution

October 14th, 2014 by

Many groups incorporate direct donations into their overall fundraising strategy, which is a great idea. But, a fundraising strategy that relies too heavily on direct donations might be worth a second look. Here’s a video of our founder Tim Sullivan discussing why it’s important to take a balanced approach when it comes to fundraising programs.


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Last-Minute Fall Festival and Halloween Event Tips

October 14th, 2014 by

If you are looking to for a new twist to your fall event, take a look at our recent Facebook post where we asked groups to name their most popular activity. Here are some ideas:

For old-fashioned fun: A cake walk adds a certain charm to fall events, and several community members said they are big hits at their events. If you need help in putting one together, read our cake walk article. Also, we have a free cake walk donation request template you can download from our File Exchange and use to ask parents to send in goodies.

A few parent groups said they do alternatives to cake walks, including a book walk that provides children’s books as prizes and a pumpkin walk in which the winners receive pumpkins.


For the neatniks: Set up an activity station to make treat bags. Children can decorate paper bags with crayons and stickers and then use the bags to hold their prizes and other items they collect at the event.

For the truly daring: One parent group is planning a principal-dunking event in which the principal will wear a suit covered with mint Mentos candies and then get dunked in diet cola! Wow.

Other favorites: Post a “Guess Who” gallery of Halloween photos from last year; run a face painting booth; hold a silly string war, and host a trunk-or-treat event in the school parking lot during the fall festival.

Also, we did not forget about the food. What’s a fall festival without a burger or hot dog? So, if your group plans to sell food at its fall event, download our new concession stand printables on our File Exchange. The new printables include:

Snack bar price sheet

Snack bar menu

Price list

Happy fall, everyone!

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Let’s Keep Focused on What PTOs and PTAs Accomplish

October 9th, 2014 by

Writer Jordan Rosenfeld did parent groups everywhere a service last week with her Not a “PTA Mom” piece that was published as a New York Time’s Motherlode column.

It’s always appreciated when someone holds up the stereotype of the PTA or PTO mom and shows it for the absurdity that it is. Rosenfeld says in her column that she had believed your average parent volunteer was a “carefully coifed, cupcake-baking beast of a woman whose pastel capris never bore so much as a smudge of child-effluence.”

But once she got involved at her son’s school, Rosenfeld developed a different view as she came to know a diverse group of moms and dads who were just parents who wanted to work hard on behalf of their kids’ school.

So kudos to Rosenfeld for giving her parent group a try and being vocal about the old stereotype. You do have to wonder, though, why this image of  the PTA or PTO lady as the uber perfectionist (and therefore someone you would not want to be around) still endures. It’s been 46 years since the hit song “Harper Valley PTA.” Can’t we just let it go?

Personally, I think the “cupcake-baking beast” has gotten a really bad rap. In the decade I spent on a PTO, I remember all types, including a few Martha Stewart clones, but what I remember most is that those clones helped. They showed up. They contributed. Hey, maybe we didn’t hang out together (and maybe I didn’t want to), but the work they did on behalf of the school was appreciated.

So how about this as a new rule: If a parent volunteers and pitches in, how about we leave it at that? That way we can focus on what really counts—how these parents are making such a difference for our kids.

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Three PTO Organization Tips

October 8th, 2014 by

It’s still a fairly new school year, right? So it’s a great time to put some simple practices in place that can make your life easier, your successors’ lives way easier, and your group more successful. I have three tips:

1. Create a system for event recap reports. Keep the reports simple, but ask your chairs to summarize the event right after it happens with contact names and numbers, as well as successes, mistakes, and recommendations for next year. Our event evaluation and planning form can help with that.

2. Manage volunteer information. Does your PTO itself (not the school) have a system for communicating with parents and keeping track of how they can help? Who has a truck you can borrow? Who is good at designing flyers? Who offered to help with the spring fair? Can you email these people in two clicks? The effective PTO has its own simple system for doing this. Our Volunteer Manager software is perfect for this.

3. Similarly, are your books and financial records in a sharable, simple format? A good system (such as our Finance Manager software) will help make the treasurer job less complicated and create a history to pass from one treasurer to the next.

You can get more done for your school with fewer people and fewer volunteer hours, if you take just a bit of time now to put better systems in place. It’s worth it.

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Parents-Only Events Build Connections, Sense of Community

October 7th, 2014 by

While our focus on PTO and PTA events tends to be on those for the whole family (and rightly so), there’s also a lot to be said for parents-only events. There’s something powerful about creating a circle of adult friends around a school, and there should be a place in your parent group calendar for encouraging those adult relationships. You’ll find a lot of value in creating a fun tradition or two where your school parents can get to know each other and have a good time without the little ones running around.

Over the years, we’ve learned of some really fun traditions for adults at different schools across the country. Through a program called Great Gatherings, PTA parents at the Kilgour School in Cincinnati, Ohio, hold theme parties at their homes (the hosting parents fund the event), and the guests who attend buy tickets, with the entire proceeds going to the PTA. Themes have ranged from a chili cook-off to ’80s dance parties and are always a big hit.

For a sweet way to bring parents together, the Page-Hilltop Elementary PTO in Ayer, Mass., held an adults-only gourmet desserts night at a local hotel. A pastry chef who is a school parent prepared 12 different creations—some 1,000 dessert pieces in all. The hotel donated the space for the night and provided staff and all ingredients for the event, which also featured coffee and cocktails. The night raised about $1,000 for the PTO. While your group might not have a pastry chef on hand, a similar night could be tailored, perhaps by asking a few bakers to contribute their most elegant creations and a local hotel (or suitable space in your community) to donate space.

These are just a few examples of the great adults-only events that can bring your school’s parents together in a fun way. Your event can be as simple or elaborate as you choose; you could add a fundraising component like the Kilgour and Page-Hilltop events, or keep it just about the fun. The key is gathering just the grown-ups in a way that’s relaxed and enjoyable.

Whether you decide to plan a parents night out or night in, we can help you plan a great event with our flyers:

Parents Night Out Flyer

Moms Night Out Flyer

Dads Night Out Flyer

Wine Night Flyer

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10 Halloween Ideas Shared by PTO and PTA Leaders

October 6th, 2014 by

We’ve collected many fun Halloween ideas on both Facebook and Pinterest recently. If your PTO or PTA is planning a school event this year, check these out:

  1. Try a trunk-or-treat event and run a contest for the most creative display. There are some amazing trunk-or-treat examples on Pinterest.
  2. Hold a storybook parade. Children dress as their favorite character from a book.
  3. Sponsor a visit to local farm that sells pumpkins. Children can often visit the pumpkin patch, select a pumpkin, and bring it home with them.
  4. Host a scary story night with volunteer readers who love to dress up.
  5. Try a mix of activities for different age groups at your Halloween event. For instance, hold simple games for younger children in the school gym and host a haunted house in the auditorium for the older kids.
  6. Hold a movie-and-craft night. Show a Halloween movie in the cafeteria and set up several craft stations so kids can work on simple projects while viewing the movie. Include a bake sale or provide refreshments for the evening.
  7. Hold a schoolwide pumpkin decorating contest. Kids are encouraged to decorate, not carve, the pumpkins. Select a winning pumpkin from each grade and award the artist a small prize.
  8. Decorate classroom doors with Halloween colors and images of ghosts and pumpkins. Orange and black crepe paper will add a special touch.
  9. Try a series of different games at classroom parties like these: Halloween Bingo: Replace numbers with pictures of monsters, witches, bats, and black cats. Halloween Bowling: Use a small pumpkin as bowling ball and white paper towel rolls (decorated with black-construction-paper “eyes”to appear ghostlike) as pins. Pin-the-Tie-on-the-Skeleton: Using a life-size paper or cardboard skeleton, have children attempt to attach a colorful bow tie to it while blindfolded.
  10. Help students send Halloween grams with silly jokes in place of candy.
  11. This one’s a bonus: Consider holding a school party on the weekend after Halloween. One group shared this idea noting that they purchase candy and supplies after the official holiday, saving a bundle because of sale prices.
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