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Academics & Enrichment Archive

From field trips to science programs to music and plays, we know parent groups support all sorts of activities to make learning more exciting for kids. You'll find tons of enrichment ideas in the articles below. Find more helpful tools and info on the Academics & Enrichment resources page. (For articles about planning great teacher appreciation programs, go to the Teacher Appreciation archive.)

  • How To Run a School Readathon

    Tips and tools for putting together a readathon or other educational fundraiser.
  • Experimenting With STEM

    Learning opportunities abound during a Massachusetts school's Crazy for Science week.
  • Adding Fun and Learning to the After-School Hours

    Students get a chance to explore art and robotics in after-school clubs.
  • 33 Ways To Spark Some Fun at Family Science Night 

    You don’t have to be a Ben Franklin or a Bill Nye to host a Family Science Night!
  • It’s Academic! 10 Event Ideas Tied to the Curriculum

    There’s nothing more powerful than a fun event that involves lots of learning. Steal some of these ideas or use them as a springboard to create your own.
  • Starry, Starry Night

    Maine elementary students enjoy an out-of-this-world astronomy event.
  • Author Interview With Corinne Demas

    The Massachusetts children's author talks about getting kids excited about literacy.
  • Author Interview With Chris Barton

    The Texas children's author talks about getting kids excited about literacy.
  • 6 Craft Projects for Young Readers

    Help kids get excited about reading with these fun and simple craft ideas.
  • 12 Ideas To Get Your School Reading

    PTOs and PTAs can play an important role in promoting and encouraging literacy.
  • Cool Enrichment Ideas for PTOs

    Try one (or all!) of these parent-group-tested ideas to make learning more exciting for kids.
  • Young Chefs Promote Healthy Eating

    An annual recipe contest at a Minnesota elementary school gets students excited about trying new foods.
  • 100th Day of School T-Shirt Ideas

    11 interesting ways that students can decorate a shirt.
  • 5 Ideas To Help Kids Love Reading

    Fun ideas to help support literacy at your school.
  • PTOs and the School Technology Gap

    Parent groups are a major source of technology funding at schools. How can you help without breaking the bank?
  • How Your PTO Can Help Raise Test Scores

    Boosting test scores is a priority for many schools. Here are academic project ideas to help students prepare for standardized testing.
  • How PTOs Can Help on Testing Days

    Seven ideas to help support students before, during, and after big tests.
  • One Year, 2 Million Minutes Spent Reading

    A PTO program that inspires students to hit the books earned this group the 2014 Parent Group of the Year award for Outstanding Focus on Academics & Enrichment.
  • Family Event: A Science Night for the Whole Community

    PTO Today's 2014 Parent Group of the Year for Outstanding Family Event brought together school and community members with its free Family Science Night.
  • New England's Best School Field Trips

    Parent groups often have a big hand in executing successful school field trips. Here are some of the best that New England has to offer.
  • How PTOs Make Their School Music Programs Sing

    From paying for teacher time to organizing performances, parent groups help bridge the gaps in music education.
  • Racing To Read

    The Iditarod, a major hometown event, serves as the inspiration for a schoolwide literacy program.
  • 12 Ways To Mark the 100th Day of School

    Is your school approaching the 100th day of the school year? Here are 12 simple ways to celebrate the occasion.
  • Create a Teacher Grant Program for Your School

    From technology to music enrichment, an effective PTO-run teacher grant program can help increase a school’s offerings and close budget gaps.
  • How Parent Groups Support Academics

    From helping with basic needs to providing academic enrichment, there are many ways PTOs and PTAs work with teachers to help students learn.
  • Teaching Gardens Help Expand the Landscape of Learning

    PTOs and PTAs around the country are helping schools take their learning experiences outdoors, where kids get lessons they can use in and out of the classroom.
  • Student Gardeners Enjoy Fruits of Their Labor

    At a school garden club in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., a parent volunteer finds that students are fans of fruits and veggies when they help with the planting.
  • Academics & Enrichment: A Community STEM Effort

    A yearlong effort to provide science enrichment as well as a communitywide STEM event earned this group the award for Outstanding Academics & Enrichment Effort in the 2013 Parent Group of the Year search.
  • Family Event: A Creative Approach To Learning Science

    PTO Today's 2013 Parent Group of the Year for Outstanding Family Event winner created a CSI-style Mystery Science Night that showed science being used in a practical way.
  • After Cutbacks, Parents Run School Drama Club

    Following budget cuts at a San Diego school, parents decided that the show must go on.
  • 6 Ways To Get Kids Reading

    Help inspire a love of reading with these fun ideas and events.
  • A Lesson in the Arts

    Students in Lancaster, Ohio, practiced more than just artistic technique for their PTO’s multifaceted art show event.
  • Students Learn Business Skills at Ices Shop

    A trio of PTOs gives students the opportunity to run a local business for a day.
  • Ideas That Raise Students' Social Awareness

    These parent group projects help kids learn about community and their place in it.
  • Student Book Club Gets Kids Reading

    The PTO-sponsored school book club has students excited about reading new things.
  • What Kids Learn From Fundraising

    Product fundraisers often help pay for enrichment opportunities at school, but students who are involved in sales can also benefit from more direct lessons.
  • How PTOs Bring Arts Enrichment to Schools

    Budget cuts have taken a toll on arts education in many school districts. But parent groups have found fun and creative ways to promote the arts.
  • Art Smart: Parent-Run Art Appreciation Program

    How PTOs in one Michigan town bring art education to the classroom with an innovative art appreciation program.
  • PTO Tailgating Night: Pep Rally for Academics and Fitness

    Families loved this PTO-planned event to promote math, reading, and staying fit.
  • Great School Science Events

    Science can be fun and exciting for students. Use these ideas and approaches to create engaging science-related activities.
  • How To Start a School Garden

    School gardens help teach students about nature, healthy eating, and more. PTOs and PTAs can take the lead in starting one at their school.
  • Messy Art Night: PTO Family Event for All Ages

    An arts-based family event brings out the child in everyone with multiple ways to get creative.
  • Solving the "Amazing Case": PTA Family Night

    Parents and kids use teamwork, plus their minds and bodies, to take home prizes at this family event.
  • Hands-on Arts and Science Education

    A PTO's Arts & Science Day makes learning fun and interactive for students.
  • Family Event: Astronomy Night Shines

    PTO Today's 2010 Parent Group of the Year for Outstanding Family Event developed a fun, multifaceted evening with an academic theme, a student-led science fair, and lots of support from local organizations.
  • PTO Program Puts Art Into Action

    Students dive in to art appreciation through in-depth lessons led by parents, then apply their knowledge in a hands-on project involving the whole school.
  • After-School Fun With PTO Program

    A wide variety of free after-school clubs, run by teachers and supported by parents, keeps students at a middle school engaged and safe.
  • Celebrate Presidents' Day at School

    Honor the highest office in the land by marking Presidents' Day at school. Here are some ideas to get your PTO started.
  • 9 Special Event Ideas To Spice Up Your Year

    From old favorites like Read Across America Day to new traditions (National Pi Day on March 14, maybe?), these noteworthy dates make learning fun.
  • Academics and Animals

    One school's 5th grade curriculum uses community service activities related to cats, dogs, and zoo animals to teach kids science.
  • Start a Parent-Child Book Club

    A book club for 1st graders and their parents sparks excitement and shares the joy of reading.
  • Stepping Up to Family Fitness Challenge

    A PTA encourages its school families to walk a combined 1 million steps to better health.
  • Major Project: Edible Garden Enriches Students and Learning

    The 2009 Parent Group of the Year for Outstanding Job on a Completed Major Project created a green space for students with the support of families and teachers as well as school staff.
  • Family Event: Crafts Night With a Conscience

    PTO Today's 2009 Parent Group of the Year for Outstanding Family Event combined a focus on fun with environmental awareness.
  • Reading Challenge Achieves Results

    When a PTO matches elementary readers with NASA astronauts, literacy scores soar.
  • Make It an A+ Year!

    PTOs can make even more of a difference for schools with good planning, good communication, and a focus on building student achievement.
  • Bringing History to Life

    Ancient Egypt becomes real again through a month of activities for the whole school.
  • Yearlong Travel Theme Makes Learning Fun

    Parent group leaders and teachers tied a “world tour” theme to all parts of the curriculum, making it a year to remember for the entire school community.
  • How PTOs Are Making Schools Green

    PTOs and PTAs are increasingly playing a key role in school efforts related to recycling, composting, and reducing energy use.
  • Online Dues Payments Never Reached PTAs

    The Greenwich (Conn.) PTA Council has joined other school and athletic groups from across the country in seeking funds due from Count Me In, a Bellevue, Wash.-based company that collects online registrations and donations for nonprofits.
  • Field Trip Fees Banned in Iowa

    According to the state department of education, schools cannot ask parents to pay field trip costs directly, although PTOs can fundraise for that purpose.
  • Higher Fuel Costs Mean Fewer Field Trips

    Rising costs are a problem for most school districts, survey finds.
  • Science Night, CSI Style

    Science is fun when students have to figure out “Whodunit?”
  • Community Service: Knitting for a Cause

    PTO Today’s 2008 Outstanding Community Service Project turned a fundraiser into a heartwarming event: Students knitted hats in all sizes for patients at the local children’s hospital, then delivered them personally.
  • Building Student Readers

    Students who read books can earn great prizes from the parent group's Little Red Schoolhouse.
  • Teaching Parents To Be Involved

    A California kindergarten teacher gets moms and dads into the classroom.
  • School Spirit in the Spotlight

    Hundreds of students, parents, and alumni take part in planning or performing in a major variety show event.
  • PTO Goes Green at School

    It's Earth Day every day for a group of students, teachers, parents, and administrators in Dover, Mass.
  • School Store Stocked for Success

    Students learn money management behind the counter of a cafeteria store filled with school supplies and other goodies.
  • Teaching Kids About Character

    When respect, kindness, generosity, and other positive traits are covered at school, students gain strong values.
  • National Runner-up: Eagle Project Really Soared

    A combined literacy and community service project to save the bald eagle really took off for PTO Today's 2007 Parent Group of the Year national runner-up.
  • Major Project: Community Garden Builds School Support

    A Phoenix group was recognized as the PTO Today 2007 Parent Group of the Year for Outstanding Job on a Completed Major Project for its garden that is part teaching tool, part service project, and part community-building exercise.
  • 36 Ideas for Arts and Science Enrichment

    School performers, assemblies, and cultural events can excite students and bring new perspectives. Get started with our list of memorable activities.
  • A Play's the Thing

    One parent group has turned its annual musical performance into a major fundraiser—and a major way to build community involvement.
  • Involvement Ranks Last in School Reform

    Parent involvement may be a focus of the No Child Left Behind Act’s school improvement prescriptions, but it’s the least likely to be implemented, according to a 2007 report issued by the Rand Corp.
  • Field Trips: Getting Organized

    School-led educational outings are primarily the domain of teachers, but parent groups can still play a role in making them fun and successful.
  • PTO Publishes Student Writers

    A literacy program gets kids writing essays and poetry, with some parent involvement along the way.
  • Help Build Student Achievement

    An expert challenges PTOs to increase parent involvement in ways that are connected to the curriculum.
  • School Auction Gold: Student Art Projects

    Projects created by elementary school students brought in more than $8,000 for a New York City parent group.
  • Million Minute Reading Challenge

    One PTA's innovative program to get kids excited about books and boost reading scores.
  • How PTOs Foster Science Skills

    A look at the many ways parent groups can help schools focus on achievement in science. When the PTO at Spring Hill Elementary in McLean, Va., sent out a survey about what parents thought the school was doing well — and not so well — one identified area of weakness was science. That wasn’t so surprising, for elementary schools typically focus much more heavily on reading and math than on science. “A teacher’s day is so busy with language arts, math, and social studies that they don’t have time to do science,” says Principal Roger Vanderhye. “And reading about science is not the same as actually doing it.”Since that survey, the school and its parents have bolstered the science curriculum in ways both creative and passionate. The crowning glory is a new science courtyard, what Vanderhye calls “an actual living laboratory,” complete with a pond, a place for plant experiments, and a gazebo. While some students conduct controlled studies to determine the effects of light, fertilizer, water, pesticides, and vinegar, others simply enjoy the natural surroundings. Local merchants donated materials, supplies, and expertise; parents raised money for the project and devoted hundreds of hours of labor.Parents in science-related professions also shared their expertise at a science night that drew 150 families to hear them talk about why learning science proved so critical for their careers as a NASA scientist, an environmental scientist, an orthopedic surgeon, a heart surgeon, and a military officer. “We will do that again,” says Vanderhye. “It was really phenomenal.”Spring Hill also celebrates science with a daily moment of science every morning on its closed-circuit TV show run by students. “Kids bring in stuff,” says Vanderhye. “They find rocks or nests over the weekend. Whatever kids have learned special or discovered on their own, they bring in artifacts to share on TV with everyone else.”Science is a natural passion at Brandywine Elementary in Greenfield, Ind., where many parents work at nearby Eli Lilly, a leading pharmaceutical company. After one parent approached Principal Bruce Miller about a hands-on science organization he’d read about, the school sent two parents to Maryland for training, and Brandywine’s PTO Hands-On Science Club was born. Parents trained by those two (now the co-coordinators), teach weekly after-school sessions for eight weeks at a time, with different classes for different levels. These sessions are offered in the fall, winter, and spring for $20 per pupil. Students conduct experiments relating to weather, for example, or making different kinds of paper airplanes. It’s similar to what science teachers do but more informal, says Miller.The science experiments that draw students at Highlands Elementary in Naperville, Ill., are performed on a stage during Family Science Night. The school’s Home and School Association spent $500 to $600 for a free event attended by over 300 people. Scientist Steve Belliveau from Getting Excited About Science showed how much iron exists in cereal by grinding the breakfast food in a blender and putting a magnet on it, surprising the audience with how much cereal stuck to the magnet; he also carried students across the stage in a hovercraft.“He focuses on broad science concepts but demonstrates them in a way that kids say wow,” says Amy Vander Veen, cochair for School/Family/Community Partnerships, which promoted the event with a huge bulletin board featuring a mad scientist, a tornado, and overflowing beakers. “The first year we did it in December, and you never know, pre-Christmas, what kind of crowd you’ll get,” she says. “All these people coming for a curriculum event blew our minds.” When the school repeated the event, more hands-on activities at science stations followed the show.A more extensive, more expensive approach to getting students excited about science is the High Touch–High Tech program used by the PTO at Gainfield Elementary in Southbury, Conn.; for an annual cost of over $3,500, a certified teacher guides students through such hands-on science activities as “Dig It,” in which students use hard-boiled eggs to represent the layers of the earth’s crust and also pan for rocks and minerals they can keep.Some schools are fortunate to receive support from local or national science agencies. Northwestern Elementary in Eaton Rapids, Mich., which had participated in a pilot study in science and math funded by the Capital Area Science and Math Center, created a science/nature center behind the school, complete with interpretative signs at learning stations and a small amphitheater. DeMiguel Elementary, in partnership with Flag Middle School in Flagstaff, Ariz., was one of 50 schools nationwide chosen as a NASA Explorer school, a three-year pilot program that may lead to satellite links with scientists around the world. Howard Elementary in Eugene, Ore., was one of seven schools in its county selected to participate in a Science Outreach program funded by the National Science Foundation. As part of the program’s focus to increase appreciation of physical science, two graduate students serve as science fellows in classrooms for the school year.But simpler approaches can be effective, too. The PTO at Newfane Elementary in Newfane, Vt., spent a relatively small amount on a one-week science enrichment program that met for two hours a day for five consecutive days over the summer. During Science Week at Manoa Elementary in Havertown, Pa., students compete in a game show featuring science questions. And at South Park Elementary in Vicksburg, Miss., which bills itself as “a math and science theme school,” students learn about live animals by caring for them in the science lab and about meteorology by researching, writing, and announcing daily weather reports over the intercom every morning.Interested in running your own science event? Our free Family Science Night kit has everything you need to run a great event, including planning tips, invitation flyers, and lots of science experiments! As well, our free Guide to Supporting STEM Learning for PTOs and PTAs provides a comprehensive list of hands-on STEM activities and much more. Originally published in 2004 and updated regularly
  • Knitting Club's a Ball

    Kids eagerly choose "indoor recess" to learn a new craft.
  • A Playground That Teaches Science

    Kids love the unique playground, and teachers have created a 47-page curriculum to go with it.
  • How PTOs Foster Math Skills

    Creative approaches to help schools focus on achievement in math and to improve math literacy.
  • How PTOs Foster Reading Skills

    Parent groups can play an effective role in helping schools improve reading and writing achievement.
  • NCLB: What It Means for PTOs

    The No Child Left Behind Act has schools asking PTOs and PTAs to emphasize literacy and other key topics in their activities.
  • Learning About Ellis Island

    This simulation of the Ellis Island immigration experience taught kids and engaged parents in a dynamic way.
  • Organizing an Author Visit

    Don't be overwhelmed by the thought of choosing an author and planning an event. A few simple guidelines will help you do it successfully.
  • Permission Slips That Work

    Permission slips are often sent home with kids for school activities, but most of them don't provide any legal protection for the school or the parent group.
  • A Literacy Event for Halloween

    Pumpkins and poems make an eerily successful combination for a Halloween celebration.
  • Murals Teach Art, History

    More than just a pretty wall, murals help bring lessons alive and instill a sense of community pride.
  • Science Comes Alive on Discovery Day

    Local scientists performed engaging experiments for elementary school students in this excellent one-day enrichment program.
  • Bringing Art Appreciation to Students

    "Meet the Masters," an art education program founded and sponsored by the Kings Road School PTO in New Jersey, has been tying art appreciation to the curriculum since the 1980s.
  • How To Choose School Performers

    Enrichment activities and school performers bring fresh insight and perspectives. Find the best fit for your school.
  • School Performers: Preparing an Orientation Packet

    Tips to make the most of a school visit by arts and enrichment performers.
  • An Author Visit From the Author's Eyes

    An award-winning children's author and speaker shares his best ideas for maximizing the value of your next arts and enrichment performer.
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