Arts & Science Day

A PTO's Arts & Science Day makes learning fun and interactive for students.

by Patty Catalano


Students who attended El Granada Elementary’s annual Arts & Science Day got the opportunity to launch a rocket, pet some sharks, and dissect a frog at the California school. Things got even cooler during PTO leader Gizette Sperinde’s “Science of Ice Cream” workshop, where the kids pretended to be water and salt molecules to demonstrate the freezing forces behind her recipe.

Sperinde, a scientist, was among the 100 volunteers who helped event chairwoman Noelle Lane coordinate the day’s 28 different workshops, some of which go beyond the school’s standard curriculum. “The objective of this event is to be able to touch on the interests of every child, with each student being able to find something that excites them in the arts and sciences realm,” says Sperinde. “The workshops provide the opportunity to learn by doing, and in most cases by digging in and getting down and dirty.” Parent volunteers led most of the workshops; a few were facilitated by representatives of outside organizations, including the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose and the San Francisco Zoo.

About a month before the event, students select the workshops they want to go to; kindergartners attend two workshops plus a magic show, while 1st through 3rd graders get four workshops and 4th and 5th graders go to five. “Every year, we have some oldies but goodies that are so popular that we repeat them,” Lane says. “The kids love our ‘Kitchen Art’ class and ‘Slime.’”

Hands-on STEM and STEAM ideas for parent groups to support learning

Engineer and volunteer dad Matthew McEachen has helped out at Arts & Science Day since 2005. “The first year, I did a workshop on magnetism, where the kids made their own needle compasses and experimented with ferrofluid to visualize magnetic fields,” McEachen recalls. This past year he presented “It Really Is Rocket Science”; students learned about lift, thrust, and drag and built rockets using recycled plastic bottles, foam paper, and duct tape. “We discussed how longer rockets have increased rotational inertia, so the rocket would tend to tumble less and fly straighter and higher,” he explains. “I think most of the children understood the value of experimental observation and iteration by the end of the class because they had time for many ‘launchings’ that tested different aspects of their rocket.” McEachen’s wife, Jamie, who is an artist, also volunteered; she led “Creating Your Own Masterpiece.”

The event has become a family tradition for parent volunteer Andrea De Meo, as well. De Meo fondly recalls a hot air balloon ride over the school that she experienced years back during Arts & Science Day as an El Granada student herself. Her mother volunteered then (and still does). “We would look forward all year to find out what workshop she was going to be in,” De Meo remembers. “Now, as a mom, I am thrilled to watch my children embrace this day with excitement and anticipation.”

The Group
El Granada (Calif.) Elementary PTO

School size: 500 students, grades K-5
Annual budget: $85,000
Fundraisers: Auction, book fair, gift wrap, cookie dough, box tops, Mother’s Day boutique, candy sales
Mission statement: To provide support and resources to our school with the purpose of enriching the educational experience of our children.

Arts & Science Day
Students attend a variety of 50-minute workshops offering interactive learning experiences

Down to a science: Leaders begin booking professional presenters in September and other presenters and volunteers in January for the May event. In April, an electronic form that describes all the workshops goes out to parents; each student selects five top choices. PTO volunteers then print name tags with schedules.

The right chemistry: Each year, some 100 volunteers work to make Arts & Science Day a success. One helpful recruitment tool: Any student in grades 1 through 3 whose parent volunteers that day can attend an extra workshop.

Key elements: The budget for Arts & Science Day is $5,000; that covers fees paid to professional presenters, administrative supplies, and breakfast and lunch for volunteers. Helpers can stay for the entire day, or for just a session or two.

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!

Our free Family Arts & Crafts Night kit makes it easy to make memories and get creative with school families. Download your free kit for planning and promotional materials, family-friendly craft ideas, and more.

Originally posted in 2010 and updated regularly. Family Arts & Crafts Night® and Family Science Night™ are trademarks of School Family Media®.

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