The winter holidays may be fast approaching, but it’s not too late to plan some holiday fun for your school. Here are some fun and easy ways your PTO or PTA can celebrate the holiday season without spending a lot of money or wearing out your volunteers with a lot of planning.

Family Activities

Tacky sweater contest: Ask families and staff members to wear their ugliest holiday sweaters to an event already on the school calendar. Gather sweater wearers together and take a vote on which sweater is the tackiest. Be sure to take photos to share later!

Fun in the snow: If commercial snow tubing or tobogganing are available in your area, arrange for a group discount for school families, or book the facility for a few hours. Ask the principal (or another familiar school figure) to make the first run down the hill, to be cheered on by students.

Holiday shop all done? Thank your volunteers so they’ll be ready to help next year

Skate night: Arrange for a group discount at an ice-skating rink and invite school families for an evening of fun. Ask a rink staff member to lead a brief ice-skating lesson for beginners. Don’t have an ice-skating rink in your town? Try a roller skating night instead.

Skate night flyer

Gingerbread house decorating: Invite families to build and decorate gingerbread houses at school. Get a head start by asking families to donate leftover Halloween candy to be used on the houses. Use frosting to affix graham crackers to small milk cartons (the kind used in the school cafeteria), then invite kids to get creative with candy decorations.

Cookies and canvas night: As a standalone event, or part of another holiday event, have a cookie decorating station and invite families to paint a picture for a small fee. Arrange for the art teacher to provide step-by-step instruction to painters, or ask a local social painting venue to provide their services at the school for a discount.

Pottery painting: Work with a local pottery painting company to bring affordable unpainted pieces to a school event. Students can paint bowls, plates, or figurines to be given to family members as a holiday gift. The pottery painting company will take the items for firing in the kiln, then the finished items can be delivered to students at school.

Holiday shop all done? Thank your volunteers so they’ll be ready to help next year

Student Activities

Holiday wishes: Send volunteers into classrooms to talk to students about holiday wishes that do not involve toys. For example, one child might hope to see his grandparents over the break, while another child might wish for fairy wings and a mermaid tail. Have kids write about their holiday wish and illustrate their work. The only rule is that their wish can’t involve a toy. Mount the students’ work on construction paper and display it in the hallways.

Holiday wishes activity template

Holiday boredom-buster list: Have volunteers visit each class for a brainstorming session of the best ideas for winter holiday fun. Create a list of all the ideas offered by students, teachers, and parents. Come up with separate lists for younger and older students. Include some educational activities and some ideas that are fun for the whole family. Focus on low-cost, simple ideas. Send the master list home with every child on the last day of school before the break.

Gifts for Teachers

Gift-wrapping service: Enlist parents to bring wrapping paper, ribbons, gift bags, tape, scissors, and gift tags. Offer teachers the opportunity to drop off their gifts for wrapping. Parents wrap during the school day, and teachers can pick up their gifts as they're leaving. Place a sticky note on each wrapped gift, reminding the gift-giver what it is.

Gift tags for gift-wrapping service

Teachers lounge makeover: Recruit parents to come in over the weekend to clean the teachers lounge and decorate the space for the holidays. Set up a basket of snacks, and include a note thanking teachers for their hard work. When teachers arrive on Monday, they’ll be in for a big surprise!

Cookie exchange: Give your teachers an easy way to partake in this holiday tradition by doing the baking for them! Set out a variety of homemade cookies. If there is a personal story behind a cookie, be sure to include it. Also consider providing recipe card, and give each teacher a disposable plastic container to fill.

Holiday cookie exchange recipe cards

Hot cocoa bar: Fill one coffee dispenser with traditional chocolate cocoa and another with white chocolate cocoa. Provide marshmallows, whipped cream, sprinkles, chopped nuts, chocolate syrup, caramel sauce, maraschino cherries, and peppermint sticks.

Healthy breakfast bar: The holiday season is drenched in rich, sugary foods, leaving many people craving lighter fare. Set up a simple, healthy breakfast bar in the teachers lounge that includes fresh fruit, yogurt, granola, nuts, whole-grain muffins, banana bread, and juices.

Gifts for Others

Candygrams: Give students the chance to buy candygrams for classmates and teachers, to be delivered on the last day of school before winter break. Download our candygram cards from the PTO Today File Exchange. Attach a candy cane to each candygram. Keep the cost affordable for kids; many groups sell candygrams for 50 cents or $1 each. Consider donating the proceeds to a local food bank or children’s charity.

Coins for a Claus: Enlist school staff members to participate in a fun charity drive. Display one jar for each participating staff member. Have students bring in coins and place them in their favorite staff member’s jar. The staff member who collects the most cash dresses as Santa, an elf, or other holiday character for a day. Donate the money to charity.

Bird feeder ornaments: Talk to students about ways they can help the environment during the holidays. Make ornaments out of bird seed that can be hung outside. Find step-by-step instructions by searching online for “bird seed ornament.” Students can take their ornaments home or hang them on tree branches on the school property, picking up litter as they go. For a simpler craft, paint pinecones with sunflower seed butter, roll them in birdseed, and tie them with a string.

Creative cards: Provide supplies for students to create cards for people away from home during the holidays, such as hospitalized children, seniors, or military service members. The American Red Cross delivers holiday cards to deployed soldiers and to veterans hospitals through its Holiday Mail for Heroes program.

Holiday cards for troops flyer
Holiday cards for seniors flyer

Giving tree: Collect new mittens and gloves, scarves, and hats to be donated to an organization serving needy families or the school clothes closet, if one exists. Place a Christmas tree in the school entrance and invite students to "decorate" the tree with their donations. Or ask students to choose a low-cost gift for a child their age. Donate the toys to a group that distributes holiday gifts to needy children.

Originally posted in 2013 and updated regularly