Editor’s note: Many of these ideas can be adapted to work for virtual or socially distanced events.
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.
Share the Load
Keep costs and prep time to a minimum with these fun event ideas 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.
Originally posted in 2007 and updated regularly.