8 Quick and Cheap Events for Your PTO or PTA

Fun family event ideas that are easy to plan and won't cost a lot

It's easy to plan fun events without breaking the bank.

by Elizabeth S. Leaver


Marquee events like carnivals that involve lots of planning and volunteers can do a lot to create excitement (and raise funds) for your school community. But it’s also nice to be able to throw together family event ideas without a lot of planning—or expense. These event ideas are easy to execute and won’t break the bank.

Host a “Potluck” Crafts Night

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Organize a simple, theme-free crafts night and ask attendees to bring some low-cost supplies to share (even if they’re pulling from a stash at home): paper, stickers, markers, glue sticks, and items to glue, such as craft sticks, googly eyes, feathers, etc. You can tap the school’s art teacher to provide ideas, or just let the kids’ imaginations run free.

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Jump on a Tech Craze

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Popular mobile games like Pokémon Go can provide a fun theme. Enlist the help of a tech-savvy parent or high school student to plan the event, as well as plenty of volunteers—it’ll draw a good crowd. Your group could also use borrowed games and consoles for a lower-key event where students can play single- or multiplayer games and spend time discussing gaming strategies and preferences.

Organize a Cardboard Challenge

Cardboard challenges—where kids are inspired to build something out of cardboard or other recycled materials—have grown in popularity in recent years. While some groups let kids create a cardboard invention at home to bring in for a show-and-tell event at school, an on-site building event might be more fun and feasible because your group can provide supplies like packing tape, scissors, markers, paint, bouncy balls, and more. In 2014, students at Rasor Elementary in Plano, Texas, created cardboard buildings, vehicles, robot suits, and much more during their challenge. Find detailed planning help at www.cardboardchallenge.com.

Keep Families Moving

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Many events that get kids active are free or inexpensive, including ice-skating at a pond or rink during the winter, bowling, and participating in family swim times at a local pool. With the help of your school’s PE teacher, you can also put together an easy gym night as a “sports sampler” or with stations for activities like Hula-Hooping or jumping rope.

Investigate Community Offerings

The Lafayette Preparatory Academy PTO in St. Louis, Mo., tries to have local family events every month that are free or low-cost. Such events have included play time at the park and tours of local attractions, including the zoo and a chocolate factory. The PTO also makes other local cultural venues like the theater less expensive by buying group tickets.

Host a Tie-Dye Night

The Back Creek Elementary PTA in Roanoke, Va., kicked off the 2016-17 school year by hosting a tie-dye night on a field near the school. Keep costs low by asking parents to provide the shirts, leaving only supplies like gloves, plastic bags, and dye as expenses. Never tie-dyed? It’s fairly simple; just search “how to tie-dye shirts.”

Serve Up Some Ice Cream

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An ice cream social is a classic parent group event for a reason: It can be tailored to many occasions (back to school, kindergarten meet and greet, etc.), and it’s a good bet that a lot of people at your school like ice cream. What’s more, it’s quite inexpensive to pull together—all you need is some ice-filled coolers, ice cream and fixings, and bowls, spoons, and napkins. Take the event from “quite inexpensive” to “super cheap” by providing premade ice cream cups and spoons.

Plan a Group Hike

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Not many activities are less expensive than packing a lunch and taking a trail walk or hike together. If your area has nice state parks, many are free, but if not, ask about group rates—they’re generally low-cost. 

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Originally posted in 2017 and updated regularly.

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