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The holidays are a natural time to showcase your school parent group with festive activities and events. Not sure where to begin? Choose from these ideas!

by Sharron Kahn Luttrell


Teacher Giving Tree

A giving tree solves the annual teacher gift dilemma for parents while helping teachers stock their classrooms with supplies they need. Put a real or artificial tree in the lobby of your school, or make one out of construction paper and post it on a wall. Cut colored construction paper into the shape of ornaments, thread with ribbon, and distribute them to teachers. Invite teachers to write their names on the ornaments along with an item they’d like donated to their classroom (for example, “Mrs. Maloney, hand sanitizer” or “Mr. Pierce, washable markers”). Teachers hang the ornaments on the tree. Parents who are looking for that perfect gift for their child’s teacher simply have to pick an ornament from the tree and return it with the requested item.

Multicultural Holiday Celebration

Invite families to share their holiday traditions with one another at a multicultural holiday celebration. Book your school gym or cafeteria and set up stations where children can learn about their classmates’ traditions and sample traditional holiday foods from other parts of the world.

Get a free “elf bucks” template to make your holiday shop inclusive

Pictures With...

Recruit a parent to don a Santa Claus costume or dress up as Frosty the Snowman. Invite parents to bring their children to pose with your costumed character. Parents can bring their own cameras, or if your PTO has access to a photo printer, you can provide photos on the spot. This is a great service to offer as part of a larger event, such as a community tree-lighting or holiday bazaar.

Cookie Decorating

Invite kids to unleash their creativity on sugar cookies, and send them home with their tasty creations. Recruit volunteers to bake batches of cookies in assorted shapes and bring them to your school cafeteria on the designated day. Set out the cookies with a variety of decorating materials, such as colored frosting and candies. Give the children tiny paintbrushes to apply the frosting.

Holiday Toy Drive or Food Drive

Use your group’s organizing power to help others this holiday season. Contact your local food pantry, homeless shelter, or a national organization such as Toys for Tots to find out what they need and how your community can help. Get the word out to parents and place a bin in your school lobby for donations. Get together a large group to deliver the items.

Holiday Open Mic Night

Call it a talent show, a mini American Idol, or simply an opportunity for kids (and maybe their parents) to display their unique gifts. Set a date for your Holiday Open Mic Night, put out the call for holiday-theme acts, and see what you get. Maybe an a cappella rendition of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”? A Rockettes-style holiday dance performance? A scene from A Christmas Carol? The surprise is half the fun. And who knows—this could become a holiday tradition.

Winter Story Time

What’s more cozy than snuggling under a blanket in your pajamas and listening to a story? Invite parents and children to your school library for pajama story time. Encourage people to bring blankets or sleeping bags. Your group might hire a storyteller or ask a volunteer (your school principal, maybe?) to read a holiday- or winter-theme book.

Gingerbread Houses

This activity takes a bit of prep work, but it’s so popular with children that it’s worth it. Get a head count of the number of participants, then gather a group of volunteers for a pre-event “construction” party to assemble the houses. Keep it simple by using graham crackers instead of gingerbread. On the day of the event, each child decorates his own gingerbread house with candy canes, gumdrops, peppermints, and other varieties of candy. Take lots of pictures to post on your parent group’s website or newsletter!

Winter Movie

Help your school community get into the holiday spirit with a showing of a classic holiday or winter movie. Invite families to bring blankets or sleeping bags. Set up a refreshment stand with hot cocoa and marshmallows.

Parents’ Day Off

Organize a “drop-off” event to give parents an afternoon to shop for gifts without kids in tow. Recruit plenty of volunteers—middle school and high school students are ideal—and take over the school gymnasium on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Organize party games, put out craft materials, prepare an area where kids can kick back and watch a video. When parents return for their kids with their shopping complete, they’ll thank you. Guaranteed.

Support Our Troops—and Their Families

Are there military families within your school community? If so, work with them to find out how your group can brighten their holidays and those of deployed service members. Collect items and assemble care packages for soldiers, or have students make cards to send. Organize volunteers to support families with a deployed parent: String their holiday lights, provide childcare while they shop for gifts, or schedule an “on call” list of drivers willing to transport their children to and from activities.

Make It and Take It

What parent wouldn’t treasure a gift lovingly crafted by their child’s hands? Your group can help bring a smile to parents’ faces and show their feelings of pride in their children by hosting a “make it and take it” craft event. Book the school cafeteria for a few hours on a weekend. Choose a craft that kids can make and take home that day. You might even put out supplies for kids to make their own wrapping paper using newsprint or butcher paper and markers, crayons, and stickers. By the end of the day, each child will go home with a gift, wrapped and ready for their mom or dad.

Elizabeth S. Leaver contributed to this article.

Originally posted in 2009 and updated regularly.


# Marti 2010-11-01 16:00
I have been the Parent Involvement Coordinator at the Middle School level for five years and can't imagine doing this without the help and support from PTOToday! Thank you for all the wonderful ideas for the upcoming hoidays, we have a very diverse student population and I love the idea of the Multicultural Holiday Celebration! I plan on implementing many of these suggestions for increasing parent involvement this year, I'm excited about sharing success stories in the future! Thank you again!!
# Craig Bystrynski 2010-11-01 16:18
Thanks Marti. We appreciate the kind words, and we very much look forward to hearing your success stories! Best wishes -- Craig

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