Getting parents involved is no easy task. But Education World's "Principal Files" team offers some great ideas for school-wide events that are sure to draw parents in large numbers. Included: More than 30 events to add to your school calendar!
Any day of the school year is a great day for a special event!
There are BINGO Nights and Spaghetti Suppers and Field Days and Book Sales...
The list of super-special events is a mile long. That's why we asked our Principal Files team to share with us some of the events they hold each year that get kids involved and parents interested. The calendar below offers a couple dozen great ideas they shared plus links to many additional ideas from the Education World archive. Any one of these events is sure to result in great parent turnout, and many provide fun events for entire families.
Parents -- especially parent of kindergartners -- can have a difficult time letting go of students on the first day of school. Take their minds off the fact they're cutting loose those apron strings by putting on a special opening-day event. "We provide juice and muffins -- and Kleenex -- outside the front entrance of our school," said Dawn Neely, principal at Hendrix Elementary School in Boiling Springs, South Carolina. The Boo-Hoo Breakfast, which can always be moved indoors if it rains, offers a great opportunity for PTO members to meet parents of the school's newest students and to share with them news of special upcoming events and other ways they can get involved. The parents aren't parting with a child, they're gaining many new opportunities to be part of a very special school community!
More Opening Day Activities
Many schools offer special activities -- from hot dog roasts to entire parades -- on the first day of school. Learn about the unique ways in which schools greet the year in Education World articles such as Schools Find Many Ways to Say "Welcome Back", Increase Parent Involvement With First-Day-of-School Activities (including a first-day-of-school parade), and Great Starts: Veteran Principals Offer Opening Day Tips.
Many schools are even finding ways to make students and parents feel welcome in the weeks before the opening-day bell. You can find ideas for paving the way to parent involvement in Back-to-School Letters and Survival Kits Build Communication, Principal Goes Door to Door With Back-to-School Message, and Principals Share Parent Involvement Ideas.
And, if we have not piled on enough reading already, don't miss Education World's special Back-to-School and Parent Involvement archive pages.
Open House is an education tradition, but it's a tradition that can always benefit from some new ideas. Education World offers some unique twists on the tradition -- including an Open House scavenger hunt and an Open House night run by students -- on our special archive page, Attracting Parents to "Open House" Night.
More Special Events
Many schools use the opening weeks of school as the occasion for holding special Pastries for Parents days. Since Grandparents Day is the second Sunday in September, this month is also a great time to hold a Goodies for Grandparents event or a Grandparents BBQ. The Grandparents BBQ, held on a Saturday, is a big hit at Bennion Elementary School in Taylorsville, Utah. In addition, the school presents monthly Parents and Pastries events. "Parents read to the children and the children read to their parents," principal Donnette McNeill-Waters told Education World. "We have also called this event Doughnuts for Dad in a specific attempt to get more fathers involved."
At Hendrix Elementary "we always plan our Muffins for Moms and other pastry events around a short daytime program the adults can stay and attend," said Dawn Neely. Connect confections to a student display or performance -- or simply to an opportunity to visit students' classrooms -- and you're sure to have a real crowd pleaser.
Principal Bridget Braney is fortunate to have a great PTO at her school. The PTO parents coordinate a yearly Harvest Fest. "Children participate at many game stations manned throughout the day by parents, and the school lobby is filled with homemade goodies for sale," said Braney, who is principal at Orchard Hill Elementary School in South Windsor, Connecticut.
"As part of their 'rite of passage,' the oldest students in our school -- the fifth-graders -- transform the school cafeteria into a haunted house," Braney explained. "The task is guided by several parents, but the students do the work themselves. They create costumes and decorations, play the roles of monsters, and collect admission. They even create a tamed-down version of the haunted house for younger students."
October is usually the month when the first parent-teacher conferences of the new school year are held. Many schools, however, are transforming those conferences by having students play an active role in sharing their learning progress with their parents. You can learn more about student-led conferences in the Education World articles Student-Led Conferences Successful in Elementary, Middle Grades, Student-Led Conferences Hold Kids Accountable, and Student-Led Conferences: A Growing Trend.
Maybe the traditional parent-teacher conference is the route your school takes. If so, you will find some useful tips in an Education World article, Meeting With the Parents -- Making the Most of Parent-Teacher Conferences.
Student-led or parent-teacher conferences can be extra special if you have desserts and beverages available for parents as they wait for scheduled conferences. At Neepawa Area Institute Collegiate, a grade 7-12 school in Neepawa, Manitoba (Canada), the Band Booster Club sponsors the desserts, principal Phil Shaman told Education World.
At Doctors Inlet Elementary School in Middleburg, Florida, teachers also make themselves available for a parent-teacher conference night. "All teachers 'flex' their schedules to be available from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.," said principal Larry Davis. "They get to go home three hours early on the next early-release day."
Drinking and Drug Awareness Pancake Breakfast
During October, celebrate Red Ribbon Week by holding a special event. "The Teenagers Against Drinking and Driving (TADD) group at our school organizes a pancake breakfast," said Phil Shaman. "Community members -- including the mayor, councilors, and school board members -- cook the breakfast. All the ingredients are provided by stores in the community, and other businesses provide ribbons so the light poles throughout the community are decorated."
Native American Museum Night
November is American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. With that in mind, wouldn't this month be the perfect time to focus student learning and a special parent night on the heritage of Native Americans? "Our students prepare projects related to a tribe of their choice," principal Pat Green told Education World. "Those projects integrate history with language arts, communications, and presentation skills.
"It's a great interdisciplinary project and involves many parents and community members," added Green, who is principal at Cedar Heights Junior High School in Port Orchard, Washington. The event is organized by the school's eighth-grade history teachers and draws about 250 people. In addition to the student projects, local tribal representatives present displays and dance demonstrations.
(* Note: The Children's Book Council recently moved Children's Book Week from November to May.) Another important November event is Children's Book Week. What better time to hold a special night to emphasize the importance of reading? That's what one group of students and teachers in Oklahoma did. Read about their special night in an Education World article, Organize a Literature Day (and Night) at Your School. In that article, you will find activity ideas and tips for organizing a fantastic literature event of your own.
American Education Week
November also offers American Education Week. Many schools use this opportunity to combine a special Parents and Pastries day with activities focused on the great things going on behind their doors. The National Education Association (NEA) offers activity ideas to help make your American Education Week festivities a huge success.
December is a busy month for everybody. Our schedules are overloaded. But what would the holidays be without the annual holiday concert? It's a staple that puts the spotlight on a large number of students while it reminds us of the real reasons for the holiday season. Use your school's holiday spectacular to emphasize the different cultural celebrations of the season. And, while you're at it, be sure to consider the local nursing facility or homeless shelter; take the show on the road and share the good will. Or charge an admission to the holiday concert -- say, one nonperishable food item or a cash donation that will be turned over to the local food pantry.
Got the winter doldrums? Does January seem boring after all the hoopla of December? This month -- or any month, for that matter -- is a great time for an International Day or Multicultural Fair. "The kids absolutely love this event, and they are learning invaluable lessons," said principal Nina Reznich of Riverview East High School in St. Clair, Michigan.
At Riverview, each homeroom is assigned a different country. The students research the country and have eight school days to prepare a display and food. "In the past, we have had Jamaican huts and a castle (England)," said Reznich, adding, "A panel of judges is on hand to judge student displays and foods."
At Cedar Heights Junior High School, seventh graders team up with their language arts, geography, and science teachers to create a Culture Fair. Students produce a research project related to something important to their culture or arts interests. They write a report and create a visual representation of their project. "On Fair night, parents and family members are invited to view the students' projects and watch their presentations," said Patricia Green, adding, "This fair is a longstanding tradition at the school and usually attracts more than 300 people."
"We hold a multicultural fair each year where different cultures' foods, dances, dress, and languages are showcased," principal Dawn Neely told Education World. Of course, it helps that Hendrix Elementary's student body includes 18 distinct cultures. Each K-5 grade adopts a country, researches it, and decorates their hallway so that visitors "enter" different countries as they make their way through the building, said Neely.
"On the day of the fair, each student carries a 'passport,'" Neely added. "As they tour the countries, students write down facts they learn. Then they tour our multi-purpose room, where parents -- many dressed in native costume -- display items related to their countries of origin. Last year we had 30 displays."
Two school counselors, the student council, parents, and community leaders plan the fair, Neely noted. Due to health regulations, only vendors sell food at the fair. During lunch, students and parents perform on stage by dancing, singing, or playing an instrument native to their country. Families can also purchase T-shirts that read "Hendrix Elementary School Cultural Day, Our Accent Is On Excellence" on the front; the back has images of the flags of the 18 countries represented by students' families. All students and visitors wear nametags that indicate where they were born.
Cooler weather is a great time for a filling pasta dinner. Combine spaghetti with a salad, dessert, and side helping of student performances and you have a winning event. The evening might even serve as a nice fund-raiser for spring field trips. At Doctors Inlet Elementary, the Parent Family Association sponsors the annual spaghetti supper. The school chorus sings, the superintendent speaks, and a nationally recognized speaker takes the podium, said principal Larry Davis. Last year's speaker was John Rosemond, author of Raising a Nonviolent Child and John Rosemond's Daily Guide to Parenting.
RAH! (Reading at Home) Night
In the winter, parents of students at Orchard Hill Elementary School are invited to a special RAH! (Reading at Home) Night. "Our Reading at Home program asks children to log their reading books and hours," explained principal Bridget Braney. The program lasts for several months and culminates in the RAH! evening at school. "Guest readers -- ranging from classroom teachers to local notables, including the school superintendent, local police officers and firemen, retired teachers, older children, and city officials -- read aloud from their favorite books for students," Braney explained. Students move from reader to reader.
Some grade levels even create themed settings for their read-aloud guests, noted Braney. "Last year's fifth-grade students studied the Oregon Trail and used a wagon campfire setting for their read-aloud sessions."
A Night at the Movies
A family movie night makes a great fund-raiser. You might even work with the owner of a local movie theater to use their facilities and see a current hot movie. That's what principal Greg Robinson does at Melrose High School in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory (Australia). "Our Parent and Citizens Association organizes the event," Robinson told Education World. "They talk to the owners of our local cinema who let them know what is coming up in the next six months. They choose a movie and promote the premiere of that movie."
Getting the right movie is important, added Robinson. "We make a choice based on what we think will be the most appealing. We keep in mind movie censorship ratings, what is of current interest to students, and what parents might be prepared to watch.
"We use this event as a fund-raiser," added Robinson. "The school receives a discounted ticket price because we guarantee that we will fill the cinema. We then charge an extra few dollars over the price of the normal ticket. We expect to make a profit of about $1,000. We will also run a small raffle that might net us another $200.
"We promote this as a family event," added Robinson. "We ask that parents come along with their kids."
Of course, your school does not need to hire out the local theater. You can turn your school gymnasium into a theater for a night. Show a selection of classic cartoons the whole family can enjoy. Sell popcorn on the side for a fraction of what movie theaters sell it. That can all be done for little cost -- while it beefs up the school activity fund.
Arts Celebration Night
March is Youth Art Month, the ideal time to turn your school's spotlight on arts. They do that at Hendrix Elementary. "We highlight our students' art and musical abilities in a night of concerts and an art show," said principal Dawn Neely.
And while students are displaying their work for all parents to see, why not create a virtual art gallery like the one they created at Pleasant Grove Elementary School in Stockbridge, Georgia. Put samples of student work online so the whole world can celebrate the arts with you!
Parents in Kids' Sneakers Day
Spring has sprung. Put the snow boots away, and break out the sneakers. And now that those sneakers are out, why not let your students' parents travel in them for a day? Read how one school did just that in an Education World article, Parents Step Into Students' Sneakers for a Day. Parents who spent a day walking in their children's footsteps at Central Middle School in Edmond, Oklahoma, developed a new appreciation for the rigors of middle school, according to principal Tara Fair. And, contrary to what some people might think, the kids were glad to have their parents there.
BINGO Night is another popular fund-raiser. It's a fun family event any time of year. This month, the PTO might combine it with Irish Stew Night!
April is Math Awareness Month. "At Cedar Heights Junior High School, our math department hosts an evening event for students, parents, and the community," shared Patricia Green. "Student math projects are displayed throughout the school in a county-fair atmosphere.
"The purpose of the student displays is to show how math is used in the real world around us," explained Green. "In past years we've had students display clocks created with mathematical calculations, tests regarding the time it takes various brands of nail polish to dry, displays depicting the number of Twinkies it would take to fill a room, and calculations of the amount of cement necessary to build a new sports stadium."
In addition, community members offer workshops for parents and children about financing a home, bargain shopping for groceries, quilting, calculating measurements and materials needed to remodel a home, and many other math skills. Teachers offer workshops for parents on how to help their children with math.
Prizes are awarded for student projects and drawings are held throughout the evening for prizes such as a new calculator, a CD player, and dinner coupons, Green explained. The funding for the school's first two years of Math Night came from a Toyota TIME grant. Raffles at those functions and subsequent Math Nights supply the "bank" required to continue the program. Last year, the school partnered with Outback Steakhouse. The restaurant provided dinner for a small fee and donated the money back to the Math Night bank.
At Doctors Inlet Elementary, a separate Math Night is held for each grade level earlier in the school year. It is done early in the year in part to share the math curriculum with parents. But the emphasis that night is on fun and showing math used in many practical ways, said principal Larry Davis. "Special games such as 'Muggins Math,' BINGO, and Mystery Numbers entertain families. Speakers from the district office come with other math games that involve the entire family."
Rhyme Time: A Night of Poetry
April is also National Poetry Month. Now there is a great theme for a fun family night! Combine poetry readings by students and adults. Invite guest readers and poets. Sell a book of student poems as a fund-raiser. Display portfolios of students' best poetry. Present your oldest students in a poetry slam competition, like teacher Brenda Dyck staged with her students (see the Education World article, A Poetry Slam Cures Midwinter Blahs). For more ideas for great poetry writing activities, don't miss Education World's special Poetry Month archive.
"Coming to Kindergarten" Events
Principal Jon Romeo is justly proud of his kindergarten teachers at Bradford Elementary School in Westerly, Rhode Island. "Out kindergarten teachers host a series of activities for the incoming kindergarten class," said Romeo. "Those activities begin the spring before students start school. One month the teachers do an evening story hour, another month an arts and crafts night. During the summer, they do a special bus safety activity, complete with a bus ride.
"The special program of transition activities enables the entire kindergarten team to get to know the new class of children," said Romeo. "It certainly helps ease the anxiety of kindergarten for kids and parents."
Perhaps the most special activity the teachers do is for parents only. The activity involves the parents in creating a "Coming to Kindergarten" book for their child. "The book is kind of like a coloring book with pictures and words about our school," Romeo explained. "The first page talks about our kindergarten teachers, another page talks about our school librarian, and there is a page about our playground. At the bottom of each page is a sentence that says something like 'At Bradford School, you will get to read lots of books.'
"A staff member will sit with a group of six to eight parents and give them stickers, crayons, glue sticks, pictures of teachers, and other things so parents can create a book about our school personalized for their child. During the activity, parents can ask questions about whatever topics arise. For example, the nurse page in the book might spur a parent to ask about administering medications or discussing peanut allergies.
"We have found this to be a terrific orientation for parents," added Romeo. "Each family leaves with a book to read to their soon-to-be kindergarten child over the summer."
Silver Sands Middle School in Port Orange, Florida, offers many special events, but one of the most unique ones is a springtime activity that principal Les Potter shared with us. "We sponsor a fishing tournament in May," said Potter. "Parents and students participate. We fish from a dock on the Halifax River, just a few miles from Daytona Beach."
The school gets permission to close off the dock from 9 a.m. until noon for students and their parents, Potter explained. "Our business partners participate with donated and loaned rods, food, bait, and special prizes," said Potter. "Many prizes are given, including prizes for the smallest fish, largest fish, ugliest fish, and most fish caught."
Last year, its first year, the event attracted about 100 people. Parents reported that it was a fun bonding experience, said Potter. "We are planning to continue the event," he added, "and we expect it to grow in popularity."
Field Day is a traditional springtime event in many schools. Many schools connect the activities of the day to a school-wide theme. Others stick with standard field day activities. Education World has jumped at the opportunity to help you spice up the field day ritual at your school with dozens of great activity ideas. Check out our Fantastic Field Days archive.
Teacher Appreciation Week
Each May, Teacher Appreciation Week affords a unique opportunity for the entire school community -- school administrators, parents, and students -- to work together to show their appreciation for all teachers do for them. Education World is pleased to present a nice library of ways -- well more than 50 ways! -- for the school community to show its appreciation in our Teacher Appreciation Week archive.
At North Elementary School in Ozark, Missouri, principal Donna Ham says the school's yearly Learning Fest event brings out more parents than any other event. "In the spring, we do our Science Fair, Art Show, and classroom displays all in one night," said Ham.
"Any student in the school can do a science project," she added. "That night, the projects are judged and winners are announced. In addition, the art teacher displays a work by every student in the school and teachers display examples of work the students have done throughout the year.
A sleepover is a great treat for kids. Many schools use such an event as the culminating activity of the school year. Movies, music, organized games, entertainers plan whatever activities you and the students might enjoy. And don't expect too much sleep! In the a.m., parents might prepare a surprise breakfast in the cafeteria. Then it's time to send kids on their way with their memories -- and time for you to head home for some Zs. (Read essayist Brenda Dyck's reflections on the sixth-grade sleepover at her school in an Education World article, Asleep on the Job.)
Whether you call it Graduation Day or Move-Up Day or Recognition Day, the day you set aside to honor your school's "senior" class should be a day the students will always remember. From parades to PowerPoint presentations, there are many ways to make the promotion ceremony memorable. Read some tips for doing that from the experts on Education World's "Principal Files" team in an article members created last year, Make Graduation Day a Special Day Across the Grades.
Twenty-Five More "Anytime" Events
Following are some additional ideas that might spur fun events at your school. Some of these ideas come from our P-Files principals; others offer links to Education World articles that present pointers for producing special days.