Learn, Share, Grow: Ideas for Creating Successful Family Events

by California State PTA Family Engagement Commission

Family Engagement Friday August 2022

Creating family-oriented events, and making sure every family feels welcome, is a great way to strengthen the engagement of families with school and their kids’ education. 

More than  100 participants from across the state shared their best family engagement tips, tricks, and ideas at the 2022 California State PTA Convention, during a workshop called “Learn, Share, Grow.”  

Here are some top ideas about events your PTA can bring to your school:

Remember to approve all events with your membership and check with your school, and the PTA insurance guide before you start planning. 

Seasonal events:

  • Fall Festival– Have game booths run by grade levels or invite community partners to join the fun and create their own game booths.  Sell carnival type foods (hot dogs, tamales, pizza, etc.) or invite food trucks.  Ask for parent volunteers to work short shifts (30 minutes to one hour) so that they volunteer AND explore the event with their family.  Some PTAs utilize a volunteer swap so volunteers from one school volunteer at another school and vice versa.
  • Boo Grams/ Valo-grams/ Candy Grams– Create a simple card that students, parents, teachers can fill out for the recipient.  Purchase candy, flowers or toys in bulk then attach the cards to the items and deliver them to classrooms on a specified day.  This low-cost activity allows for families, students and teachers to show appreciation for each other in a fun way.
  • Trunk or Treat– Ask for families or staff to decorate their vehicle trunks in creative ways.  They can either use Halloween decor or select a theme (Pinterest has some great ideas for this) to make their trunks a showplace.  Students then walk from car to car and trick or treat.  Make sure you have enough candy by asking for donations of candy from the entire school and/or community partners.  You can extend this activity by having food, music, and allowing students to wear costumes if you so choose.
  • Winter Holiday shop – Give the students a space to purchase gifts for their families at a reduced cost or have them make crafts or art projects that can be used as family gifts.

General family fun:

  • Movie Nights– Whether you do this on your playground as an outdoor event or in your multi-purpose room- families greatly enjoy this!  Be sure that you obtain a license to show the movie, so you are not in violation of copyright.  This event can be free or low-cost. You can provide popcorn or snacks, families can purchase them for a small fee, or they can bring their own treats from home.  If you want to take it to the next level you can have a “drive-in” where students create their own cars to sit in out of cardboard boxes.  This would add a fun arts component to the night!
  • Book Fair– Many schools have a book fair at some time during the year.  One way to turn it into a bigger family event is to have it in the evening and ask  teachers or volunteers to read some of the books that can be purchased.  You can also have a table full of books teachers are requesting for their classrooms or that the library would like for families to purchase.  You can also time Family Literacy Night to coincide with your book fair so that families can purchase books as part of that event.
  • Muffins in the Morning– After morning drop-off invite families to join your PTA for muffins in the morning.  Have coffee and some pastries, highlight upcoming events and the benefits of joining PTA, or invite a special guest to speak to families.  These kinds of opportunities give families a chance to get to know each other and feel more comfortable with the PTA and volunteering. You can simplify with just coffee and juice and include a chat with the principal if available.  
  • Family Campfire– This event can either be around a real fire at a local park or beach or you can create your own “fire” with flashlights and colored tissue paper.  Whether you are using a real or fake fire, the concept remains the same– let’s get families outside to enjoy some time in nature.  Tell campfire stories, sing songs, go on a flashlight hike to see what insects or animals you can find.  You can end the night giving everyone a s’mores kit to make once they get home- filled with graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate. 
  • Glow Night– Head on over to the dollar store or bulk catalog shop and purchase glow sticks, glow necklaces and rings.  Make posters using neon paint and put some black lights around.  Encourage families to wear neon or white clothes so that they glow too!  Have music and games to complete the event. 
  • Family Art Night–  The arts are a great way to have the entire family participate in activities.  Grandparents, siblings, or aunts/uncles or a favorite neighbor or caregiver- everyone can do art!  Some PTAs have partnered with local ceramics studios or paint-night shops for this event while others have simply purchased simple supplies like paper, brushes and paint or construction paper and scissors.   Many PTAs also use this as the kick-off for their Reflections program by adding a table explaining the rules of the program to families.
  • Touch a Truck Event– This event is an outstanding way to partner with businesses in your community as well as local emergency agencies.  Invite various vehicles including dump trucks, construction vehicles, a city bus, garbage truck, police, fire, tree climber, etc. to park at your school and allow students and families to get up-close and personal with these cool forms of transportation.  This can be a ticketed event or free- but it’s a well-loved event for elementary school families. Be sure to follow PTA procedures and clear this with the principal ahead of time.
  • Western Roundup– Families come to campus in their western best to learn some line dancing and show off their best country dancing.  Line dancing not interesting to your community? What other types of group dancing would be?  Learn and do together activities are a wonderful way to include families who might not regularly attend events. 
  • Family Picnic- Invite families to bring a picnic dinner and a blanket to your school’s playground for this event.  Have some music playing, allow children to play on the yard, and maybe invite a food truck or two for dessert or shaved ice to cool off.  Families love a  free event and the chance to get to know their student’s friends. 
  • Board Game Night– Families bring their favorite games to school and teach them to other families.  Make sure to have some decks of cards on hand too– there are lots of games you can play using cards. 
  • Talent Show– Ask students or families to create their own acts for your show.  Singing, dancing, magic tricks, playing an instrument, telling jokes– families have so many talents to share.  Many schools have a theme for their talent show, but it’s not necessary.  Sell tickets and/or concessions or have a free community event depending on your PTAs goals.  Talent shows can be very simple or more elaborate, but the most important thing is to have fun. 

We want to share your great family engagement ideas with other PTAs across California.  Please take a moment to fill out this simple form and share your family events with us.