Creating Lasting Memories with STEM + Families ThinkFun Game Night

This post is part of a series authored by local PTA leaders sharing their stories as STEM + Families ThinkFun Game Night Giveaway winners. These real-world experiences shed light on how an individual PTA planned and hosted their event with lessons learned and practical advice.

 

Maplewood STEM/ThinkFun Game Night is something I spearheaded after a very meager turn out the previous year that our school put together. I am a firm believer of getting out of something what you put into it. So, in this case as a PTA we wanted to “Do Better.”

We try to apply for grants for our school and students, which will help fulfill the expanding budgetary gaps that our school, like many others, are facing. Our school is a Title 1 School and for us parental involvement can be very difficult. Our PTA has more staff than parent members, but us parents work hard to help in any way that we can. Providing family events is one of the greatest gifts the PTA can provide to students and their families, which is why STEM, Game, and Family Nights are so important.

When planning events, we like to have a committee, but in reality, it is often one person with occasional helpers that put our events together. The key is scheduling volunteers so that you maximize their time. No one gets discouraged faster than a busy parent that comes to help only to be left confused or feeling unappreciated for what they do.

Start planning early so you don’t get overwhelmed. Our main strategy with inclusion for any event is having something that appeals to a variety of ages, and both boys or girls. For STEM, it’s important to stress that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math is universal. It holds no boundaries and these nights help pull families into discussions and activities about subjects that will carry over throughout the students’ academic paths into their futures. Since our PTA had to purchase all supplies with a limited budget I researched STEM activities that were inexpensive but would span multiple grade ranges. We were also the recipients of the ThinkFun Games Grant last year, which provided our school with Balance Beans, Clue Master, Color Cube, Gravity Maze, Laser Maze, Laser Maze Jr., Math Dice, Math Dice Jr., and Rush Hour to use at our STEM Game Night.  The games helped provide STEM Night with new life, which is sometimes all you need to make a huge difference.

In preparation I printed out the ThinkFun game directions, along with directions for the activities that included the definitions of the STEM they would be learning about and had a meeting with teachers and staff armed with a signup sheet to address questions and concerns. We ended up with an activity for each grade with teachers’ support, in addition to having an Hour of Code that was hosted in the Library with our Librarian and a demo from Winnetonka’s Robotics team (our local high school). Our PTA pulled together to create activity boxes for each room with the supplies bundled or bagged and then delivered to each classroom the day of the event.

Getting the word out is important so we utilize all our outlets; both the PTA and our school’s Facebook Page, sending multiple flyers home, and phone blasts from our Principal. Parental involvement can be tricky for working parents with no time to attend evening events, so the PTA voted to provide dinner for our families. We purchased pizza, veggies, cookies, chips, and drinks, which were served by our school’s staff members to families in shifts. Pairing that with our ThinkFun Games as Door Prizes made it a huge incentive for families to step through our door. Families were immediately greeted by PTA at our sign-in table where they were entered in the Door Prize drawing, handed a STEM Night Map along with a Dinner Time Ticket (we had 4 different dinner shifts that were announced throughout the evening to ensure a smooth transition.)

Families were allowed to come and go as they pleased, picking the activity or game that interested them the most. The clear winners were the Slime Room, Balance Beans from ThinkFun for the younger grades and Gravity Maze for the older ones. My favorite moment of the night was a family at the end of the night that said they had just planned to come, eat and then leave but they got so caught up in all the fun and games that they had totally lost track of time. Strengthening relationships between school and students’ families is what PTA is all about. I can’t tell you how amazing it is to see a parent or grandparent sitting with their kids laughing, building and creating not just experiments but lasting memories. So yes, I am already planning our next STEM Night and will be utilizing our ThinkFun Games!

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About the Guest Contributor, Sondra Miller: Sondra Miller is the PTA Treasurer at Maplewood Elementary School in Kansas City, Missouri. Mom of one, trying to do it all one small step at a time.

Disclosure: ThinkFun is a Supporting Sponsor of National PTA’s STEM + Families initiative. The local PTA spotlighted in this blog was a winner of the 2017-2018 STEM + Families ThinkFun Game Night Giveaway and received a bundle of ThinkFun games. The author was not compensated for this blog post and the author’s opinions are his/her own.