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Spring Open House: Building Home and School Connections

By Meghan Everette on March 1, 2013
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

Typical fall open houses get all the glory and parents are happy to come meet the teacher and see the outlook for the year. By the time spring rolls around, some families have fallen off the grid, student behavior has become lax, and curriculum has ramped up a notch. It can be the perfect time to energize the home-to-school connection, make positive contacts, and strategize for end-of-year success. My school, like many, tends to struggle with getting positive and proactive parent involvement. One way we have combated this is to offer spring open house and create themed evenings that draw in students.

 

Kindergarten Hallway DecorationsShowing Off Hall Work

Involve the Kids

Our open houses are focused on learning. We theme them, which gets students involved. The themes have included Johnny Appleseed, Clifford’s Birthday, Circus Night, and Financial Literacy. Classes work ahead of time with reading and math projects that reflect the theme. Teachers decorate doorways and halls to show off student work. Grade levels all convene in one room with at least one, if not several, activities that work with the theme and serve a reading or math purpose.

For example, 4th grade financial literacy night had a hamburger hut setup with menus so that students could take orders and read functional text, meal tickets to figure out the cost and tax for the meal, and then a fun station to illustrate the choices when finished. Students knew they would be able to show off their work and do a fun, take-home activity with their parents. We opened up the computer lab to let families see the EverFi Vault program we are using, and a representative was on hand to help students and parents with any questions they had. Students were excited to show off their computer lab and “play” during the event. Getting them excited about coming is the key to getting parents to the school.

Working on the SmartBoard Money Grab Game

If You Feed Them, They Will Come

Here’s the thing . . . even the best families are busy. It is hard for me as a mom to get my kids home from school, dinner on the table, homework done, baseball practice over, and everyone bathed and tucked in with a bedtime story. I can only imagine what it is like for families that have more children, more obligations, dual households, or transportation issues. We have found that offering a meal boosts attendance at evening events.

Meals are simple and prepared ahead of time by our cafeteria staff. We pre-package meals so that they can be taken to go, which eases the workload of cleaning up the cafeteria when we are all just ready to go home. Think of simple to prepare, universally enjoyed meals such as spaghetti. Partners in Education have donated funds to cover the cost of our meals. For financial literacy night, Iberia Bank sponsored our meals and set up a table to speak with families in the lobby. Families have to visit a room and participate in an activity to receive a ticket for a meal.

Iberia Bank Partner in EdFamily Night Dinner

All Smiles

You may want to nab parents while you have them for a serious conversation about behavior or grades. Resist this urge. Open house is a time to provide a positive experience for families that will help make them more receptive to school involvement. I tell my students, and I abide by it, that I will not be talking about their grades or problems during Open House. I’d just like them to come have some fun and let me say "hi" to their moms. If you have something pressing to discuss with a parent, use this night to set a conference time. You want to see all the families that are there, and you don’t want private or serious conversations overheard.

We do use our open house as a time to give parents information on what we are doing in class or to show examples of what the upcoming state tests might look like. It is a great peek into the life of the student for families, but it should be something that keeps them coming back and doesn't send them running for the hills.

Family Math Activities Family Night Conference Sisters Working Together

What Works

What works in my school and my classroom isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. You have to consider your families’ needs and what will draw them in. Our school hosts open house immediately after school for a couple of hours with a drop-in, rotate-at-random schedule. This way families who don’t have transportation can walk to the school during daylight. In other areas, working parents wouldn’t be able to attend and this would limit participation. Our school and turnout is such that a few hundred spaghetti dinners are doable, but if you anticipate thousands, it might not work for you. Having a positive attitude, getting students interested in coming, and serving a little nosh go a long way towards an uplifting and engaging night for all.

Have you hosted a spring open house? What strategies do you have to keep the experience positive and get families to the school?

Family Working Together Mom and Daughter Math Time Family Computer Time

Comments (7)

Thanks for the positive feedback Meghan. Our first Open Day had mixed reviews but I believe once we incorporate some of the suggestions we will get better. The subject departments displayed the portfolios of students and it was quite impressive. We played positive music on the PA system and we had inspirational posters up like 'in this school no child gets left behind'
One of the major concerns was some parents did not get to see their child's individual portfolios because of the large number of students work to display. Nevertheless most parents loved the idea of it.We hope to have more parents and students out next time!

I'm so glad it worked out! I bet it was impressive to have the work up. Maybe next time you could have the school "open" for a couple of days. That's what we do with our writing fair, so parents can come up and browse over several days when they have time. Maybe that would help? If people had a good time, they will certainly tell more people to come back again! Good luck!

Meghan:
Thanks for your wonderful ideas! Can't wait to introduce this to our staff to see if we can do this! Plus we can introduce more MEMTA ideas!
Thanks!

Thanks Ann Marie! You know I'm a MEMTA fan... spread the love!

I love the great way your school seeks to bridge the school-home gap. I certainly love how your school creates a positive experience for both student and parent during the event (no talk about grades or discipline).

I teach in a secondary school and we are undertaking an open day for parents for the first time to showcase students' work.

We recently introduced portfolios to our 11 to 14 years old, so these students have been putting together portfolios in their various subject areas as alternative assessments. Any ideas on how to tweak Open Day for older students and their parents?

Keep up the good work!

Thank you, Stace! I think that getting everyone excited, especially the kids, is still going to be key to getting this going in the upper grades. Maybe you could offer "homework pass" tickets, or out of uniform tickets to encourage students to want to come. I know that doesn't go well in some places, but I think for kids of that age, it could be a really big draw. Be sure to keep it positive and tell them you really want this to be a nice evening, no negatives coming from you to mom (fear of what might happen makes a lot of kids shy away I think).

Be sure to announce early and often to help parents work with their schedules. Maybe share why this whole portfolio shift is a big deal and how great it will be to see their kids' work. I know with my kids, some of them "hide" the go-home notices, so if you have school messenger or online contacts, use that too. Your age group probably has clubs and activities... maybe have each club set up a table or have something as well. That will draw in kids who don't care about the academics, but want to show off their music, drama, ahtletics, science, etc...

I think the more you get the kids excited about showing off, the more they will want to beg there parents to come. I still think food draws them in at any age. And again, just let the parents know why this night is special. They aren't just coming to see a notebook page tacked to the wall. It is really a showcase. Make it sound like it is a major event, not to be missed. That sets a high expectation, but it will get them talking. I know with our families, they all want in on the action. If they feel like so-and-so's mom is going to be there or get something they aren't, they will make a beeline for the school!

Good luck! Let me know how it goes. I'd love to see portfolio based showcase. I think that is THE way to assess kids. :)

Our open houses are focused on learning. We theme them, which gets students involved. The themes have included Johnny Appleseed, Clifford’s Birthday, Circus Night, and Financial Literacy. Classes work ahead of time with reading and math projects that reflect the theme. Teachers decorate doorways and halls to show off student work. Grade levels all convene in one room with at least one, if not several, activities that work with the theme and serve a reading or math purpose.
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