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.
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.
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.
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.
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?