Creating a connection between home and school is vital for a successful school year. Schools need to build and maintain a strong partnership with their families. This partnership can develop at the beginning of the school year starting with back-to-school night followed by educational family nights, parent education events, and home-to-school communication binders.
Preparing for Back-to-School Night
Getting parents to attend the back-to-school night is often a big challenge. Families have many reasons why they can’t attend. To overcome some of the common challenges, put some of the following ideas into action:
Offer child care. Lack of child care is often why parents don’t attend. Our school offers child care in our multi-use room. School specialists and local high-school students supervise the children.
Have a translator available for each classroom. If your school doesn’t have enough bilingual staff members, enlist the help of a parent from your classroom who is bilingual. Give them a copy of your handouts ahead of time so they can be familiar with the information you will be presenting.
Stagger starting times. Many families have more than one child attending school. By staggering the start times or offering the presentation more than once, you allow parents to attend your session without having to race out to the next child’s classroom.
Provide easy-to-read handouts, translated, if necessary. Parents need handouts that explain the basics, such as homework, discipline policies, and the major subject themes for the school year. If you give them too much all at once, chances are they won’t read it.
Send home a Back-to-School Night invitation. A few days before the event, have students make an invitation inviting parents to attend. Be sure to let parents know if child care will be provided and where it will be located. Younger students can create a simple invitation with preprinted information like the one below. Have older students write a letter to their parents explaining why it is important they attend the event.
During Back-to-School Night
To ensure the night goes smoothly, implement these practical steps:
Post signs directing parents to child care locations.
Place handouts on students’ desks and have extra handouts available for students who live in two households.
If your school has a website, make a bookmark with the information and URL.
Provide extra paper and pencils for parents in case they want to take notes.
Serve a light snack. Food always makes people feel comfortable.
Don’t just “tell” about the curriculum; “show it.” Having visuals for parents, especially those who may have limited English skills will help them understand and remember. You may want to show examples of student work so they can get a feel for the grade level expectations.
Post a sign-in sheet so you know which families attended. Try to connect with those families who did not attend the following morning to send home any handouts they missed.
This is also a good time to post sign-up sheets for parent conferences, field trip chaperones, and classroom volunteers.
Educational Family Fun Nights
After Back-to-School night, offer a family night to bring the school and families together. Show families how they can have fun while learning together. There are many different types of family nights a school can offer; here are two of the most popular:
Literacy Night: Set up literacy stations for students and families to play together. Some ideas for activities can include making bookmarks, reading books together, or playing sight word games. Another spin on a Family Literacy Night is “Books and Blanket” night in which families come with their favorite books and blanket to sit and read together or to hear their teacher read their favorite stories.
Math Night: There are a lot of games that families can play at home that involve dice or a deck of cards. Provide directions to these games for families to take home. Make sure the directions are translated if your school population needs it.
For more ideas on family fun nights, visit the, PTO Today website. PTO Today offers free Family Fun Night planning kits to get you started. A special family-focused event is a great way to bring families and schools together. Enlist the help of your parent group and community volunteers. Contact the local high school for volunteers as well. Often high schools require students to complete community service hours as part of their graduation requirements. By having a lot of volunteers, teachers are able to circulate and connect with families.
Parent Education Events
Invite parents to come and learn practical ideas to help their child be successful at school. Teach parents techniques and strategies for helping their child with their homework and creating a successful homework station at home. Another idea is to work with parents, coaching them on how to read and discuss books with their children. Emphasize to them how they can be a positive role model in their child’s literacy development and learning experiences.
A Second Cup of Coffee
Invite parents to join the principal for a second cup of coffee after the morning bell one day a month. The principal can share news and information about upcoming school events. This also gives parents an opportunity to ask questions and express concerns they may have about school procedures and events.
Keeping Students and Families Organized
I strive to teach students to be responsible for their learning in my classroom. Every student in my classroom is given a S.T.A.R. binder. S.T.A.R. stands for Students Taking Academic Responsibility. Even kindergartners can be responsible for their own learning.
My S.T.A.R. binder is clearly labeled and contains four clear sheet protectors that hold:
A list of sight words.
Kindergarten Standards, broken down my trimester.
A copy of our Alphafriends.
A copy of our phonics song.
Directions for flash card activities in English and Spanish.
A homework helper sheet that includes the alphabet, numbers, and shapes.
A behavior calendar.
They also have a zippered pencil pouch to hold:
Sight word flash cards.
Flash cards with numbers 0–10 (in the first trimester: switch to 11–20 in the second trimester and 21–30 in the third).
Upper- and lowercase alphabet flash cards.
The Daily Message Center
Having a daily message center for parents is a great way to remind them about upcoming events and activities without having to send home lots of reminders. Every morning I place a bulletin board outside of my classroom. I use it to display extra copies of the school newsletter, notices that went home, book order reminders, and anything else I want parents to know about. I also have paper, pens, and envelopes available for parents. If they need to give me something, such as their child’s lunch money, they can place it in the envelope without having to interrupt me while I am teaching.
Both parents and schools want their children to succeed. By building a strong home-to-school connection we are moving towards that goal. The time schools and families devote to building this relationship will be time well spent. Creating and sustaining these connections will have a lasting overall positive outcome. I'd love to know how your school creates and builds opportunities for home-to-school connections.