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How to Involve the Whole Family on Back to School Night

Jessica Shaffer

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? The kids are all going back to school feeling excited, anxious, and nervous, amongst many other emotions. It is the time where the students first begin to meet new teachers and classmates and set the tone for the school year. Parents and families get to hear stories of the first weeks, but until back-to-school night, many do not get to actually meet the teacher. For those parents who cannot get someone to watch their children on this night, it can pose a problem. Back-to-school night is meant for the parents to get to know the teacher and the classroom environment, and children inside the classroom can be distracting and disruptive. What can we do to make this scenario a little easier?

Back-to-School Night: Why Do We Need to Address This?

In this day and age, childcare is not always accessible, and not always affordable. In order to make back-to-school night easier to attend, it is important to provide families with options. Many families have two working parents, divorced/remarried parents, and many other unique situations that can make it challenging to attend. Most parents would be grateful for the opportunity to attend without having to arrange childcare.

This is a simple gesture that shows families the importance of attending back-to-school night. Each year, I notice an increasing number of missing parents from this important informational night. As teachers, this is the night parents/families get to meet the teacher and see where their children spend much of their week. Modeling for families an effort in attempts to get them to attend can be a game changer.

Who Should Be Involved?

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As members of the education society, we all need to focus on thinking more globally. What I mean by this is to not view how it will affect your classroom individually, but the school or your district as a whole. Through completing graduate school, I developed the ability to view many decisions or make many decisions on a more global level, which I feel has helped my classroom run more effectively overall.

Building a solid school community of teachers, families, and students is so important to the success of the school year, and even involving the board of education members can help to build a strong foundation. When students observe their teachers and families working together, it helps to create a more positive and inviting learning environment. It also can help with classroom management, because students see teachers and parents communicating regularly. As far as planning a family friendly back-to-school night goes, I think the more that want to be involved, the better!

How to Involve the Whole Family

One way that a school can be more accommodating is to set up a classroom for the students that are in the building. You can involve the PTA (Parent Teacher Association), as well as some of the more responsible students in the school. The PTA could have a sign-in sheet, and have little activities set up around the room. Student volunteers can help to run the activities, while the adults oversee them. One great activity would be to have students design bookmarks. This sends the message of the importance of reading, while allowing students to express individuality and make a cool bookmark to use all year. This helps to bring the school community together, as well as accommodate parents who do not have another option. This option would need to be planned prior to back-to-school night and be approved by administration, but it is a great idea to bring up when school starts up in the fall.

Another simple way would be to have a movie classroom. Again, this could be run by the PTA, or special area teachers could rotate in on half hour shifts in the room. Responsible students again can help with running this “movie room.” This would give students a place to hang out, and meet some new friends while the parents meet the teachers and see the classroom environment.

Utilizing the school gymnasium could also be a great idea! You can set up different activity stations and have some simple games set up for the attending children to participate in. Again, simple is the key word here, as you want the games to move quickly and efficiently. Minute-to-Win-It games, such as cup stacking, are a great idea.

Incorporating activities into your actual classroom on back-to-school night can be a bit more challenging. I would set up a comfortable area in the hallway directly outside your classroom to accommodate children. You can leave out questionnaires for siblings of students, as well as your students alike if they are in attendance. You can say you want to get to know the family. Coloring pages and simple activity worksheets would also be good for this setup. If you planned on setting up a little station outside of your classroom, I would run this by administration first to make sure they are on board with this. Many schools want to be “On the same page,” and it may not be considered fair if one teacher offers this while others do not. It is always best to obtain approval for any ideas.

Including the entire family in back-to-school night is a wonderful idea. Keeping students in the room while parents listen to information pertinent to the school year is too distracting, but having activities, games, or alternative placements in the building is a great idea. When the parents/family are finished meeting the teacher and listening to details about the school year, the family can then move onto activities and participate together. The world is a different place than it was 20 years ago, and being more progressive in all areas of thinking are important to the success of our schools. When it becomes apparent that it is difficult for parents/families to attend back-to-school night, appropriate accommodations must be made. As teachers, it is so important to form connections with students and their families, and this is the first stepping stone to doing so.

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