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How to Make the Most of Your Child's School Open House

We just got back from Meet the Teacher Day. In a whirlwind event, we raced from the fourth-grade hallway to the kindergarten hallway to find our kids' names amongst the class list. We had just enough time to shake the teachers' hands, find the kids' desks, sign up for a classroom newsletter and drop off supplies. Then the hour was up, and it was time to go.

The teachers, kids and parents were a bundle of excitement and nervousness. It was fun, but in all honesty, it wasn't nearly enough time for me to ask all my questions about the curricula, classroom discipline procedures and schedules. Thankfully, we have open house in our school in just two weeks.

What a school open house is

Open house is an event when schools open their doors so parents can meet with teachers and get a glimpse into their children's learning day. It's traditionally held one evening at the beginning of the school year so families can get acquainted with their children's teachers, see the classrooms after all the children have settled in, and get an overview of classroom expectations, both for academics and behavior.

In my son's kindergarten classroom, for example, there's a jar of pom-poms with the words "warm fuzzies" and a voice-level chart with color-coded levels ranging from dark blue for "no talking" to red for "outside voices." I'd like to hear how these strategies work in the classroom, what the consequences are and how I can reinforce this at home—or just plain steal the ideas if they work well!

Open house vs. Meet the Teacher

While children are the main focus of Meet the Teacher Day, open house is geared toward the parents. It's a chance for the teacher to explain the grade level curricula, the school and classroom discipline policies, and answer any questions parents may have. It's also a chance for parents to meet other parents.

Preparing for the big night

To make the most of open house night, do a little research before the event. If you picked up any paperwork during Meet the Teacher Day, read it. Take the time to fill out the forms. As a former teacher myself, I assure you that we use the information you provide us.

Read the school discipline policies and procedures

The teacher can only cover so much in a short time. If you read the policies and procedures ahead of time, then you'll be able write a list of questions to ask in the areas you would like to learn more about. For example, this year, our principal informed us that the children will be having additional safety drills, and I want to know why. Most schools will provide you with a copy of the school policies during Meet the Teacher Day, but if you didn't receive one, you can call or stop by the front desk of your school and ask for one. Most schools also place them online.

Review the state standards for your child's grade level

This will give you an idea of what academics are covered in your child's grade level, and they will help you see the big picture of what the children will be learning throughout the year. My kindergartener, for example, is expected to write a simple five-sentence paragraph by the end of the year. It's hard to imagine that my son, who can barely recite the alphabet, will be writing a full paragraph.

Be forewarned, though, even as a former teacher and a mom of three, the standards are still hard for me to find. A quick search of the Internet led me to a bunch of sponsored sites that wanted me to buy information. This is not what you're looking for—knowing what standards are used in your child's school doesn't cost money. Call your district offices or speak with your school curriculum department. The front desk staff may also guide you in the right direction, and many schools will post the information on their websites.

Peek at the curricula online

Although this may sound similar to knowing the educational standards, the curricula are the way children are taught, such as the stories they read and the activities they do. Most districts have adopted specific reading, math, science and social studies curricula that teachers are mandated to follow. They're often listed on the district's or school's websites. Our district provides parents with passcodes to access the online version of student books within each curriculum, meaning I can see what my child is learning with. Often, these adopted curricula have online, interactive components, such as quizzes and videos, to do at home.

Talk with your children about their concerns

Although open house night is not a time to talk about your individual child's needs, you can ask big picture questions. If your child is concerned about not getting enough time to eat his lunch, open house is the perfect time to ask how much time the children get to eat and if the teacher has any tips for parents to help their kids. Most teachers help brainstorm ways to help address kids' concerns in age appropriate ways.

What to bring

Open house night requires very little materials. All you need to bring are:

  1. Yourself, without the kids
  2. Paper and pencil for taking notes
  3. Camera or cell phone for taking pictures

I like to take pictures of:

  • my child's desk
  • the word wall at the beginning of the year
  • the classroom rules
  • the reading area
  • the school day schedule

Topics to discuss

Scheduling

Knowing your child's schedule is so important for a variety of reasons. For example, large schools must feed a lot of children during lunch time. One grade level, usually kindergarten, will be eating first, meaning lunch could be at 10 a.m. This will feel very early to the kids at first. If you know they'll be eating so early, you can pack a snack for pick-up time because they'll probably be hungry.

Knowing when recess time is scheduled is also important. Will your child have a chance to play outside before lunchtime? No? Then maybe a little walk or playtime outside in the morning before school may help get the wiggles out. Will recess be the first thing in the day? Pack an extra pair of shoes for the days when the grass is wet.

How to best contact the teacher

I have always been surprised during Meet the Teacher that teachers don't give out their e-mail addresses or even an idea of when is best to contact them. Every year, I've learned how to connect with the teachers and when we will be receiving homework folders and teacher newsletters during open house.

Volunteering

Almost every teacher I know will post a volunteer sign-up sheet during open house. Sign up and contribute when you can. Most likely, a PTA (Parent Teacher Association) booth will be set up, too. Join!

Classroom expectations

Teachers will often refer you to school policy and explain how they keep track of behaviors in their classroom. This may be in the form of notebooks, charts or flipping cards. Each teacher has his or her special way.

How to support your child's learning at home

As a teacher, I always had a list of 10 ways parents could enrich their children's academic experience at home. These included reading, playing board games and visiting local museums. In recent years, my kids' teachers have provided passwords for online learning games, such as Reflex Math, Brain Pop and Earobics.

Homework expectations

Most teachers for kindergarten through fifth grade are assigning homework daily. During the school open house, teachers will review their expectations and the general schedule of when things will go out and need to be returned.

Special events

Teachers will often explain any special events or field trips that will occur throughout the year.

Questions not to ask

It's important to remember that your child's teacher wants to cover a lot of information with all the parents in a very short amount of time, while still having a few moments to answer questions. This event is not a time to discuss your child's individual needs. If you have concerns over your child's academic progress or classroom behavior, you can:

  • write an e-mail
  • send a letter in your child's folder with your concerns
  • or call to schedule a conference with the teacher

You can also try connecting with the school guidance counselor to see what resources the school can offer in such areas as gifted testing or friend support groups. Simply call the front desk, and they'll be able to refer you to the correct personnel.

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