What you should expect during a school open house, why you really should go, and how to make it as productive as possible so both you and your child benefit.
Chances are you’ve been to a special event at your child’s school called Meet the Teacher Day, or something similar. These are fairly short get-togethers where you literally meet your child’s teacher, get your child signed up for extra activities, and take a brief look at where your child goes to school. But it isn’t really a time when you can hear much about what your child’s day at school is like, much less ask questions about how the school year will progress and what additional programs might be available.
Meet the Teacher Day can be a lot of fun and keep you on your toes, especially if you have more than one child in the same school and need to be in three different classrooms at once. But the day you should really look forward to is the school’s open house.
First, what is a school open house?
Open house is the day that you get to tour your child’s classroom, meet the teacher (in a much more relaxed setting than on Meet the Teacher Day), and hear about how the teachers in the school run their classrooms. This is usually held in the evening, and it’s held fairly close to the start of the year, although most schools let a month or two go by so classes can get into their school year rhythm.
This is the time to find out about what the teachers expect from the students, what the day at school is typically like, and how the teachers interact with the students. For example, you might see behavior charts on the wall that give kids the signal that it’s time to be very quiet in the classroom, or that medium-volume (normal “indoor voice” speech) is acceptable. This is also a time to find out how you can apply some of these classroom strategies at home.
A school open house is not the same as Meet the Teacher Day
Meet the Teacher Day is all about getting the children acquainted with the teachers and signing up for classes and clubs during the year. This is a child-centered day; parents help out (a five-year-old won’t know what to sign up for), but it’s all about getting the child ready for the year.
Open house is for parents. Many schools allow the students to show up, too, while others ask that parents either get a babysitter or have one parent show up while the other parent or another relative watches the kids at home. You’re going to be discussing state standards and homework, so your children, especially if they are younger, may be very bored at the open house.
Let’s jump right into the 12 tips for your child’s school open house.
How to prepare for the open house
There’s not much you need to do to prepare except fill out any forms that the school has asked for, and take a look at anything you got during Meet the Teacher Day. It may help to look at your children’s books (they may take different ones home each day, so over the course of a few days, look at the different ones they bring home) to see what they’re working on.
1. What should you bring?
Open house night is here, and there you are, getting ready to go. What do you take with you?
You’ll know in advance whether your children need to stay home. What you still need to bring with you are your questions, paper, a pen or pencil, and either a cell phone that has a decent camera (most phones now have cameras, but not all of them take clear pictures) or a small standalone camera.
That camera helps you recall information that you won’t be able to memorize during the open house. Take pictures of the classroom and your child’s seat/desk; also snap photos of lesson plans on the wall and other posters that give you a better idea of what your child studies during the day.
2. Research state standards
Your state has standards that it applies across the board for each grade. Children are supposed to meet or surpass these standards (barring certain mitigating factors). It’s a good idea to know what the standards for your child are this year (or for each of your children) and ask the teacher how the year’s lesson plan will get the children to meet those standards.
It can be difficult to find the exact, current standards if you don’t know where to look. If you can’t find them on the school or state’s websites, ask the school’s office staff. These standards are free to review — don’t pay money for them.
3. Be sure to read all policies and procedures
Try to find the school’s disciplinary policy, dress code, and any other policies ahead of time. Check the school’s website (or the district website) if you don’t have a hard copy. You can also visit the school ahead of time on a school day and ask the office for a copy. Read through all the paperwork because announcements of new policies are often buried within the text, rather than called out for everyone’s attention.
Create a list of questions based on the policies. If the dress code seems harsh, ask why. If the policies don’t mention drills for emergencies, such as for quakes and fires, ask what the school does regarding those. If there are other policies you don’t understand, an open house is the time to ask them.
4. Check the curriculum
If you can find it, look at the curricula for the school. These are not the same as the standards from the state. Each school district (and sometimes, the schools themselves) has its own set of standards in addition to the state standards, and you need to know what those are as well. As with the standards, if you don’t see a separate curriculum listed, call the office before the open house.
5. Have a conversation about it with your child
Another thing to do before the open house is to ask your kids if they have any questions or concerns.
Maybe you have a 10-year-old whose school is in a crowded district, and your child’s class ends up eating lunch at almost the end of the school day, and your child is often hungry because recess isn’t long enough to really eat anything. You can then ask the school how they compensate for the long class times before lunch to ensure kids aren’t distracted by hunger.
What are some topics you should discuss during your child’s school open house?
6. Can you volunteer in any capacity?
If you were wondering about how to join the PTA, open house is your chance. You should see a sign-up sheet; if you don’t, ask the teacher or administrators during the open house.
7. What can you do to support the teacher and your child at home?
What can you do as a parent to help your child continue learning outside of class time? Now’s your chance to find out.
8. Find out about any special events on the schedule or coming up
Recitals, plays, and more; open house is when you learn more about the schedule for special events.
9. How are classes scheduled?
This is the time to discuss recess, lunch, overcrowding and late or early times, and anything else that has to do with the day-to-day schedule.
- Do you need to pack extra snacks for your child because of an abnormally early or late lunch?
- Are there certain days when you have to pack lunch instead of letting your child buy it at the cafeteria?
10. What does the teacher expect regarding homework?
Find out what homework your child is really supposed to have — not what they say they have.
11. How can you contact your child’s teacher?
- Sometimes you need to contact the teacher. What is the best way to do that?
- Does all communication go through the office, or are there emails for each teacher for parent-class business?
- How often do you need to meet with the teacher if there is a problem?
12. What are the classroom and behavior expectations?
These are the behavioral benchmarks that your child has to meet daily. Open house lets you ask the teacher how he or she keeps control of the classroom.
Questions not to ask during open house
Despite everything just listed, you actually won’t have a lot of time to talk to the teacher about your child specifically — but you can ask questions in general that help you and all of the other parents who may want to know the same information.
You can ask how to work with the school to ensure academic problems are addressed properly and what the best way to do this is. Email might work, or you might have to meet with the school guidance counselor. Each teacher and school has a different way of doing things, so don’t assume one way or another will work. And remember, you can call the office to ask some of these questions, too.
Open house provides time to find out what you can, but you and other parents will no doubt have follow-up concerns. Find out from the office what the best way to address these is.