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High notes, hayrides, and hot dogs: Making open house a hit!

With so many parents and children leading very busy lives, schools need to do more than simply open their doors during open house activities; they need to draw families inside! Through games, food, student performances, extra-credit points, and more, schools are turning open house into a must-see event. How can you make open house hip and happening to improve attendance and parent-teacher cooperation? Included: Ideas to help administrators and teachers make open house night more enjoyable and effective!

Guide to Using "Keys"

* Develop a master with ten key coupons on a page and use a paper cutter to prepare about 200 keys at a time.

* Keep the keys in an envelope in a secure, yet handy, location.

* Give keys as rewards for activities such as bringing an adult to open house, showing good character, helping another student or a teacher, using study time wisely, assisting a substitute teacher, and so on.

* Write a student's name on each key when it is awarded.

* Sign the keys to "activate" them when distributing them to individual students.

* Have students attach a corresponding number of keys to their tests and write "key" in the answer space for any question to which the keys apply.

* Do not permit keys to elevate grades above 100 percent.

* Destroy used keys after grading tests.

"To get more parents to come to open house, especially during that first open house, when grades and behavior may not be issues, I award keys to students who get someone to represent them at open house," explains eighth-grade language arts teacher Anica H. Weeks. "If mom or dad's work schedule makes it impossible, I have grandmas and aunts who come. Some students get a neighbor to come, but some adult is showing an interest in their education."

Weeks created her classroom keys by combining a coupon form she had with art of a skeleton key. Her students at Edwards Middle School in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, accumulate and attach the keys to tests when they do not know or are unsure of an answer to a question. (See sidebar for details about Weeks's key program.)

Because of the keys, more of the parents of Weeks's students attend open house and make sure that they speak to her directly. They are careful to mention the children they represent by name and are more likely to provide the up-to-date contact information she needs to pass on good and bad news about the students' progress. Weeks's eighth graders are eager to earn the keys.

"Students know that certain behaviors will earn keys, so they are more likely to engage in those behaviors," Weeks told Education World. "The students are more likely to be on task in class. They behave better for substitutes, and they are more willing to help one another. They are also more likely to tell their parents about open house!"

Striking the right key with open house

Whether open house at your school is held before classes begin as an introduction to a new school, teachers, and grade or as a way to foster a positive school and home partnership, once the school year has begun, bringing parents into the school for the evening is essential. Schools achieve high attendance in open house activities in many ways, but most rely on five aspects of the experience to make it a success.

A theme. An entertaining and educational theme can be gleaned from the resources of a community and its history, and what simply sounds like fun! Have a luau, dress from the '50s, or celebrate fall with hayrides, pumpkins, and horses. Every open house needs a gimmick that will lure adults and often children. A cookout, a barbecue, a pizza party, a potluck dinner, or an ice cream or dessert social before or after the open house can be just the seasoning to spice up this school gathering. There are also other lures, such as games, dancing, and more that can motivate children and parents to attend.

An invitation. A primary goal of open house is to establish lines of communication between parents and teachers, and this begins with the invitation. A student-designed, printed invitation can be distributed in advance of the event, and a personal invitation via phone from the teacher will ensure that parents feel welcome. E-mail is another means to reach elusive parents.

The students. Adults are more likely to attend events that feature student performers, student artwork, writing, or other work. Combining the open house with a student talent show, a choral or band performance, an art show, a poetry reading, a school play, or another activity also showcases students' skills and accomplishments.

Their parents. Successful open house activities include parents in the planning process. No one knows better what will appeal to a parent than another parent! Coordinating efforts with the parent-teacher organization helps administrators choose an appropriate time, theme, and set of activities for open house and provides a wealth of volunteers. The event may include a brief PTO meeting to introduce newcomers to the group and its work.

Teachers. Teachers must also have an opportunity to participate in the planning of an open house night. They can design scavenger hunts and presentations that familiarize parents with the materials and curriculum students will use throughout the school year. As special education teacher Janet Shlegle of Loveville (Maryland) School shared with Works4Me, she invites new students to find items within the classroom as they solve "Blue's Clues" and even wears a handprint to be sure that everyone says hello!

Anica Weeks views the "gift" of an occasional well-deserved extra point as a small price to pay for increased parental involvement in her classroom. "When parents show interest in a child's education, the child is more likely to deem it as important," she said. "Parents who know their children's schedules -- not just class schedules, but when assignments are due -- have kids who are more likely to do well in my class. Increasing parent participation helps to keep parents informed of events and expectations."

Open House Tips
  • Design a bulletin board that shares a little about you, your family, your hobbies, and favorite things and places.
  • Create a "getting to know you" bulletin board with the names of students in the class and short autobiographies they have written.
  • Post a list of classroom needs, including volunteers and materials.
  • Display photographs or show a videotape of students at work in the classroom.
  • Place a sign-in book near the door to the classroom and be sure to include a space for the name of the child.
  • Set aside a location with forms to request a conference and an envelope or box to hold the forms until the end of the evening.
  • Have the students leave letters and/or pictures they have drawn on their desks for their parents to view and respond to.
  • Have parents write letters, draw pictures, or send e-mail messages to their children for the next school day.
  • Make a parent packet that describes the purpose of the evening and contains a schedule of events, gives the school address and phone number, discusses the school's philosophy and approach, and lists the names of faculty members and where to find them in the building (preferably with a map).
  • Fill bulletin boards located in school halls with messages that promote upcoming events, extracurricular activities like sports and clubs, and other school activities of interest to parents.
  • Hand out disposable cameras to responsible students, teachers, or parent volunteers and have them take candid shots of the open house participants. Post the developed photos on a bulletin board.
  • As you greet parents, give them business cards with the school's name, address, telephone number, email address, the names of administrators, and the school motto. These cards will help you identify the adults you have already met, and they can be placed in a wallet for quick reference.
  • Keep a record of parents who attend open house, and send a brief thank-you note after the event.

Related Articles

Open House -- Orientation Tips Here you will discover two fabulous classroom ideas for open house: a "giving tree" of materials needed in the room, apple name tags for parents, and thank-you postcards.

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2006, 2015 Education World

Updated 6/04/2015