I asked my team of teachers, “What do you do at a back to school night?” As a first-year teacher, I had no idea what back to school activities I should do! My first back to school night presentation was at most boring! I talked the whole time! I talked about the curriculum, expectations, classroom and school rules, schedule, homework, etc. for 45 minutes . . . to a parent audience of blank stares.
What I didn’t know was that while all that information is important, it can be presented in a fun and engaging way.
After that first back to school night, I knew I needed to make changes to my presentation. Some questions I asked myself:
- How could I foster parent engagement?
- How could I make it worth the parents’ time?
- How could I create back to school night activities to promote a positive start to the school year (and get rid of the “boring” presentation)?
I knew I had to come up with some fun back to school ideas!
What Do I Talk to Parents About at Back to School Night?
The agenda included:
- Class Schedule
- Curriculum and Standards
- Classroom Management
- Field Trips
First, I made a poster-sized schedule that I displayed on the classroom wall. Parents received a copy of it in their handouts.
Second, I decided to highlight the important parts of our curriculum and standards using a district trifold pamphlet that parents could later read and reference.
Next, I explained our classroom management and focused on our classroom and school rules:
- Be kind.
- Be respectful.
- Be responsible.
- Be safe.
I talked about class homework: Homework Choice Boards by Catherine Reed, The Brown Bag Teacher. It’s play and experienced based and my students and parents loved the choice boards.
We would go on 4 field trips during each school year. I let the parents know the places and dates, so they could plan well ahead of time. I voiced the need for volunteers and referenced the volunteer sign-up sheet in their handouts. Lastly,
I gave time for questions at the end of the presentation.
Overall, I was more concise with my talking points. I narrowed the presentation time to about 20-25 minutes. This gave time for more engaging activities for the parents.
Back to School Night Activities
I used 4 back to school activities to encourage parent engagement. They’re simple, easy to prepare, and best of all fun!
The day of back to school night, I would tell my students that their parents didn’t know yet, but I was going to have them write and do a math activity during back to school night. The children were all in on that idea and thought it was hilarious that their parents would be doing “schoolwork”!
1. Back to School Night Student Parent Letters
This student parent letters activity (free resource) is one of my favorite! I had the students write short letters to their parents thanking them for coming to back to school night. In addition, they wrote what they wanted their parents to see when they visited the classroom. After, student placed the letters on their desks for their parents to read as they arrived for back to school night.
The parents read the letters and then wrote back to their children. In addition, I noticed that some parents even enjoyed coloring the pictures for their children.
As parents wrote back to their children, I greeted parents as they arrived at the classroom.
The following day, I had a volunteer read the letters to the kids. The children lit up as they listened. They read the letters multiple times.
In addition, it was a perfect way to model writing for an authentic purpose.
2. Estimation Jar Station
The math activity is an estimation jar station. I placed a jar of buttons on a table for parents to estimate the number of buttons in the jar. They wrote their guesses on the recording sheets and and placed them in a box. It was fun to hear parents laugh about the accuracy of their guesses!
I then used the estimation jar station activity (free resource) as a classroom activity. We recorded the parent guesses and then counted the buttons whole class. The children cheer for their parents’ estimates in hopes that theirs is closest to the actual number of buttons. The lesson was highly engaging! And, counting the buttons is a great introduction to the efficiency of grouping by fives or tens when counting objects.
3. Guess the Self Portrait
The students created an arts and craft self-portrait. I posted the pictures on a wall of the classroom. We put sticky notes over the pictures and the parents tried to guess which one of the pictures was their child’s art project. Then, they checked behind the sticky notes to verify their guesses.
This is such a fun activity! You’d be surprised how many parents are able to guess the correct picture.
The parents were totally engaged in the Estimation Jar Station and Guess the Self Portrait activities. Both activities sparked loads of parent conversations. They also gave me a chance to talk with parents and answer any individual questions.
4. Back to School Night Gift for Parents
Lastly, I ended the evening with an appreciation gift to the parents. You can place a shiny red delicious apple on each of the children’s desks. Then, attach a note to the apple with this poem:
An apple for the teacher is really nothing new,
except when you remember that parents are teachers, too.”Unknown
I told the parents I appreciated and valued their role in their children’s education and looked forward to working with them and their children. In turn, parents appreciated the acknowledgement that they are an important part of their children’s education. And they loved the red delicious apples!
I hope these ideas help with the question, “What do you do at back to school night?” As a result of using these activities, I no longer had blank looks on parent faces. What I loved the most was seeing parents converse with each other as they did the activities. I was able to meet parents, acknowledge their presence, and thank them for coming to back to school night. Not only were parents engaged, but it was engaging for me, too!