Most teachers agree that a home to school connection needs to be established between parents and teachers. It needs to be a strong partnership to nurture and educate successful students, who will be ready to become productive adults. One way to build this relationship is by bringing the community into the school. Being asked to organize a Family Night can be daunting, but I hope these tips I learned along the way can ease your intimidation!
It is important to give yourself plenty of time to work out all the details for a successful family night. Six to eight weeks is the minimum, especially for your initial experience. The first things to settle with administration are the date and funding. School nights are best because families are so busy on weekends. Checking your school calendar to avoid sporting events, board meetings, and community events is key. Funding is helpful for prizes and refreshments, the two big crowd pleasers! There was little to no funding for my first family night, but I was delighted with all the donations that came in. Don’t be afraid to ask! Arrange to have a nurse on duty for the event. Once these details are settled and you reserve your building for use, more specific planning can begin.
Pick a Theme
I found picking a theme and direction for the family night first helped spark ideas and enthusiasm. After that, most everything fell into place. Our first was called Family Night Extravaganza, with a fall theme. Our direction was to offer some activities that families could do together at home. I was pleasantly surprised about how suggestions evolved and the number of volunteers grew in no time. Knowing personalities, I asked a few fellow teachers to participate in a Readers’ Theater, math and music activities, and fun exercise. Ideas to incorporate our theme really took off from there.
It’s important to pick a format for the evening with which everyone is comfortable. Our Extravaganza had set workshops offered twice during the evening, with unscheduled activities for those not involved in a workshop. Other options could include a set of workshops occurring simultaneously. where families can choose to attend the workshop that most appeals to them. Also, teachers could assign families a specific group color and have each color group move through the activities together.
For Family Night Extravaganza our workshops were designed to encourage fun activities at home. Our Readers’ Theater, titled “We’re going on a Bear Hunt,” used costumes, props, and scenery made from household items. The words were projected so the audience could chant along and a second performance allowed parents and children to participate. The math workshops made “Make it-Take it” games to promote facts fluency. For the unscheduled activities we hosted Zumba and line dancing in the gym, a sing-along with a ”campfire” and guitars, and a Book Swap in the library with the Autumn Adventure Café for refreshments.
The ‘Bring a Book, Take a Book!’ book swap gave students the opportunity to exchange a book for another book. Many teachers gave duplicate copies of books from their classrooms start up a good selection. The local library had a table to sign up students for a library card. Any student who signed up, or already had a card, was eligible for prizes.
Many great ideas had to be saved for another time. These included star gazing with a portable planetarium, BINGO, a Scavenger Hunt, and a Book Fair.
Flyers going home and any other publicity should include a synopsis of the featured events, date, time, place, and the form to be filled out with the student’s name, grade, and parent/guardian signature. This completed form is to be returned. It is important to use bold print and make clear that: families MUST pre-register, an adult MUST accompany all children, families MUST stay together all evening, and the name of the accompanying adult listed on the return form. Make the deadline two weeks ahead so you have plenty of time to get enough materials ready, refreshments planned, and space available.
The Big Night
Even with all your planning, complications can arise. I hope that you can avoid most complications with these tips! Have only one entrance to the school available for families to sign in and be entered for door prizes. Community businesses are often very helpful with prizes, which can range from bicycles or helmets, to movie tickets, bowling passes, ice cream coupons, or backpacks loaded with art supplies.
Have plenty of room for sign in and many volunteers to handle the numbers. Each family should get an agenda with a school map. Include an explanation of the other activities families can do if there is no room for them in a particular workshop. You may prefer to have everyone go to the gym for a kick-off and be welcomed by the principal, or just have the fun begin at the set time.
Have a firm agenda and stick to it! If any workshop runs overtime, the rest of the night will be chaos! Lastly, we found having an announcement over the PA thanking everyone for coming and declaring the close of the event is a big help. At that time, workshop and activity leaders should close down their stations, especially the refreshment Café. That’s where many gather at the end of the night.
I gave a personal and written thank you to each who helped make the night a success, from start to finish, the initial brainstorming to the custodial clean-up. Every helping hand was greatly appreciated in reaching our goal of bringing the community into the school, strengthening our connection, and sharing ways to have fun family time at home.