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What you should expect during a school open house, why you should go, and how to make it as productive as possible to benefit you and your child.

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 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 a time when you can hear much about your child’s day at school, 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 look forward to is the school’s open house.

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First, what is a school open house?

The open house is the day you 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 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 determine 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 learn how to 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 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.

The 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 will discuss state standards and homework, so your children, especially younger ones, maybe bored at the open house.

Let’s jump 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 the school has asked for and 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 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 you are, getting ready to go. What do you take with you?

You’ll know in advance whether your children need to stay home. You still need to bring your questions, paper, a pen or pencil, a cell phone with 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 the standards for your child 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.

Finding the exact current standards can be difficult if you don’t know where to look. Ask the school’s office staff if you can’t find them on the school or state’s websites. 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 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 quakes and fires, ask what the school does regarding those. If there are other policies, you don’t understand. An open house is a 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, call the office before the open house if you don’t see a separate curriculum listed.

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. Your child is often hungry because recess isn’t long enough to eat anything. You can then ask the school how they compensate for the longer class times before lunch to ensure kids aren’t distracted by hunger.

What topics should you discuss during your child’s school open house?

6. Can you volunteer in any capacity?

If you were wondering how to join the PTA, an 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; the open house is when you learn more about special events schedules.

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 must 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 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 an open house

Despite everything just listed, you won’t have much 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 also call the office to ask some of these questions.

Summary

The 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.