Back-to-school night is a great time to kick off a productive school year! It’s an opportunity to immerse yourself in the new school-life world of your child. Aside from meeting your children’s teachers, parents get a feel for their kids’ classrooms and school routines while meeting other parents. But the annual event can also be a bit overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time or your oldest has transitioned from one school to another!
Tips to help you make the most of back-to-school night
– Arrive early. This will give you time to explore the classroom and find your child’s desk or locker.
– Introduce yourself to the teacher. This is also a good time to ask any questions you may have about the class or school.
– Participate in any classroom activities or special requests. Some back-to-school nights include opportunities to leave a note of encouragement for your child to read when they arrive at school the next day. What a special way to remind kids that you believe in them and wish them a successful school year! (I know for a fact that some kids save those notes and read them throughout the course of the year. Imagine the reassurance that a message from mom or dad might give them when they need a little parental nudge or morale-boost. It could become a memento tucked away in their desk that might give support when they really need it.)
– Ask questions. Ask the teacher or principal anything you’re curious about or uncertain of. There’s nothing worse than being caught off guard about school policies when you didn’t get questions answered early on.
– Pay attention to the details. What’s on the agenda for your child. It’s helpful to know and anticipate upcoming projects and lessons that the teacher may preview, especially if they will require your input.
– Bring your child with you. Back-to-school night is for adults only! This is a good opportunity for you to connect with your child’s teachers without your child present.
– Skip the activities. I can’t stress this enough; if there are activities or requests from your child’s teacher, try to comply because, ultimately, your participation benefits your son or daughter.
– Forget your questions. Again, if you have any questions about the school or the curriculum, this is the time to ask. Teachers and principals prefer informed parents who don’t unwittingly break school rules or miss out on opportunities to participate in functions or volunteer. They’re eager to answer questions.
Back-to-school night school breakdown
Back-to-school night looks different depending on the school your child attends. The process is different among school types:
- Elementary school
- Middle school
- High school
Elementary school back-to-school night features classroom visits and an opportunity to meet and talk with the teacher. The focus is on getting to know the teacher, seeing the classroom, and asking any questions you may have about the school year. It’s also a fun chance to crouch down and sit at your child’s compact desk, see class work in progress and discover how your son or daughter may have decorated their space. Sometimes you’ll find a special note addressed to you. Many teachers encourage their students to leave welcome notes for their visiting parents. The notes are always my favorite part of the visit!
Middle school back-to-school night is a little more involved than elementary. Afterall, the class rotation (according to subject) begins at this stage in the education game. It can be off-putting the first time parents experience the ringing bell signaling the change of class locale. The first time I experienced it, as a parent, in honor of my oldest son’s middle school adventure, it immediately took me back to my intermediate school days! The simple ringing of the bell inspired a Pavlovian-like response in me. It jarred me a bit at first, but then I jumped to attention not to be late for his next class! (I was always an eager student.) Compared to elementary school, the move from one class to another can feel mildly chaotic with the hustle and bustle among lost parents trying to locate their kid’s next classroom.
In middle school, there’s often a presentation by the principal followed by classroom visits (or vice versa). This is a good opportunity to ask any questions you have about the curriculum or school policies and to understand how your child’s day-to-day experience will differ from elementary school. If you’re a parent of an eighth grader, however, you probably know what to expect and recognize the leap in independence middle schools attempt to promote (with appropriate guidelines, nevertheless in place, like strict cell phone policies, often limiting, or restricting, their use during school hours).
High school back-to-school night sometimes resembles an open house. There’s often entertainment, compliments of the school band and energetic pep rallies led by the high school cheerleaders. High school campuses are much larger than their elementary and middle school predecessors. You’ll have a chance to tour the school, meet with teachers in a group setting with other parents and learn about extracurricular activities. This is a good moment to ask any lingering questions about the college track and advanced (AP) coursework. Although classes have been selected, schools often give a window of a couple of weeks for students to make parentally approved changes in schedules.
While on the back-to-school topic…
Sometimes, as parents, we may dread the approaching school year. To me, it never makes sense for kids not to have the entire month of August to enjoy the summer season to its fullest. When I was in school, albeit some time ago and on the East Coast, students were treated to the entire months of July and August. It was a magical time to be a kid — chasing fireflies late into the weekday evening until Labor Day — with no thought of school or homework. The push to rush kids back to class in the middle of August feels forced and counterintuitive especially when schools refer to the reprieve from school as a “summer break.” Really, don’t they mean a partial-summer break?! Why not push the final weeks of school in June down a couple of weeks to the end of the month allowing for a return to school in September?
I know. I digress. But it does not hurt to open up the topic for discussion. I’d be curious to know others’ thoughts, too. How do you feel about kids returning to school in early-to-mid-August? Let me know! Click the “GET IN TOUCH” tab in the header to voice your opinion.
The Wrap Up
Once you digest the return of school and kids get back in the swing of things, you’re generally two weeks in by the time back-to-school nights are scheduled. If yours is like our family, you may have a few BTSN sessions on your calendar — if you have more than two kids and they span multiple grades, in multiple schools. For a couple of years, my husband and I had elementary, middle school and high school BTSNs on our agenda. Then, when the middle schooler moved on to high school, we had to split our two high school kids’ schedules and visit the classes solo. We even tried to alternate between the two boys’ schedules so we could each sample a bit of both sons’ academic life.
The importance of the visit
Connecting with your child’s teacher at the beginning of the school year is extremely important. It will set up expectations and responsibilities for all involved — teacher, child and the parents. I find it especially useful for middle school and high schoolers since parents tend to lose the direct, face-to-face daily connections they once had with elementary school teachers. Aside from emails, voluntary parent-teacher meetings or required parent-teacher appointments to address class or school conflicts, the interaction between you and your kid’s educators may be comparatively non-existent when considering how things were in elementary school. It can be a striking realization when you first experience it. But kids are getting a taste of navigating life independently, so a loosened connection between teacher and parent is intentional and gives kids chances to communicate, problem solve and make decisions.
Well, it’s time to get in the school-year game, and enjoy each back-to-school night event you are fortunate to attend!
Happy school year ’23-’24!