Whether you are a family child care provider who provides care all year round or you provide care during the “normal” school year, many of us have an annual “Back to School” night. Having an annual get together for the families of the children you care for is beneficial to your program for many reasons. Welcoming new families into your program during this time not only gives them an opportunity to meet other families of the children enrolled, but will help them to feel they are part of their child’s care outside their own homes. An annual back to school night that includes current clients allows you all to exclaim how much everyone has grown or changed over the summer. Bringing together your new clients and you current families promotes a sense of community and is a great opportunity for your families to develop new friendships. When the families know each other and care about each other’s children, it develops an extended family feeling that is unique to family child care.
What do you need to set up a gathering for families of the children you care for?
Just Parents or Parents and Kids?
First, decide if you want to have an evening get together for just the parents or would you prefer to have the children attend with their parents? There are pros and cons for each scenario; sit and make a list and see what you feel will best accomplish what you hope for the gathering.
Send out a letter to the families offering two different dates and/or times. Although it is rare to have consensus on a date and time, usually you can go with the majority and others will arrange their schedule so at least one parent will be able to attend.
In the letter you will want to establish what the meeting is about:
- explain that you will not be discussing individual children or their goals – that will come at another time when parent conferences will be scheduled.
- discuss the goals of the program, events for the upcoming months, etc.
- time will be spent just getting to know each other.
Set up a form at the end of the letter or on a separate page that allows the parents to pick the date and time that best suits their needs. You might also leave room for them to give you feedback on anything they would like to discuss at Back to School Night about the program. Again, remind them that this is not the time for individual discussions.
Once you have established a date and time, let’s take the next step in your planning.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Will there be food served? If so, what type? Light dinner or snacks? Food usually helps people mingle and provides a relaxing atmosphere. For a parent involvement idea you might ask each parent to bring a dish/snack that reflects their culture. Whether you provide any food or not, it’s always a good idea to have bottles of water or other non-alcoholic drinks on hand.
- What do I want to talk about during the meeting? Ideas might include going over your program philosophies, program goals for the upcoming year, special activities or outings, training you have taken that benefits the child care, fund raising ideas (if you do any), calendar updates, menu planning, when and how you conduct drills for fires, tornadoes, earthquakes. You might also wish to have a sign-up list for parents to volunteer for outings, coming in to read, sharing special talents, etc. Would any of the parents be willing/interested in hosting another “get together” at some point during the year?
- What form of communication do you use with families? There are many forms of communication including phone calls (home or cell), text messages, e- mails, a child care page on Face Book set up specifically for clients, verbal and written notes- just to name a few. Which are the best/most used by parents?
- What’s changed in the last year? Any training you’ve taken that benefits the child care program, any expected changes, calendar updates, how you conduct drills for fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, other emergencies?
- What can you do? With written permission, take pictures of the families during the gathering that may be posted around the room. Children (if they have not attended) will love seeing pictures of their mom/dad/grandparents or whoever came to see where they learn and what they do during the time they are in your care. It will also encourage communication between the children thereby helping to develop verbal skills.
Let’s pull it all together and recap the things we need to remember:
- Set a date and time. Send home a notice about the back to school event. Make sure you have a plan for parents to respond telling you who will be coming. State not only the starting time, but a stopping time. Having an open-ended closing time will not only lead parents to wonder how long they are supposed to stay, but after all the planning and excitement, you will also be glad to know when parents are expected to leave.
- Be prepared and organized: Are you planning to have an opening game or icebreaker to help parents get to know each other? Maybe have pictures of each child displayed and ask the parents to match the child to the parents they belong to. Or display art work and ask the parents if they can guess which art work belongs to their child.
- Having a bag or small backpack is a fun thing to provide for each family. You can fill it with a list of things they will need for the year (crayons, tissues, etc.), or you can go to a dollar store for supplies/things the children will enjoy having (note pads, colored pencils, crayons, etc.). Include some recent research on early childhood issues and/or give facts about developmental ages and stages, Health and Safety tips, free catalogs for early childhood materials or magazines.
- If serving food, have it planned and purchased several days before the date. Leaving things until the last minute can cause stress and occasionally what you have planned may not be available. Plan for success.
- Make sure your home/childcare area is clean and welcoming. You may never have anyone come in to do housecleaning, but wouldn’t that be a great way to begin your school year for you?! You may decide against having food, but baking some fresh cookies or brownies always makes a home smell wonderful.
- Remember, each family child care program is unique and different. Only you can decide what works best for you – this is YOUR TIME TO SHINE! You set the stage.
Last, but certainly not least, RELAX and HAVE FUN!
After the evening, take a few moments to evaluate the event. What worked, what didn’t, what would you do differently? In your next newsletter or communication with families, re-cap what took place during the evening, thanking them for coming and their participation. Families will always remember how you showed them you care for them and their children. That, in itself, is priceless!