Family engagement and involvement is an important part of any early childhood program. Putting it into practice can be challenging to do, due to time and space. I encourage you to use the following tips for hosting preschool family engagement events because they are worth the time and energy spent! Now that I’ve hosted a few picnics and open houses, I wanted to share some tips for hosting preschool family engagement events. Families, friends, and peers are often impressed with the events I’ve hosted but it’s not really hard, it just takes some planning, effort and maybe some practice.
Choosing An Event
What is is that you want to share with families? What do you want to celebrate? Communicate or teach? Work that into your event so it’s a valuable time. Also, having a theme makes planning a breeze.
Some of the events I’ve hosted for my preschool in the past include:
- Preschool Open House
- Pumpkin Patch Party
- Preschool Art Show
- Preschool Garden Party
- Santa’s Workshop (coming soon!)
Mother Goose Time includes wonderful Celebration Kits in their curriculum so I use many of those ideas and materials. Some I’ve come up with on my own. The invitations you see below are from the Mother Goose Time Celebration Kits. See how I used this kit for our Preschool Open House.
Scheduling Your Event
Early Morning or During the Day Events
Personally, I do not schedule activities or events first thing in the day or during the day. This works for some programs, but not for mine. I know what it’s like to be a working parent. When my son brings home information about a school event that’s being held during the day/working hours, I know it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to attend. I do not want to put parents in this position since I know that’s why I’m caring for their children – because they are working. Consider what will work best for the families you are caring for.
Closing Time Events
I’ve found that scheduling my events and sending out invitations about a month ahead of time is helpful. A printed invitation placed in cubbies and a photo on my Facebook page reaches all the families. I schedule my picnics and indoor celebrations on weeknights, not the weekend. The picnics start right at closing time (5:30 for me). Just keep them short 1.5 to -2 hours is all you need! No one has very much time and you don’t want to overdo it.
Pick Up Time Events
Another option is to schedule events right into your day, like a pickup time. That time might vary for each family but it works very well when you have a small indoor space! It limits the number of people you have at once. Families might not all see each other when hosted in this manner, but the idea is to share your program with parents and children. Parents have an opportunity to make a small craft or participate in a quick activity with their child, celebrating a new season or holiday and spending some time in your center. These types of events have proven to be such special bonding times for parents and children! They enjoy a few minutes with their child at the end of the work day and the children are so excited to have their parents come. It can expose parents to concepts like sensory bins, themes we are currently working on or how their child navigates their child care environment. It also gives us time as caregivers to connect with families.
If you have parents coming in at different times, limit the amount of supplies and food you have out at one time so there’s enough for everyone.
I started planning a couple months in advance. Collect ideas, either on paper or on Pinterest. Planning ahead helps you narrow down what you really want to focus on and prepare art and activities. A few simple theme related crafty ideas can go along way! Planning ahead will also will allow you to communicate with families in advance so you have the best turn out possible. I introduce the idea to the children, we put it on the calendar and they begin to make art. When they are excited about the event, they talk about it constantly so parents also get excited about it and want to come.
Shop Ahead of Time
When I shop in advance, I’m less stressed and I don’t forget things. I have time to look for items I want, like the green plastic ware that I displayed in the flower pots at the Garden Party, which isn’t sold in every store. Find decorations and supplies on clearance when you take the time to shop in advance, rather than grab whatever might work regardless of the cost. I bought table clothes and party decorations at Michael’s for very little money because it was the end of the season. I save them to use again in the future. Generally, I get the party and craft supplies first (if needed) and food at the last minute because I don’t want to have to store it or keep it fresh. You might want to shop at bulk stores for paper goods or large amounts of meat and bread so shopping a week or two a head of time makes less work at the last minute. You don’t want to be exhausted the day of the event!
Make It A Potluck
If you are planning a picnic or offering a meal, tell families what you will provide and what you want them to bring. Make a sign-up sheet or a post on Facebook so everyone can decide what to bring. If you want to limit desserts, say so. If you want finger foods, salads only or shaped foods, offer suggestions.
Keep It Simple
I’m not very good at “less is more” but I’m trying to practice it. Don’t overwhelm yourself so you never want to host a party or event again. I made more food than I needed to because I wanted to for our Garden Party (creamy cucumber salad, the Caprese appetizers, and lemonade with raspberry/mint ice in addition to the meat we grilled). I wanted to make cute flower cupcakes or cookies but there wasn’t time and it wasn’t necessary. For our Preschool Open House, I limited the food to two types of cookies (one homemade/one purchased) and water. Perhaps you don’t even need to offer food. Making treat bags or party favors in advance makes less work on the day off and eliminates mess because they take it home rather than consume it at your home/center. Tip >> The shorter the activities or event, the less food. People tend to stay longer if there’s food. Especially children that may not have had an evening meal yet.
Plan a few activities for everyone to participate in like a craft, game or sensory bin. If it’s a holiday party, the children might present gifts to parents. It might be a good time to just invite parents in to look at portfolios and enjoy the preschool environment with their child.
Art can be added to any type of family event. Art is an important aspect of every early childhood program and it can be created for any theme. It adds the individual touch of each child for parents to look at and talk about. I hang art from the trees, stapled to my wood fence, set it on railings, from the ceiling, in the hallway or clipped to strings of yarn or ribbon. Be creative!
Schedule A Rain Date
If your event is going to be outdoors, choose a rain date and put it right on the invitation. That way, if there’s a question about the weather, everyone will know that it will likely be rescheduled and already have the date in mind and hopefully reserved just in case.
Honestly, I can do most of these events on my own and I try not to rely on anyone just in case it doesn’t work out that I have help. I’m so fortunate to have the support of my husband and son who help carry up tables and chairs from the basement, grill food, help me with last minute jobs AND they help me quickly clean up. I COULD do it without them but I’d rather not and I’m so glad I have their help. Some of the parents are very good about helping carry in food, clean up the tables and help put them away. If not, hire some school age kids or ask a friend. Student teachers? See who can help you on the day of the event so you can enjoy it too.
Use What You Have
I have child sized tables and chairs that can be brought outdoors. We have two large tables, two card tables, and folding chairs. We bring all that outdoors so everyone can be seated. I also put out more chairs on the deck or around the yard. If you need tables and chairs, ask parents if they can bring some in advance so you have time to set them up. Bring a trash can outdoors so everyone can clean up after themselves. Putting out brochures or information for parents? Make folders in advance, labeled with each families names if desired, and put them on a table by the front door so they can pick them up on the way in or out. Use your center toys and activities for party games.
Take Some Pictures
Use your cell phone to take some quick pictures of the details as well as the families enjoying your event. Families will look back on these photos fondly and it also helps promote your program and business for future families.
Enjoy all your hard work and celebrate the wonderful families you work with!