HOW MEET-AND-GREETS AND OPEN HOUSES CAN HELP KIDS FEEL AT HOME SOMEWHERE NEW
By Melissa Fox
Veteran parents will tell you it’s common for children of all ages, even those who are normally considered well-adjusted, to become overwhelmed by the stimulation and unfamiliarity of starting a new school or new school year.
Most, if not all, schools regularly host events such as open houses and meet-and-greets where families can explore the campus, introduce themselves to the staff, and get to know their peers (potential or otherwise). These relatively informal events can help alleviate feelings of anxiety and homesickness associated with such a big milestone, and you can make the most of them with a little forward planning.
TALK TO CURRENT STUDENTS AND ALUMNI (WHEN POSSIBLE):
Depending on the school, often you will find current or past student volunteers who have attended, or parents of children who attend, the institution who can provide a unique insight into what can be expected from life on campus.
Arriving on time or at the beginning of an open house event not only sets a precedent for future behaviour, but it guarantees you have enough time to check all of the items off your to-do/to-ask list, and that you won’t miss out on a chance to speak with the teachers and staff members you’re hoping to connect with.
It’s true what they say – there are no stupid questions, and these offer a golden opportunity to speak with your children’s educators to learn more about expectations, discuss concerns, and learn about other support options available at your school. Great questions include:
• How do you determine whether a child is struggling, and what can be done about it?
• What life skills are students developing in their class?
• What kind of communication is expected throughout the year?
• What can you do at home to support your child throughout the year?
• How does the school practice discipline?
• What type of techniques are being taught to help children self-regulate, and how you can enact these techniques at home.
Parents of children with special needs may also want to take the time to find out if there are any programs or services specifically geared towards these students.
MAKE MOM/DAD FRIENDS:
Networking with the parents of your children’s peers is about more than just increasing the size of your social worker. These people will be volunteering on campus or on class trips, supervising extracurricular activities, or hosting playdates and sleepovers. They help build your village, keep you in the loop, and step in when you need a school-related (or personal) favour.
Hand in hand with making friends with other parents, at open houses and meet-and-greets you can learn about how to volunteer for the many activities that happen during the school year. From chaperoning trips to building props to donating school supplies or extra gear (socks, hats, etc), the opportunities to lend a hand are endless.
At this stage, you can inquire as to whether there is any paperwork needed before you can volunteer, i.e., some schools require a criminal record check before giving a parent the okay to volunteer. Ask about the expected time commitments, whether there are financial costs that may be incurred, or if you’ll be required to provide assistance with things like transportation, food, or arts and crafts. You may also want to find out who the point person is for volunteer activities so you can keep track during the school year.
GET THE LAY OF THE LAND:
Like adults, children can experience feelings of social anxiety when introduced to a new environment. Visiting the school beforehand gives you a chance to help familiarize yourself and your child with the grounds. Help them to find where the bathrooms are, explore different classrooms, try out the playground equipment, and locate the office or their cubby or locker if they’ve been assigned one. This can help build their confidence but will go a long way to ensuring they’re able to navigate the first few days with ease.
It’s important to point out here that there is a distinction between open houses and meet-and-greets. Where an open house is often used as an opportunity for the whole family to explore the school and its promised offerings, the meet-and-greet is usually used to introduce the student to their teacher in a more intimate setting.
Parents are often welcome; however, they provide more of a supportive role. Compared to the open house, the meet-and-greet may seem like it doesn’t serve a useful purpose but many teachers take this time to get to know children in a one-on-one setting, something that is rare during a school day filled with different moods and personalities.
The time may be short, but a good teacher will be able to gather the information they need to begin to understand how your child learns best, their specific interests, and how they can help them along their learning journey.
Throwing your kids into the deep end may work when it comes to swimming (you’ll figure out pretty quickly whether they’ll sink or swim), but to support a positive school experience, it’s best to provide them with tools that build their confidence from the get-go. When they know in advance what to expect, with luck, their adjustment period will be significantly shorter, which means they’ll be able to get down to the business of learning and having fun.