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What is a school’s open house? All the details — and why educators want you to go

If you’re wondering what a school’s open house is really about, here’s everything to know — and why you should definitely put it on your calendar.

What is a school’s open house? All the details — and why educators want you to go

Whether your child is returning to the school they attended last year or stepping onto a brand new campus, preparing for the first day of school can be as exciting as it is overwhelming. 

“Choosing a school for our kids is like selecting an extension of our families,” says Cyana Rahming, principal of Sunset Yards Middle School in Brooklyn, New York. “Fortunately, in this digital age most information about programming and policies are readily available, which is really helpful when comparing options. However, an open house event allows you to experience the ethos of a school firsthand. It’s an opportunity to begin building critical relationships, which translates to partnership in cultivating our children’s educational experiences.”

An open house event can be structured in many different ways depending on the school and district. But from getting to know the school’s leadership to meeting other parents, experts agree that a school’s open house is full of can’t-miss opportunities and information. Here’s why.

What is a school’s open house?

“An open house is planned to give a feel for the community and for what it would be like to be a member of this community,” explains Nick Fiori, director of recruitment for Prospect Schools, a K-12 public charter school network in Brooklyn, New York. “This is a chance to meet teachers, the principal, other parents and to get your big questions answered. It’s a look at what our community does, and the chance to show what it feels like being a part of it.” 

A school open house can be designed for prospective families, new families, as well as current families. For prospective and new parents, an open house welcomes families on campus to get to know a school beyond its website, explains early childhood education specialist Gay Cioffi who was director of Little Folks School in Washington, D.C. for 38 years. This can happen in many capacities, including getting to know the physical spaces, seeing inside classrooms, and, perhaps most importantly, witnessing the ways faculty, administrators, and parents interact. 

For currently enrolled families, a school’s open house is a way to introduce parents to new staff and any changes that may have occurred over summer break, says Cioffi. “It is also an opportunity to welcome families back and to highlight upcoming events,” she says.

A school’s open house for current parents is usually scheduled at the start of the school year while open houses for prospective families are typically scheduled throughout the year. 

Do you bring your child to a school open house?

While policies vary from school to school, students are typically invited to open house events, and educators highly recommend they attend. “We encourage parents to bring their kids,” Fiori says. “It’s really a joint experience in which we are looking to foster the parent-student connection and also the parent-staff connection.”

As students get older, attendance at a school’s open house only gets more important, Fiori adds. “The interesting thing about enrolling kids at different levels is that the parent involvement starts very strong,” he explains. “But when it comes to high school, it’s really about the student. They are the ones that need to graduate from that school, and they need to make a really adult decision on what they would like to do in order to have the experience they want. At an open house, they can get their own perspective on what that school’s experience would look like.”

“We encourage parents to bring their kids. It’s really a joint experience in which we are looking to foster the parent-student connection and also the parent-staff connection.”

— Nick Fiori, Director of Recruitment for Prospect Schools, a K-12 public charter school network in Brooklyn, New York

What do you do at an elementary school open house?

An elementary school open house is typically hosted by the school’s principal and classroom teachers. “While our open houses are exclusively for new families, we always invite current families to come be hosts as well,” Fiori says. “We want core members of our community to be there to tell them what it’s like and offer that opportunity to experience it with other parents.”

Programming for an elementary school open house most often will include a presentation that will give parents an idea of what a day in the life of a student looks like. “A lot of places will even have short videos from their classrooms,” Fiori says. There will also be time to ask teachers and administrators questions.

For younger students, open houses also tend to offer kids-specific programming like arts-and-crafts activities which create plenty of chances for kids to make new connections. “Kids are definitely going to make friends,” Fiori says. “Every time we have an open house, the young kids who come inevitably start to form relationships.”

What do you do at a middle school or high school open house?

Middle school and high school open houses often involve more of the school community, including current students, school counselors, and administrators in charge of things like school operations, student life, and athletics. This gives families the chance to ask questions about any aspect of the student experience, not just academics.

“An open house or parent night connects the educators and students to the community,” says Nicole Rossi-Mumpower, assistant principal at Robbinsville High School in Trenton, New Jersey. “We all have to work together for the success of the students. Inviting families [into our school] only enhances that experience.” 

Here, Rossi-Mumpower explains a few experiences her school plans for parents and students in grades 9-12 at the start of a new year:

  • A brief presentation about the school and what to expect.
  • Meet-and-greets with school administrators. 
  • School tours for parents and students led by current upperclass students.
  • Tables hosted by faculty representatives from various disciplines to provide specific information about curriculum and course expectations.
  • Discussions with student representatives from a variety of sports and clubs. 
  • Light snacks and time to socialize with current parents and students.

How to prepare for a school’s open house to get the most out of it

Experts agree that school open house events are informal, so when it comes to what to wear, there is no dress code. “Open houses are celebratory,” Fiori says. “They are supposed to be fun events and not at all stuffy.”

That said, parents should come to an open house event prepared to ask questions. “Parents should familiarize themselves with a school’s mission and curriculum using websites as a resource, for starters,” Cioffi says. “From that research, questions may arise that can be raised at your open house.”

This is especially important for prospective families. “Prospective parents should come to the open house with a sense of what you need to know to choose a school for the school year,” Fiori says. “Come prepared with the questions that you need answered to make a choice.” 

Here are a few topics Fiori recommends formulating questions around:

School operations

“A lot of things that parents underestimate about a school is the day-to-day operations,” Fiori says. This can be things like the organization of medical records, trips, or transportation. “Operations are just not uniform anymore across all public schools. Some places prioritize some things, not others, so you want to ask questions about what is important to you.”

Academic vision

“It’s important that the parent aligns with the principal’s educational philosophy,” Fiori says. “I would suggest that parents dig a little deeper. Public schools are required to meet benchmarks handed down by the state and public institutions, but how does the principal determine what is success for their students academically? They may speak about test scores, but you want to ask about what that person’s vision is for their school academics.”

Class and event details

To get a clear picture of your child’s school day, Fiori recommends asking questions like “What is the structure of a typical school day?” and “What are the class sizes?” As for what not to ask? “Don’t get caught up on the upcoming school year,” Fiori says. “Sometimes people want all the details on upcoming events, but they just aren’t set yet. Instead, ask about how things have typically run in the past.”

What should parents do if they can’t attend a school open house?

Experts agree you should make every effort to go to your school’s open house. But they understand just how busy parents’ schedules are – most are busy parents themselves! “The reality is, when the dates and times do not work out, it is absolutely okay,” Rahming says, who admits that her own daughter’s school events are hard for her to make as a principal. 

If a parent cannot attend an open house Rahming recommends the following:

  • Contact the school leaders to see if there is any information that can immediately be forwarded to you (i.e. presentation slides, brochures, etc.). 
  • Request an alternate time to meet with someone so they can share what was covered during the event. “Online virtual meeting platforms have worked really well for my families and I when schedules are tight,” Rahming says.
  • Schedule an in-person meeting on campus. “A private tour without the crowd is also useful for students that may be feeling anxious about the transition or are overstimulated by large events,” Rahming says.

The bottom line? “Families should feel encouraged to arrange for an alternate option if they cannot make their school’s open house,” says Rahming. “Keep in mind that schools want to meet you, and it is important that you have time to start building that relationship.”