This post originally appeared on the blog Buzzing with Mrs. B.
Every year, my school hosts a Family Literacy Night event. It’s one of the things we do to bring parents into the school for a fun evening of stress-free learning.
Recently, I was talking to one of my friends who is new to coaching, and she asked me, “What’s the FIRST thing you do when you plan a family night?” It took me a little thinking, but I think I’ve narrowed down my family night planning to 11 easy steps! I know that sounds ridiculous, but I wanted everything to be very clear.
To start with, let’s establish that family nights are a great way to bring in the community. Get your parents involved in learning about the things your kids are working on every day!
Some parents are very hesitant to visit schools; especially those parents who don’t speak the language of the school or who have little educational experience (or poor educational experiences) themselves. It’s a stressful situation for many parents. Family Night events are a low-key way to have parents participate at any level they can.
Here is the process I follow when I plan a family night for any content area (literacy, math, etc.)
1. Decide on your purpose.
- To engage families in fun activities at school to help them enjoy the time they spend there.
- To teach families easy things they can do to help their kids at home.
- To help families create activities they can do at home.
- To inform families about education on your campus or in your state.
- To help families learn and think about their future plans for their child’s education.
The purpose you have will determine the kinds of activities families participate in!
2. Choose a theme.
Parents love a good theme! And it really helps when you’re thinking of fun ways to approach the activities.
Themes I’ve done in the past include…
3. Get sponsors.
Why not? I know one small company who provides bags for each family (just simple colorful plastic party bags), and we’ve had our high school and university provide items for prizes. A local organization that provides free books to kids often donates books so each one of our kids can leave with a new book! Which leads me to my next point…
4. Incentivize it!
How will you incentivize attendance? At our school, every child who attends a family night event gets a “Free Dress Pass” when they leave. This means they can wear free dress rather than the uniform the next day. You could also do a “No Homework Pass.”
Food is also a great incentive. For our Family Dream Night at the end of the year, every teacher brings a bag of hot dog buns and a package of hot dogs. Our admin pitches in to get the rest. The coaches grill everything up and we give out one to each person that night! Huge turnout every year!
Another fun way to incentivize is to host contests. For our Roll Out the Red Carpet theme, we had kids and parents design a candy bar wrapper. One winner from each grade level won a movie night basket full of popcorn, candy, and sodas for a movie night! Our parents get pretty competitive, so this is a fun way to get them to participate!
5. Think of the experiences you want kids to have with their parents.
I usually approach these as stations. Stations are an easy way to make sure that there’s something for everyone to do and people don’t spend too much time waiting for an activity.
To get started, I think about the different kinds of things I’d like kids to do with their parents, usually considering the literacy domains: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. (And then I add the other important one: creating!) For example, when I’m planning a literacy night, I want families to do the following things:
- Make a fun game they can play at home to practice accuracy
- Read something together to practice fluency
- Play an interactive game
- Make a fun craft to get them talking and develop creativity and oral language
- Make a snack while following a procedural text – our people show up when we feed them!
- And obviously, read, read, read!!
I usually end up with about 6-7 stations. Each station needs about 2-4 people to man it. Obviously, crafts and snacks take a few more people than something simple like reading.
6. Figure out staffing.
I send out an email to teachers about three-four weeks before a family event asking who will attend. On our campus, teachers rotate, taking turns coming to our Family Math Night and Family Literacy Night. Everyone comes to Dream Board Night at the end of the year.
Teachers respond to my email and I start identifying who will work at each station. After I have everything figured out, I send everyone an email explaining where they will go that evening and what time they should arrive. I usually try to keep grade levels together, to give people time with their closest buddies, but sometimes we mix it up out of necessity!
7. Plan & build your stations.
What will each of these things look like? Look to your theme for inspiration! An easy way to find ideas is to spend some time googling “pirate word list” or “superhero word list”. Hunt on Pinterest for ideas related to your theme that you could integrate into a station.
After you know what stations you want, create materials for each station. These include the directions, which I print out and make into posters, and any handouts or graphic organizers people will need to participate in the activities.
8. Make a map.
I map out the areas I will be using for Family Night. We use the front entry in the school for bag and book distribution, the science lab for the snack station, the gym for several stations, and the cafeteria for several more. Noisy activities should be separated from quiet activities; messy activities need an easy-to-clean space. I try to think about the flow of traffic and how we’re going to get people to move from space to space.
I provide the map to the custodians who help me by setting up the tables, chairs, etc. It’s also useful to help me remember how to set up the tables the afternoon of the event and to direct teachers to the right spot.
9. Make a list of materials you need.
Estimate the number of people and then examine your stations. How many of each material will you need for that many people? Make a list with quantities. If you need to buy it, buy it! If you need to make it, make it!
Sort all of your materials. To organize your snacks, it helps to provide each student with a little bag of everything they’ll need. I also make a sample of each station activity to help teachers, kids, and parents know what they’re expected to do there.
This is a lifesaver. Instead of having boxes and piles everywhere, I set everything up on a multi-level cart. For example, everything I need for my first station (sentence strips, crayons, and pencils) go on the top level of the cart with a sticky note that says “Station One”.
This makes setup a breeze. I wheel the cart down to the gym and cafeteria, and pull things off my cart as I get to the right spot!
11. Send out invitations!
A week before the event, I send an invitation out to each student on colored paper. We announce it every day over the announcements, and we put it on the marquee as well. You could also send out a half-sheet the day before the event to remind parents.
I also put together a handy-dandy video, showing you the different types of stations that I create for family nights and giving you some tips for setting up your own event!
Need some family night activities, and fast? Skip many of these steps and purchase one of my pre-made (and kid-tested!) Family Nights from TpT!
And one more thing: grab a freebie guide to planning a family night on TpT!
Here’s a video I made that walks you through the steps I’ve outlined in this blog post!
Read about my other family night events on the Buzzing with Ms. B blog!
Chrissy Beltran is an elementary school instructional coach who spends her school days working with teachers to engage their students in quality reading and writing experiences, and her evenings creating resources to support teachers in planning and delivering exciting lessons! She also makes time for a handful of hobbies: reading, gardening, walking the dogs, and teasing her husband. Check out Chrissy’s TpT store, blog, Facebook, and Instagram for more teaching ideas (with an occasional side of sass).