George Lucas Educational Foundation
Career & Technical Education

Elementary School Learning Nights Led by High School Students

Asking teenagers to plan learning nights for elementary kids has benefits for both sets of students—and the kids’ parents.

March 28, 2024
Ulla Puggaard / Ikon Images

As a career technical education teacher, I have the honor to work with students interested in pursuing the field of education. This year, as we moved through different units, students explored the impact of family involvement on student learning. Studies show the benefits to student success when their parents are involved in learning at home.

My students proposed partnering with a local elementary school to host two family learning nights. One family night would be centered on literacy and another centered on math. As students began to design and create the events, they focused on making the learning fun, engaging, and relevant. Here is how they designed the English language arts (ELA) night.


In the initial planning phase, I met with the elementary school administrators, an elementary school teacher, and an elementary instructional coach from the district to secure a date and set expectations for the event, including what standards the school wanted to focus on. I brought this information back to my high school students. 

My students were responsible for the following: 

  • Creating and designing standards-aligned stations for grades K–4
  • Facilitating stations at the learning nights
  • Creating a parent newsletter and information for parents to engage in academic work at home
  • Creating and submitting floor plans to elementary administrators 

For the first three weeks, we focused on organization and research. Students divided themselves into groups and took on different roles and responsibilities. A challenge was having three different high school classes all working toward the same project. This required a strong communication plan. Students had access to a shared Google Doc that had the standards, station title and directions, and people responsible for running the station. At the bottom of the document was a checklist for materials needed and a to-do list.

Station design: Students spent time researching, learning, and creating stations that were standards-aligned and rigorous. I directed them to high-quality websites like ReadWriteThink and our state’s Department of Education website. Some stations for the ELA event included a life-size Scrabble-like game, a word scramble hunt, vowel hopscotch, a syllable clapping game, rhyming dominos, and a CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant)-word card game. A favorite was the Post Office, which focused on writing. Students wrote travel-sticker stories, postcards, and travel diamante poems.

Students then spent about two weeks designing the stations and publicity for the event. They used Canva and materials we already had on hand to make the stations. Students even made posters for the event. One major goal was promoting phonics instruction. As students began to plan the event, their ideas started coming together, and they began brainstorming how to make the event even better. 

Materials: As a class, we researched different local organizations that could help with the event. We also invited a local children’s book author and the local library to attend. We were able to secure an 800-book donation for the literacy night from Bridge of Books, a New Jersey–based organization. Each student was able to take home three books. As students created the stations, they asked for feedback from each other and made sure the stations were child and parent friendly.

We were able to purchase some materials that were extra items with our small budget. For example, we purchased passports and stamps for our literacy night so that students could receive a stamp after completing each station. Schools can apply for grants to support the needs of the learning nights as well.

Coordination: Two weeks prior to the event, the stations, parent newsletter, and map were presented to the elementary school team. Teachers from the elementary school reached out to the parent teacher organization for snacks and water for the students. The team provided feedback to the students, who made last-minute adjustments. In the week leading up to the event, students practiced their station game and anticipated any concerns. Students packed their stations in small boxes so that setup would be smooth.

Event Night 

My students arrived at the event an hour and a half early to set up their stations and to decorate the gym. The event ran from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The building principal, one teacher, and I were there early to ensure that everything ran smoothly during setup. Each high school student knew their assignment ahead of time. Ten minutes prior to the start time, parents and their children started to arrive.

For the entirety of the event, students were directing parents to different stations, teaching various ages about literacy, and interacting with the school staff. Over 150 families attended the event and had positive feedback. Most parents were surprised that high school students facilitated and planned such a cohesive and engaging event. The high school students were even invited back to the school to help with their annual field day! 

learning from the Event

Students were able to repeat the same process in planning a math night for the elementary school. They reflected on three essential questions when planning the math night they developed: 

  • What is the purpose of the event and materials? 
  • What learning standards are key for students and parents to grasp? .
  • What makes something engaging and fun for students? 

The biggest takeaways were to make the stations gamed based and simple. Students took feedback from the ELA night by creating a bigger map displayed on an easel for parents to navigate the event. For the math night, students planned a camping theme. Students wanted to promote an interdisciplinary connection and an activity that also taught perseverance and imagination. 

One popular station featured butterfly symmetry to promote understanding spatial relationships. Other stations included giant dominoes to promote adding and subtracting, measuring trees and other camp scenes to practice using a ruler, place value cornhole, sticker story math problems, and fishing on coordinate planes. The high school students taught coding and math through the Sphero forest exploration.

The goal was to create stations that would reflect tasks that students might do in the real world. Moreover, students reflected on the importance of literacy and wanted to highlight different books that focused on math and included a family math night. A campfire station had different math books, like Math Curse, A Place for Zero, and Feast for 10.  Families could read the book together and complete math activities related to the book.

Tips and Resources 

The core characteristics that made this event successful were high levels of communication, clear expectations, and trust. After the event was over, students reflected on what had made the event successful and what could be improved for next time, suggesting other ideas for different family nights like history, science, world language, and physical education. 

Planning a nighttime event with another school may seem like a big undertaking. However, with clear expectations, guidelines, and open communication, the event process seemed easy. More important, the high school students gained real experience planning an educational event and gave back to the community. Students learned how to interact with academic standards, communication skills at various levels, and event logistics.

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  • Career & Technical Education
  • Community Partnerships
  • 9-12 High School

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