George Lucas Educational Foundation
Administration & Leadership

Planning a Great Sixth-Grade Open House

When students and their families are invited to participate in meaningful activities, they can learn what their new school has to offer.

July 19, 2023
manonallard / The iStock

For years, welcoming incoming sixth graders and their families to our middle school consisted of distributing paperwork and giving a PowerPoint presentation. Although families got the information they needed, we were missing a massive opportunity to build a sense of community and lessen the anxiety that comes from attending a new school.

As a middle school administrator, I wanted to capitalize on the event by building positive relationships with the families. A great sixth-grade open house not only helps families transition but also leads to increased student achievement.

Last year, my school tried something new. Instead of requiring new families to simply sit through a painful presentation and sign forms, we decided to create an interactive experience. In this two-hour event, we showcased the school’s assets and allowed the students to explore their interests and become connected to the building. We began inviting parents to the event in July and reminded them a few days before using different social media platforms. We followed an agenda that gave families a real sense of what our school was about.

 Here’s how we redesigned our open house experience. 

Breakout Sessions 

Breakout sessions help families become familiar with a new school. They allow teachers to share tips for how to become a successful middle school student, and the small groups give families a safe place to ask questions and participate in hands-on activities. We created four breakout sessions that were 15 minutes each: learning management systems, iPad safety, reading schedules and opening lockers, and student success. 

Other sessions could include the following: 

  • Digital Citizenship (Staying Safe on the Internet)
  • What Is Bullying and How to Handle It
  • Classroom Etiquette
  • The Dangers of Vaping
  • Curriculum Adoptions
  • Parent and Student Expectations
  • How to Contact Staff Members
  • Parent Involvement Opportunities 

Be sure to provide literature for families to take home from each breakout session. A handout with clear instructions will make the breakout session shine. 

Explore and Enjoy

During this one-hour time, families can visit clubs, take pictures with the mascot, eat ice cream, and play games.

Club opportunities: School clubs lead to academic improvement and the development of lifelong passions. And for the students who are traditionally shy or uninvolved, clubs can be a game changer. For these children, they present a chance to feel accepted and engage with their peers in a safe environment. Set time aside in your open house for a club gallery walk that students can visit.

Encourage club sponsors to set up booth presentations that showcase the work done by the students. Members of a dance club could demonstrate their creative dance moves. A photography club could display unique pieces by its members. If possible, have students present and lead the conversations with families. Incoming students will enjoy talking with other students. Also, don’t forget the basics. Families will need to know if the club is during or after school, what time it starts, when it ends, and whether any fees apply. 

In the spring, I like to reach out to club sponsors to invite them to participate in tabling the event in the fall. If it’s difficult to get clubs to attend, then providing a list of after-school activities that students can join can give a sense of what opportunities are available. A cheer squad or dance team may also be excited to perform. 

Community outreach: Families face challenges and need all the help that is available to them. Having outreach organizations at your open house will bring awareness to the services offered in your community. After-school tutoring and Boys and Girls Clubs of America are vital programs that families need and appreciate. Health care providers offer free physicals that are required for participation in sports. Inviting community outreach services reinforces the concept of community and school working together for everyone. Find out what outreach programs are available in your community, and invite them to interact and share information with your parents. 

It’s never too late to plan for next year. Contact community outreach programs as early as possible—reach out in the spring, share the date, and invite them to join the open house. If they can’t attend, ask if they can provide literature and brochures for the families.

Ice cream social: Nothing screams good times like ice cream and games. Placing families in a low-stakes situation where they mingle over food and games gives them a chance to make friends and process the information they received. To capitalize on this time together, the staff can circulate around the area and engage in conversations. A simple introduction and asking families about their interests and answering their questions can pay dividends later in the year.

These conversations personalize the event for your families and often strengthen relationships. This is also a perfect time to have handouts available. A social media handout lets parents keep up with all the cool things that are happening with the school. If you are a Title I school, you can provide parents with required paperwork and remind them of the importance of returning the forms to the school.

Welcoming incoming sixth graders to middle school doesn’t have to involve a collection of monotonous activities. By creating an interactive event, the administration and faculty have the opportunity to prepare their new students for middle school, strengthen relationships, and create a sense of belonging. And it works: We noticed a visible change in the attitude of families. There were lots of smiles and excited questions. This enthusiasm carried over to the rest of the school year.

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  • Administration & Leadership
  • School Culture
  • 6-8 Middle School

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