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Back-to-school night basics

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By Marian Wilde

4. Don't ask specific questions about your child.

Ask any questions that you have about the curriculum, field trips or grades, but refrain from asking questions specific to your child that won't be useful to other parents. It's better to make an appointment for a conference to discuss your concerns one-on-one.

"It happens all the time that someone wants to ask you specifically about their child," says Lofton. "Parents need to know that the teacher would be better prepared to answer their questions and have more time for them if they would set up a conference, instead of trying to do it at 7:30 when it's possible that a teacher might have a young child at home and has been there all day and you may have other parents standing around. So questions are good, but they just need to be ones that address everyone's concerns."

5. Be ready to volunteer.

There will be many opportunities to sign up for volunteer activities, either for school-wide programs or in the classroom. You'll be better prepared if you've already given some thought to your time constraints and how you'd like to contribute to the school community.

Denis Cruz, 2006 California Teacher of the Year, has taught in both elementary and middle school, and has seen many parents quit volunteering when their children reach middle school, often because they're intimidated by the subject matter. "Ask the principal if there's anything you can do to be involved in your child's education," suggests Cruz. "We seem to lose parents by eighth grade, but we still want their participation."

6. Bring a note for the teacher about your child.

If your teacher hasn't already asked for it, now is a good time to give him a letter describing your child's personality, academic history and any areas of concern you may have. He will appreciate receiving the information.

Important information to take away from back-to-school night

1. An overview of your child's school day

Elementary school teachers will share the typical daily and weekly schedule for the class. If you want to volunteer in the classroom, this information is helpful in determining the best time to come. For example, if the teacher asks for parent volunteers to help her work with struggling readers, you need to know when the class is in the classroom reading and not out for music, art, P.E. or lunch.

2. Knowledge of what the classroom looks like

Take a look around the classroom. Is it well-organized? Is it warm and inviting? Is there a lot of clutter? If it's cluttered, is the clutter educational and stimulating to young minds? You can tell quite a bit about the teacher from what you see on the walls and in the bookshelves. You will also have the opportunity to look at the textbooks and any journals, portfolios and artwork the students have created.

3. What it's like to sit in your child's seat

Many teachers ask parents to sit in their child's seat. This gives parents the opportunity to see the classroom from their child's point of view, and it gives teachers the chance to mentally match parents with students.

Comments from readers

"This is very helpful. I love it. I will bring pen and paper to write information down. Thank you very much."
"Exactly, what I was looking for. Will be attending my first back to school night for my lil KG"
"Good ideas. As a mom of four, I always keep up to date on these 'back to school nights'. It's always interesting to meet/see my children's teachers, etc. "
"Great article. I mentioned it in my podcast Link4Learning at In this episode I addressed ways that parents can find out what their children are learning."
"This is great advice. I am going to include this link in my next podcast so others can hear about it."
"Great article. This was exactly what I was looking for. Thank you."
"Thank you so much for all the good tips and information we receive during the year, they are very helpful and interesting. We are the parents of a first grader girl."
"I fine this very informative. This a great idea...."
"Very informative article specially when the B2S night it's this upcoming Monday and our 3rd grader is new to the state, to the system and to the school. Thx! very helpful and will definitely take pen & paper! : )"
"As a parent of a boy just starting KG, I found these tips very useful and valuable. Thank you"
"This article was very helpful as it is aiding in jogging my own personal memories of backto school night, some 22 years ago when I started Kindegarden. Now that I have my own youngster starting school, it was a great refresher to recall what to expect and what is expected of me as a parent. Thanks a lot"
" Thank you, I find this very helpful and informative."
"As a 8th grader I am very excited for school! I think the tips are great to get ready and know the teachers!"
"Great information for a positive relationship and great year for students, parents, and teachers."
"We are the parents of a boy who is starting kindergarden this fall. I really enjoyed that article and I have jotted down things to ask at the meeting. Bravo! What a great resource."
"Great article! Keep them coming."
"Great Info. One thing I want to mention - I will take my child to meet her new teacher (insted of looking for childcare for that night, as it was suggested in the article). She already knows when it is and it is very exsited. Of course it will be kind of hard to do that if you have more than one, but I think she will fell much better not going to a total stranger on her 1st day of the new school year. I have even taken her to the PTC's last year and I think it helped her relize better what her teacher's expectations are (she enjoeyd it too, and I think the teacher was very comfortable with her being there). Agan thanks for the tips and keep up the good work. "
"I found this information incredibly helpful and interesting. I even shared it with family and friends. Thank you for all you do to help us to help our children succeed in school. "
"The site has helped me understand the American Educational system. It also answers most of the questions i needed to ask with respect to resource materials. Thank you. Keep the great work going."
"I want you to know that I agree with your statement 'you'll want to know how often and if you should expect to receive it on a particular day of the week, so you'll know to remind your child.' Yet at my son's elementary school I have been told by the administration that I am out of line by wanting to remind my child. That it is the child's responsibility to remember for themselves. I don't know what you do with adults who act like children."
"great site! Lots of good info!"
"THe article was very informative please keep em coming"