When you are planning for your event, decide on the goal you hope to accomplish. Is it for parents to have fun with their children? Is it to learn something specific, such as about a curriculum or specific activities to do at home? From there, you can more easily align your activities to meet your goal. Last year, we had no specific goal, and everything we did felt very disjointed. Our goal this year was to get parents comfortable with the more conceptual way our new Common Core-aligned curriculum teaches math. That helped us design activities that aligned with each other, and provided a tangible purpose for both teachers and parents.
You might work in a district where parents will come to any event you hold. If that is true, you are lucky. On the other hand, if you are like many of us, parental involvement is more of a struggle. In our district, we know that offering food is a big draw for families. This year for Math Night, we found funding for pizza and cookies, which definitely increased interest. Additionally, this year we were also lucky enough to have a staff family member who donated raffle prizes, which excited our families and drew them in. If you don’t know someone who can donate, reach out to local business, many of whom are happy to help local schools. A simple gift card raffle can be an exciting incentive. The reality is you should do whatever you need to do to get your parents through the doors, because the more parent involvement you have, the better the potential outcomes.
Make it fun
Even if your goal is to get parents informed about curriculum or data, find a way to make the night fun. An entertaining theme ties the activities together and creates an enjoyable environment. Last year we had no theme, and while the families had a good time, it lacked a lively atmosphere. Our theme this year was travel. Each grade band section was designated with a different continent, and the school was decorated to highlight those continents. The atmosphere made it fun and enjoyable for everyone involved.
Once parents are in the door, how do you engage them? Just because you have activities, does not mean parents, like their children in class, are authentically engaged. Last year we had math games, but especially at the higher grade levels, the level of math knowledge needed made it difficult for many of our parents to participate. Additionally, they required too many resources which was an organizational nightmare. This year we made activities simple enough that anyone could access, but still fun and incorporated a key math concept. They were also activities that required few, if any, resources, or only items you could get at a dollar store (dice, cards). Games and puzzles are great ways to motivate both parents and kids to engage in the activity.
Additionally, along with our travel theme, we created a passport that families got stamped. They received a stamp for each activity they completed. If they received three stamps, they could get pizza and popcorn (this way we kept families from just walking in to get food and leaving). If they got all ten stamps, they could enter in for the raffle. Again, here we encouraged participation in as many of the activities as possible. The passport was a huge hit with parents, teachers, and administrators.
Our math night was a wonderful success, and I hope our lessons can help you create an amazing night of your own!