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Open House Success! 12 Small Things That Make a Great Back to School Event

How To Host a Fabulous School Open House Event for Back to School Season

When is Open House?

Back to school season kicks off anytime from August to September here in the United States.

For many schools, the new school year often launches with a fun event that goes by many different names: Open House, Back to School Night, Meet and Greet, and more. Regardless of what your school calls it, there are lots of easy, great ways to ensure a large turnout and fun event for families and students.

Open House is often held on a weeknight toward the start of the school year. What day your school chooses is completely a matter of preference and perhaps tradition.

In my current school district, principals get to choose which night works best for our school.

We each add our date/time to a shared calendar to prevent competing events on the same night. Families appreciate this; not having to choose which Open House to attend or cut one visit short to make it to more than one event.

Our school holds Open House the week before students return to school. We like giving students access to lockers early (lockers are a BIG deal for our middle schoolers!).

However, my previous school held Open House a few weeks after school started, once students and teachers settled into the routines and newness of the school year.

Whether your school chooses to host Open House before classes officially begin or after, this annual tradition can serve many important purposes.

What is your "why" for hosting an Open House?

The secret to planning and preparing for a great Open House event is to be really clear on why you plan to host it in the first place.

Perhaps the purpose is to:

- Introduce parents and families to teachers

- Reduce fear and anxiety among students by introducing them to their teachers before school begins

- Familiarize families with the school layout and the who's who of the school

- Share school-wide news that is important for all families to hear

- Meet families for the first time (if you're a new administrator)

Your "why" will be very important in planning your fun back to school Open House event. The goals of your Open House will help you determine how to spend your time, money, and what to promote about your special Open House event.

It's always practical to gather a few teammates together (such as counselors, administration, secretaries, and a few teachers) to talk about ideas for Open House. I like to discuss the event with my leadership team (comprised of classified and certified teammates) in the spring before we break for summer; that gives us time over summer to dream big and make arrangements.

Once you have a clear idea on your "why" for the Open House back to school event, consider including any of the following 12 tips for hosting a stellar event for your students, families, and educators.

12 Easy Ways to Host a Great Open House

1. Welcome Signs

As students and families approach the school (sometimes for their very first time, like new families to your school), aim to make it special. We write a large, colorful "Welcome to Open House!" on our signs and place them at our main entrance for the event.

One of the best ways to host a great Open House is to not assume that everyone knows their way around the place.

I'm passionate about passive signage that creates a spirit of welcome, whether we're hosting an event or it's a regular Tuesday in March. This assumption - that everyone knows where they're going - can create barriers for families, so we work hard in our school to view the place like we're first-timers on campus.

One of the first purchases I made as a principal was to ensure that our school had adequate large signage. I bought 3 heavy duty sandwich-board signs that are filled with sand. Then for $20, my custodial team bought dry erase "shower board" at Home Depot and cut it to fit each side of the sign; you can also add poster paper for each event, if that's easier. These have paid for themselves 10 times over! Here are the types I bought:

Friendly reminder - be sure those welcome signs are in languages that meet the needs of your school's families. For us, nearly 20% of our families speak, write, and read Spanish as their language at home and in the community. So, adding information in Spanish is a must in our school.

2. Colorful Curb Appeal ~ Balloons

Just as signage is important, so is curb appeal. Attached to our welcome sandwich board signs are always a half-dozen helium balloons or more! They're our school colors and add to the festivity and fun of the night.

We simply order these from our local Dollar Tree or party supply store and pick them up the afternoon of our Open House event. For $15, they add a nice touch to our first impression.

At the end of the night, we find a family with young children and offer the balloons to go home with them. Or, if we have a use for them at school, we use them the next day.

In addition to balloons, we always add something very special to our reader board for the night of Open House. It often reads, "Welcome Classes of _____" or "Welcome _______ Families!" With the first option, I want students and families to remember that graduation is the big goal we're striving for! These greeting feels classy, special, and inviting.

3. A Tidy Campus

Speaking of curb appeal, don't forget those first impressions: having a relatively clean campus is essential! When our school has Open House coming up, I make sure to check in with my grounds crew or custodians to ask for their support. I put in work tickets to request the grass is freshly-mowed. Plus, I always intentionally take a stroll up and down the main entrance and look at it through the eyes of a campus visitor.

Does our main rug need to be vacuumed?

Windows cleaned?

Do the door handles feel clean to the touch?

Are trash cans emptied outside?

Is there any remaining clutter in the hallways from summer renovations?

Don't be afraid to ask for a little help to make sure those small details are covered. After all, we all want our community to feel proud of our school! With so many visitors on their way, now's the time to really shine.

Speaking of our amazing summer staff ~ be sure to check out these special ways to honor our year-round employees in the summer! This includes custodians, secretaries, grounds and maintenance folks, and more.

4. Have a Dream Team of Greeters

Whether they're members of your prized PTC, student leaders, or your beloved staff, consider rolling out the red carpet for guests by greeting them at the door with a smile and a handout. This little touch can make a big different for families, often lightening the mood by starting with friendly smile and perhaps a conversation with a familiar face.

Greeters are also great for handing out classroom/school maps (Idea #5) and for answering those sure-to-be-asked questions like, "Where do we go?"

I borrowed this idea from our local high school. For every theatrical or musical performance, they have a few students who serve as greeters at the main entrance.

It feels so classy and inviting!

Consider asking your greeters to wear school colors or to dress their best; whichever suits your school culture best.

Better yet ~ have your mascot outside, too! (See idea #12)

5. Map Out the Fun

Another way to help visitors feel welcome and connected is to take the guess work out of the night. Consider having a simple printout of your school map or where the night's festivities are being held.

To make custom maps for our school events, I use Canva PRO. Every year I buy a subscription to Canva PRO for my entire school and we get our money's worth out of it! Secretaries, Athletic Director, Music Director, teachers...Canva PRO is easy, intuitive, and has millions of ready-to-use templates and assets. Click here to get 30 days of Canva PRO for free and see why it is a school's best friend.

If you'd rather not use paper or wish to give your families a high-tech option, consider uploading the map as a PDF and offering a QR Code to your families as they enter. (Greeters can help explain the process to those who are less familiar with QR Codes.)

Fortunately, phone cameras now have default QR Code readers when you take a photo, so it's no longer necessary to have an installed QR Code app on one's phones.

To make a QR Code (like the one above) is simple ~ on Chrome, look at the right side of your web address bar above. See that little box with the arrow pointing up? Simply click it and select "Create QR Code." Whatever the web address is...that is where the QR Code will take your visitors.

Now to link it to a map, simply upload your map or the night's program as a PDF to your Google Drive (be sure your settings allow anyone with the link to view it). Then, "Create QR Code" Save that JPG image, print it, and share it widely! Consider sending it to your families in advance on your social media pages, in your newsletter, or simply have it ready to scan as people arrive.

Map in hand - paper-free!

6. Host an Ice Cream Social

What better way to draw a crowd than with yummy summer food?!

I'll never forget the buzz of going to my very own elementary school every August to enjoy our school's Ice Cream Social. It was the talk of the town every year and a great way for families and the school to come together.

I remember a team of people (staff and parents) serving up one of a dozen types of ice cream in cones for every visitor.

The scooping team set up just outside the main doors of our elementary school and served ice cream for about an hour. As we'd make our way into the school, ice cream in hand, we'd walk to our classrooms and meet our new teachers. The principal greeted us in the foyer. The shiny school was ready for us to arrive the following week!

There are many ways to do an ice cream social with success ~ this year, our school had Leadership students distribute individually-wrapped ice cream sandwiches. We offered sugar-free and gluten-free options like popsicles. Small bottles of water were also available upon request.

7. Build Hype with a Social Media Countdown

There is nothing more defeating than planning an amazing event...that is poorly attended. The best results we've ever had with an Open House event was from doing a daily countdown on social media.

We posted a countdown graphic every day for the 14 days leading up to our event.

We literally saw 30% greater attendance when we used Canva PRO to create "countdown" graphics. Every day we posted one of these easy-to-make graphics to our school's IG and FB pages.

The countdown WORKS!

It keeps the event fresh in peoples' minds and doesn't let it fade to the background. Plus there are lots of students who follow our social media pages. The hype helped catch their attention and get them buzzing about the event.

Here are a few of the graphics we used ~ they are truly simple to make using any of the templates in Canva PRO (we use the 1080x1080 size for everything).

8. Name Tags for Staff

Keeping the visitor in mind, name tags for staff are always helpful!

Have as much fun with this idea as you like. I like to use our school's printer to make our own custom name tags with our school logo or theme for the year.

Simply purchase inkjet or printer-friendly name tags like these and edit away! They are a little more involved than just "Hello My Name Is" stickers like these. However, they are classy and fun!

9. Give Away Free School Swag

An Open House event is a great time to promote your school brand! Some of our favorite giveaways include stretchy bracelets, lanyards, pens and pencils, and school stickers.

Consider purchasing a big stash of promotional materials from companies like VistaPrint. They offer a huge selection of easy-to-customize promotional materials ~ mugs, pens, pencils, lanyards, keychains, and so much more. Plus VistaPrint offers a ton of discount codes.

Another fun giveaway is custom-made school stickers. They're simple to make if you have a few supplies!

(If your school doesn't already have one, you can read more about why every school needs a Cricut here.)

How to make custom stickers:

You'll need:

- Cricut or Silhouette die cutting machine (read here how to choose)

- Vinyl sticker sheets like these

- A color printer

Simply design your stickers on your die cut software (be sure to use the registration marks feature on your die cut machine). Print them on your color printer, then cut them out on your Cricut or Silhouette.

10. Get Social Media Signups

Communication is everything in a school, as you know. Open House is a great time to encourage families to sign up to follow your social media accounts.

Consider doing a "Followers Giveaway." It's simple ~ have a great gift package on display; include highly desirable items like hoodies, hats, school supplies, and more. Then have some ready-to-scan QR Codes that link directly to your FB and IG pages. (See instructions above in #5 how to make QR Codes).

We like to put them in stand-up page protectors like these, so they're quick and easy to scan:

As families scan the QR Codes and sign up to follow your school's pages, give them a ticket to enter the drawing. If they're already a follower, simply have them flash their phones to you (or take them at their word) and give them an entry ticket.

Speaking of social media, if you're a principal looking for quick and easy ways to use your school's social media pages to engage your families and community, check out the suite of tools to save you time.

These tools have been created over the last 5 years to help principals just like me save time on social media while still building a strong online brand for our school.

11. Create a Promo Video

Videos are easier to make than ever today! If you want to get the hype up about your Open House event and look very 21st century, make a quick promo video. Then share that video to your school's social media pages or in your Back to School newsletter.

WeVideo has absolutely changed the way I do business at school! I used to wonder how all those principals would find the time to make cute videos of students and the great things happening on campus.

Now I know - WeVideo! Check it out here - it's FREE:

WeVideo already has lots of easy-to-use templates for promoting your event. You don't even need to add your own photos, but you certainly can. It's possible to make a quick video in less than 10 minutes.

12. Make it Fun!

There are so many ways to add a touch of fun to your Open House event. Consider some of the following quick, easy ideas:

- Scavenger hunts (use bitmojis of the staff for extra giggles!)

- Someone in the mascot costume

- Competitions like a three-point shot contest

- School Passport ~ get a stamp from ___ people or specific locations like your homeroom teacher, the library, cafeteria, school nurse, etc. Give away prizes for completed passports.

Have a Happy Back to School Event!

Principals ~ please share your other ideas for Open House in the comments below.