As the new school year approaches, you’re likely getting ready to welcome new children and their families to your childcare center or preschool. Planning a preschool or pre-k orientation can be a fun and informative way to introduce new families to school staff and the classroom.
Since your center will be some preschoolers’ first time away from home, a well-planned orientation can help you establish strong relationships with children and even reduce their anxieties about starting the school year.
In this article, we'll share eight ways to plan a preschool or pre-k orientation to help your families confidently start the school year.
8 engaging preschool orientation ideas
A preschool orientation sets the scene for a successful school year. It's an opportunity for families to learn more about their child's school, meet teachers, and understand the center's philosophy and curriculum. For educators, it's a chance to lay the foundation for a positive relationship with families and ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to expectations and goals for the school year.
Before hosting your orientation for new families, simplify your entire enrollment process with brightwheel. This preschool enrollment software saves you time and makes it easy for families to apply to your program online and set up their child's profile. With this tool, you'll be able to collect digital signatures, request documents from families, and track enrollment details—all from the same software that you use to manage your childcare billing and communication.
The following are some ideas you can use to plan an engaging and productive preschool orientation.
1. Decide whether your preschool orientation will be for parents only or a family orientation
Before you begin planning, decide whether your preschool orientation will be for parents and guardians only or if it will be a family orientation. A “parents only” orientation may not involve as many children’s activities, so you may be able to share more information. If you decide to go this route, consider setting up another orientation day to allow children to meet you, their teachers, and a few other classmates before the first day.
Alternatively, you may decide to hold concurrent orientations for adults and children in separate spaces with an opportunity to come together at the end for a joint activity led by their teacher. To engage with the children in your classroom, you may want to play the name game, decorate a file folder, or create an "All About Me" book or worksheet for their first day. For family orientations, you may consider setting up sensory tables or activity centers around your school or classroom to keep the children engaged while you speak to the parents.
Be sure to indicate the event's intended audience on the invitation and relevant information such as planned activities, items or objects needed for those activities, childcare options (if parent-only), and things to bring to the event. Including this type of information makes the event more welcoming and engaging.
2. Greet each family as soon as they arrive and help them feel at home
Before your orientation, ask at least one of your staff members to greet families at the front entrance. Your greeter can also inform guests of any COVID-19 safety protocols you may have for the event, such as wearing a mask or using hand sanitizer before entering the building. Don’t be afraid to get creative with how you greet families.
Prepare your greeters for questions they may get asked frequently, such as how long the orientation will be or its schedule. This information will help your greeters feel more confident and ensure that your new families get the information they need right when they walk through your doors!
You can also set up a welcome table near the entrance with a sign-in sheet, name tags, and other materials to help families feel comfortable and prepared for the orientation. Make sure to include the child’s name on each parent’s name tag as this will make it easier for you, your staff, and other new parents to get to know each family.
3. Use a fun icebreaker to help parents get to know each other
Orientations are an excellent opportunity for families to meet each other too. The sooner new parents connect, the sooner they’ll feel a sense of community in your program.
Start your orientation with a fun activity, so parents have a chance to talk before the main portion of your agenda. Icebreakers can help your guests warm up to each other, feel more engaged, and help set the tone for the rest of the orientation.
Some examples of icebreaker activities are:
- Asking each family to introduce themselves and share what they’re most excited about for the new school year
- Human bingo, which will help families learn interesting facts about each other
- Dividing families into teams for a scavenger hunt that helps them get to know your center or school
- Asking each family a fun icebreaker question, such as what their favorite preschool snack was as a child
Your activity could be as simple as setting up a refreshment table and letting families eat and mingle for the first 15-20 minutes of the orientation. You don’t need to plan anything fancy, as long as you make space for families to connect!
4. Give a presentation on what new families should know before the first day of school
Many programs find it helpful to give a short presentation on what parents should know before the school year begins. Use a presentation format you’re comfortable with, whether it’s a speech, a slideshow, or a video. Your presentation can highlight your program’s unique offerings and benefits.
Your presentation might include:
- Your center’s background and teaching values
- An introduction of yourself and your staff
- Drop-off and pick-up procedures
- Curriculum overview
- Tuition policies
- Communication expectations and best practices
- How families can volunteer and get involved
- Any technology you’ll be using throughout the year, such as the brightwheel app
- Your family handbook
Finding different ways to present information will help keep families engaged throughout your preschool orientation program. You'll want to ensure that you print all materials beforehand. Along with the school handbook, you may consider publishing a sheet of important notes for families to help them retain the information shared.
5. Lead new families on a walking tour of your center
New families will be eager to get to know your facilities so they can better understand what their children’s daily activities will look like. A simple tour of your center can also help ease separation anxiety as both children and families will be familiar with the physical space when the first day of school arrives.
Guide your guests throughout your center and explain their children's activities in each designated area. As you lead the tour, remind parents how different parts of your classrooms facilitate different learning benefits, such as fine and gross motor development or creative expression.
If you run a larger center, you can ask your teachers to show parents around their classrooms or help lead other parts of the tour. Don’t forget to show families important outdoor spaces, such as your playground or drop-off and pick-up areas.
6. Set up teacher meet-and-greets so families can get to know your staff
Even if you include a teacher introduction during your presentation, it’s best to set up a time for families to meet your staff more personally. Connecting with teachers will help new families trust your program more and further engage with their children’s education.
Here are a few ideas for teacher meet-and-greets:
- Station each teacher in their own classroom. Let families explore the classroom and ask the teacher any questions they may have.
- Have each teacher give a short speech about their background and what they’re excited about for the new school year. Save time at the end for families to ask follow-up questions.
- If children will be present at your orientation, have teachers lead learning activities for families to participate in together. You can also create photo stations for teachers and children so families have a fun way to remember the orientation!
- Prepare “Meet the Teacher” printouts for families to take home. These sheets can include each teacher’s photo, contact information, a list of their favorite things that children can relate to (such as color, snack, and book), and a welcome note for the children.
7. Prepare for a Q&A at the end of your presentation
You’ll present a lot of information during orientation, so remember to allow plenty of time for Q&A at the end of your presentation or preschool orientation program.
To help you prepare, here is a list of common questions and their answers that parents may ask:
- What are the class sizes and teacher-to-child ratio? Parents would like to understand how many children will share the space with their child, as class size and ratio vary across age groups and schools.
- What time is drop off and pick up? Parents know that being on time for school is essential. They may ask this question to ensure they have transportation arrangements to get their child to school on time. At the same time, they'd also like to guarantee their child is picked up and brought home safely and on time.
- What is your educational philosophy or curriculum style? There are so many curriculum styles and ways to teach a classroom. STEM, Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Bank Street, and HighScope, to name a few, are some popular curriculum styles. Parents will be interested to understand how learning experiences are planned and how teachers will approach the material.
- How do you handle discipline? Like there are so many ways to teach, there are also many ways to discipline or guide children’s behavior. A parent asking this question may want to ensure your discipline style aligns with their values.
- What is your sick policy? Unfortunately, things happen, and everyone gets sick from time to time. You'll want to inform parents about your sick or health policy to answer this question. You can also share any COVID-related precautions and whether or not children and teachers have to wear a mask.
- Are parents allowed to visit the classroom? Parents love to see their children in action. Therefore, they may want to know if there are events and/or times when they can come and experience what their child is doing daily.
- What security measures do you have in place? Child safety is a parent's number one priority. When asking this question, parents may want to know who can pick up their child and how you will identify them, if the doors to the school are locked, or if there is a unique padlock code to access the school. They may even want to know if a security guard is on site.
- Are meals provided? Parents would like to be prepared and know if they need to pack any meals for their children. In addition, they may want to know if you provide breakfast, lunch, and snacks and, if not, what foods aren't allowed in the school or childcare center (e.g., some schools are nut and dairy free to protect children with allergies).
- What is the best way to communicate with teachers? There are so many ways to communicate. Some teachers prefer to communicate via email, the brightwheel app, or over the phone. Be sure to share this information with families.
8. Follow up with new families after your orientation
During your orientation, families will be busy taking in a lot of new information and may not remember everything they learned. Help them by sending a follow-up message reiterating the most important details they need to know before the first day of school.
If you took photos at your orientation, you can include them in your message and tell families how excited you are to start a new year with them. Don’t forget to remind them that you’re available for any questions they have in the meantime!
When school starts, continue engaging with families and providing important updates on their child's progress. With a tool like brightwheel's communication feature, you can share learning milestones like an activity they completed on their first day of preschool or an update on meal or nap time.
Start the new school year right
These preschool orientation tips can help you create an engaging, welcoming event for children and families. By offering a detailed tour, helpful handouts, and opportunities for parents to ask questions and connect with other families, you can help ease their transition into this exciting new phase of their lives.
A well-planned orientation can set the tone for positive and lasting relationships between your center, families, and children, creating a sense of community and collaboration.
Brightwheel is the complete solution for early education providers, enabling you to streamline your center’s operations and build a stand-out reputation. Brightwheel connects the most critical aspects of running your center—including sign in and out, parent communications, tuition billing, and licensing and compliance—in one easy-to-use tool, along with providing best-in-class customer support and coaching. Brightwheel is trusted by thousands of early education centers and millions of parents. Learn more at mybrightwheel.com