Every year around this time, my family is getting ready for back-to-school night. Now that I have children in high school, junior high, and elementary school, it’s always fun to see how this event is handled at the different levels. When I was teaching high school, we were very structured, with parents moving from class to class as though on a regular schedule; I think we had each group for ten minutes, just long enough to quickly review the syllabus and policies and send them off to the next class.

Regardless of the structure of back-to-school night at your school, there are a few things you can do to make the evening more engaging for students and their parents. A good place to start is having some manipulatives you’ll be using during the year out for parents to handle. Things like Unifix Cubes, Pattern Blocks, Ten-Frame Floor Mats and Fraction Tiles are always good choices.

If you want to go a step further, have an activity with the manipulatives for parents and students to do as they come into the room. This could be a simple center-based activity they do at the table, or a larger activity involving the whole group. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Unifix Bar Graphs

As parents and students come into the room, have them create a bar graph using Unifix Cubes. They can model any kind of data, but it’s best to keep it simple. Things like eye color, the color of the shirt they are wearing, or the month they were born make simple topics that will create a fun graph.

Pattern Block Symmetry

Give each table a few images showing one half of a symmetrical pattern block design and some pattern blocks. Challenge them to work together to sketch what they think the other half of the design looks like. Then have them use the pattern blocks to check by building the design.

2-Dimensional and 3-Dimensional Models

For middle and high school families, Geoboards or Geofix shapes can be a nice way to introduce manipulatives. Have parents and students model a two-dimensional or three-dimensional figure with the manipulatives. Depending on how much time you have, combine the two tools and use the Geoboard to create a two-dimensional representation of their three-dimensional model.

This year, try introducing manipulatives into your back-to-school night plans and engage both students and parents. Have a great school year!