How to prepare your center for the back-to-school season

As you prepare for “back-to-school” it’s important to make sure you have certain systems and procedures planned, besides making sure your facility is in top shape. Beyond making sure you are fully staffed for the fall, there are some ways that your center can stand apart from others by adding some thoughtful tasks to your “to do list.” 

Here are some ways you can prepare your center for “back-to-school” and ensure you are ready for the students, staff, and their families.

  1. Have an “open house” for any new and prospective families 🏫

Most centers have open house events to try to get enrollment up. While that is a good strategy, I recommend having an open house even if you are full with enrollments. Inviting new families and those considering enrollment to come tour the school, meet the staff, and interact with their children is a great way to show families what you’re all about. Have balloons, music playing, refreshments, and a simple activity in each room so that when you stop in to share about that space, there is a teacher in there ready to do a simple activity with the children while you chat. Make sure that whoever is doing the tour is knowledgeable, excited, and has great interpersonal skills. This would typically be the directors, but you can certainly have a teacher who fits the mold! Each classroom should be staged well and cleaned beautifully for these events. I suggest having an open house event in early August, and have some type of giveaway on their way out. 

  1. Deep clean 🧼

This is a given, but you will definitely want to have your center cleaned from top to bottom. Take the time in the summer to paint, replace furniture, fix spots, etc. Have teachers throw things away, declutter, and replace broken toys. Decluttering is so important since it can bring peace to a room.Take time to deep clean carpets, floors, and furniture. This makes all the difference for families. Have cubbies ready with names of students for the new school year to make it welcoming on their first day. 

Our general rule of thumb at my center is that if you use it every day, it can have its own place. If you only use it sporadically, it should be stored away. Piles of papers and supplies are unacceptable. Encourage your staff to be clean and tidy and maintain that even after September has come and gone.

  1. Update your website 🌐

New families are going to want all the information they can possibly have, and that should all be on your website.  Any necessary forms, supply lists, etc. should be accessible on your website. Update your photo gallery, and have a place for “new families” to click on so that it can provide answers for their questions. If you use an app like HiMama, be sure to have a link on your website to show what the app is like and how your center uses it.

  1. Offer a “trial” day before the first day 👩‍👦 

Something we love to do for new families, especially those who have children who have never been in a school setting before, is offer a few hours for them to practice dropping off and then leaving their child to experience the morning activities. This allows the parents to get a feel for what it will be like, and even practice what it will be like to travel during certain times of the day.  It gives them a chance to see how long it will take and also ease into the schedule. I usually offer two to three hours for this, and I do not charge the families for their time. During these hours, I ask parents to give me about 30 minutes to go over all of the enrollment forms to make sure their child’s file is complete. Not all centers offer this, and I really believe it adds a layer of care and compassion.

  1. Provide supply lists ✔️

It’s important to provide supply lists for parents, and to have it available on your website so that it is accessible at any time. Be specific in your supply list if you prefer a certain brand for a good reason. If you don’t specify, parents will get the cheapest option, which may not be helpful to you. I also recommend having a wish list in addition to what is required.  See this old post of mine on supply lists that I wrote for parents here to show you why they are so important!

  1. Host a “back-to-school” night for all enrolled families 🌙

Every September, our center has a mandatory back-to-school night for all families. During this evening, parents sit in on a brief “vision casting” moment with the director as a whole group. I take this time to go over what is important for everyone to hear. Then families are encouraged to visit their child’s classroom to hear all about what to expect from their child’s teachers. We offer two sessions so that parents can go to multiple teachers if they have more than one child OR they are curious about their child’s next teacher. We make this mandatory for all enrolled families. We feel it is so beneficial to families to meet their teachers in advance, while also giving parents an opportunity to meet each other. This starts the process of building a trusting and close knit community. For this special night, we ask that children do not attend.

  1. Have an impactful and inspiring teacher inservice 🧑‍🏫

The week before the new school year begins (even though we are a year round program) we close the school for two days, and it’s usually tacked onto our holiday weekend so that teachers have the day off on Monday. During these two inservice days, I am really intentional on making this not only a time for preparation, but also a time for rejuvenation. Sometimes we even have massage therapists come in and do 30 minute massages, or we offer yoga and meditation. I almost treat this time the same as Teacher Appreciation week. Our teachers are so vital to our program, and I always want them to know they are valued. We usually have team building as well as some training built in. I also give them plenty of time in their rooms to prepare (not just an hour or “if there’s time”).  We make sure we provide nice lunches, and we enter that weekend recharged and energized for the new school year ahead!

There are many ways to get the families ready for this time of year. But it really starts with getting your teachers geared up and excited. As my mentor always says, “vision drips down.” When the leadership has passion and excitement for the program, it will be contagious for those under that leadership, and it will drip down to the children and families. While everyone loves their summers, families are also excited to get back into routines and structure. Having your program ready to receive these families with a fresh vision and clear mission is key to a great start to the year. You’ve got this!

To learn more about how HiMama supports early childhood classrooms with expert-designed, research-backed and ready to use curriculum kits, click here!

Missy Knechel

Missy is a professor in the early childhood department at Eastern University and director of Victory Early Learning Academy, a childcare center that she started ten years ago. Prior to that, she taught Kindergarten and second grade for a total of 10 years. She has been married to her best friend, Jason, for 18 years, and together they have four beautiful children ages 8, 9, 12 and 13 in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA. In her spare time, Missy loves to bake, read historical fiction, sing karaoke and travel to Central America on short term missions.