How to Create a Successful Parent Open House
by Victoria Giulianelli
Our parish successfully completed its first Faith Formation Open House for grades K- 5. We chose a theme for our unique open house: "We are on a mission to change one heart at a time."
Our parish successfully completed its first Faith Formation Open House for grades K- 5. We chose a theme for our unique open house: “We are on a mission to change one heart at a time.” This theme clearly states the focus of our ministry: The heart of the child is at the center of the catechetical process. This article explains how we applied the theme to create a memorable experience for the children and their parents and catechists.
The Basic Components
The success of our open house began several weeks before the event—with a two-part catechetical session that all catechists presented to their students. This two-part session is critical to creating the environment and demonstrating the theme of the open house. Be sure to read the details of the session (see “Two-Part Session” below), collect sufficient material for the activity, and have every child make a self-portrait cut-out for the event. These “little people,” as the students called them, are essential to the open house experience.
Our open house involved both parents and their children. The children went to their classrooms to be with their catechists while the parents gathered for a preliminary meeting, the parents’ session, in the gym. This served as an orientation for the parents to get a sense of what the evening involved.
Opening Prayer: Something like, Loving God, our word of life gives us a new birth. May we receive it with open hearts, share it with one another, live it with joy, and express it in love. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. All: Amen.
Welcoming: Faith Formation Director or Coordinator offers brief welcoming comments.
Pastor’s remarks: It is important that your pastor also welcome the parents and affirm their commitment to the faith formation of their children.
Overview (presented by the DRE or Coordinator): This overview explains the parish program and policies. It helps parents see the vision of your parish program. Take some time to present your theme for the year and to explain its significance. Then highlight the commitment and dedication that the volunteers in the program give each week in preparing material and teaching children. Be sure to emphasize the yearly formation and education opportunities that your volunteers pursue. (An ongoing slide presentation of students in class during recent weeks or from last year is a nice touch of atmosphere and is enjoyed by all.)
Invitation: Close the session with an invitation to the parents to go to their children’s classroom. Be sure to have on hand a log or chart that indicates what room each child is in, in the event there are parents who don’t know where to go.
Parents’ classroom visit
Welcome and overview: Catechists welcome parents and offer a brief overview of what the children have been and will be learning. Catechists might want to display the texts and other learning materials they use.
Introduction of the self-portrait cut-outs: The catechists instruct the children to locate their self-portrait cut-outs (perhaps displayed on a bulletin board) and to explain how they were created and what they mean. Sufficient time should be allowed for the children to discuss their self-portraits with their parents.
All are invited to return to the gym for refreshments. Hospitality at the end of this event is important because parents will take the time to give immediate feedback regarding their experience.
Feedback from our Faith Formation Commission, catechists, children, and parents indicated that our open house was a success due to attendance, children’s enthusiasm in creating the self-portraits, and the parents’ positive feedback about the feeling of belonging to a caring and welcoming parish.
Especially touching and memorable were some of the answers and discussions surrounding the questions the children had to answer in the two-part session. One catechist reported two heartfelt responses. One child said that her father, now deceased, was the first one to teach her about God. Another child, who is now adopted, recalled that it was her biological mother who first told her about God and how much he loved her. Another catechist noted, “If we teach nothing else this whole year, the three questions in the session coupled with parental contact made this event a great success because we reached our children’s hearts and the parents’ hearts!”
Preparation and Materials Needed
* Send a letter to parents announcing the open house (at least two weeks in advance). Also place an announcement in the parish bulletin.
* Give a copy of the two-part session to every catechist and be sure they have the material they will need so that each child completes a self-portrait cut-out:
a. Self-portrait cut-outs, one for each child. Use the template provided HERE and copy it (enlarged) on construction paper or card stock, or purchase cut-outs from a craft store or art supply company.
b. Materials to decorate self-portrait cut-outs (crayons, paint, markers, perhaps glitter, wiggle eyes, yarn for hair, etc.).
c. Heart cut-outs made from card stock or construction paper. These can be made ahead of time by catechists and assisting parents. Hearts must be large enough for the children to write on but small enough to fit onto the self-portrait cut-outs.
* Be sure to provide light and wholesome snacks and beverages. You might want to ask a parish organization to take responsibility for this part of the event.
Part I: Introduce the Self-Portrait Cut-Out
The objective of Part I is to teach the children that God loves them and made them in his image, and that their parents were the first ones to teach them about God.
Opening prayer: Use an age-appropriate account of Creation from the Book of Genesis: God created the heavens and the earth, and created human beings in his image.
Activity: Give a self-portrait cut-out to each student as well as materials to decorate. Have students create self-portraits, embellishing them with wiggle eyes, yarn for hair, etc. Show the students examples of a completed self-portrait. Tell them to have fun recreating themselves!
Part II: The Child’s Heart
The objective of Part II is to help students realize that their parents are their primary teachers in learning about God.
Opening prayer: Use the same reading that was used last week and review what the students learned about being made in the image of God. If necessary, allow students time to finish their self-portraits.
Activity: Write the questions below on the board or a flip chart, read each one, and share responses. Then give each student a heart cut-out and have them write their responses to the questions on the heart. (For primary grades, you or class assistants may need to write the answers for the children, or encourage them to draw pictures as answers.)
1. Who was the first person to talk to you about God? (Most children named their parents; some answered “the priest” or “my teacher.”)
2. What did this person say to you? (Most children will respond “God loves me” or “I am special.”
3. What can you do to help others know about God? (Offer examples: pray; give donations; pick up toys; help with dishes; help with chores.)
Have students decorate their heart cut-outs and then paste them onto their self-portrait cut-outs. Display the self-portraits in your classroom in a way that the children can easily access them for discussion with their parents at the open house.
Victoria Giulianelli is the Director of Faith Formation and the Director for Youth Ministry at Assumption/St. Paul Parish in Mechanicville, NY. She has been involved in faith formation for over 25 years. Victoria holds a bachelor of arts degree in theology as well as a juris doctor degree.
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