Friday, 14th June 2024

Friday, 14th June 2024

8 ways to get more out of your school open house visits

03 Nov 2023

Image credit: Imagen
Image credit: Imagen

Secondary school open houses offer prospective students and their parents a glimpse into the school and its environment. What do you need to know before attending one with your child? Parents reflect on their experiences and share ways to maximise your school visits.

By Lim Jun Kang

For many parents, attending school open houses is a rite of passage when choosing a suitable school for their child. 

But with so much information available online and on social media these days, is an in-person school tour still worth the time and effort? 

Parents who have gone for open houses with their children say that the experience has helped them make more informed school choices. 

While online research and recommendations from family and friends can be helpful, what better way to understand what a school has to offer by touring the school grounds and facilities, meeting with the teachers and students? Some schools go further with their fairground atmosphere, complete with information kiosks, CCA performances and activity booths. 

Here are the top 8 parent tips on how to make the most of your open house visits. 

1. Start your research – and visits – a year in advance

Shocking but true. Because you are shopping around to make your list of six preferred schools, you may need more time to read up and make visits. 

After receiving the PSLE results, “there’s only one week to decide and rank the six school choices, but there was some overlap on the open houses’ dates and timings of the schools we wanted to check out,” says Ms Adeline Wong, whose son is now in Secondary 1.

“Attending all of them was not feasible, which is why I should have started the process when my son was in Primary 5.”

In the end, they managed to visit three schools in person and attended two other virtual open houses conducted over Zoom. The sixth choice was based off their friends’ feedback.

Another mum, Ms Ng Wee Fong, agrees with this advice. Although her son, who is currently in Primary 6, will enter Secondary 1 next year, they started attending open houses last year. She thinks it also prepares her son for what he was studying to achieve.

“Attending open houses must start in Primary 5. With an end-goal in mind, it sets the right mindset about working towards PSLE for themselves, and not for anyone else,” Ms Ng says. 

2. Get the family involved

Visiting a school’s open house is much like embarking on a shopping adventure. Just as we rarely rush into a store without knowing what you’re looking for, it’s equally important to do your homework prior to your visit. 

Ms Wong, together with her husband and son, had sat down together to shortlist a few schools in advance, through MOE’s online directory SchoolFinder. While they had a preferred school in mind, Ms Wong wanted to do her due diligence and make a more informed choice after visiting the remaining five schools. 

Online research is a good starting point to learn more about a school. For instance, the school’s website and even their social media platforms can give good insight on a school’s programme and environment. With that said, nothing beats the on-site open house experience that allows one to substantiate those findings and come with questions in mind to clarify.

“You must go prepared. Do your research and know the questions to ask the teachers, current students, or even other parents during your visit,” says Ms Ng. 

3. It’s important to seek your child’s input

Ms Joselyn Lin, whose child is completing Secondary 1 this year, says that it is important for parents to have a conversation with their child even prior to any open house visits. This helps them to understand their child’s expectations of their upcoming secondary school journey.

“I felt that my son should also understand his expectations for secondary school. For example, what he aspires to achieve or even the co-curricular activities he is enthusiastic about exploring,” she says.

This helps the child to be more objective-driven when visiting an open house, so that they know what to look out for.

4. Check out the subjects offered… 

As Ms Ng and her son were shortlisting their school choices, they had a simple yet important objective.

“I look out for information on the subjects offered by the school and DSA talent areas, to gather what is important to that school. This helps me to assess whether my child fits the school’s culture,” Ms Ng explains. Her son was curious about exploring the field of coding, and thus schools that did offer the subject were then shortlisted. 

5. …and don’t forget the CCAs!

Co-curricular activities (CCAs) are a quintessential aspect of school life. Ms Ng and her son was focused on learning more about the CCAs the schools offered such as basketball and table tennis, which her son was keen in, as she felt that her child will eventually spend a sizable amount of time after school in the activity or with his CCA mates.  

6. The day is here! Plan your route from school to school 

Even as she started a year earlier when her child was in Primary 5 last year, it required meticulous planning of the “optimal” route to take, Ms Ng quips.

Prioritising quality over quantity is her strategy, she says, to schedule a maximum of three visits in a day, starting with the top choice of school.

“If time is not in our favour by the time we get to our second choice, we will skip the formal talk by the principal (as we can get information from the school’s website) and head to the CCA booths or ask the students and staff questions directly.”

In her case, Ms Ng and her son looked out for “the vibes”, or the atmosphere that one senses in a place. “How the school structures the programmes, chatting with the student –ushers, teachers at the subject booths or even students at the CCA booths – a lot can be gathered about the school just by experiencing how they conduct the open house,” she says.

7. Don’t just collect brochures, talk to people

With her son now completing Secondary 1, Ms Lin recalls how his school choice was influenced by their open house experience.

“Apart from the school’s history, the culture and values were evident through the enthusiasm of the students and staff in showcasing their school. (The open house) was a valuable opportunity to witness the school’s vibrant environment and its facilities first-hand,” she shares.

Recalling their interaction with students at the CCA booths, Ms Lin says, “We could see how they were all bubbly and able to answer our questions with confidence, and that impressed us.” 

Sometimes, the best way to find out how your own child will experience life as a student at that school, is by speaking to the current students. How are they enjoying school, as will your child if he or she enrols?

8. Decision time! 

After all that information gathering, it’s time to sit down with your child to make the final shortlist, say all three parents. As parents, while they had their own school preferences, Ms Lin says she took her son’s final feedback carefully as he was  the one who was going to spend the next few years at the chosen school. 

“The choices should align with your child’s interests and aspirations. Listen to your child’s preferences before offering advice and discussing school choices,” she says.

“As the saying goes, seeing is believing,” Ms Ng concurs. “My own objective was achieved, when my child was able to formulate his own list of preferred schools after the various open house visits.”

Check out the list of Secondary School’s Open Houses in 2023:

Open House for Secondary Schools 2023

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