Whether this is your first Back to School Night or your third, it's an important evening, and you'll want to make the most of it. Think of Back to School Night as the instruction manual to kindergarten. Not only does it give parents a glimpse into the goals and expectations of the year ahead, it offers a sneak peak at some of the people and concepts that can help your kid succeed. Want to make the most of those crucial two hours or less? Here's how to get the most bang for your buck at Back to School Night.

Set Proper Expectations
The most basic function of Back to School Night is for teachers to lay out, in 45 minutes or less, what they'll be teaching for an entire year. They'll also introduce themselves, explain the homework policy, outline the discipline strategy, discuss field trips, and take questions from parents. Needless to say, that’s a lot of ground to cover. Make sure that you go into Back to School Night understanding that the parent's main role is to listen, not talk. If you do have a question it should be a general question, not a question specifically about your child. Otherwise, take notes about any concerns you may have as the teacher is talking. Then send in a note the next day, asking her to call you during the week.

Scope Out the Classroom
While you’re sitting in that little tiny, and I mean tiny chair that kindergarteners use, look around and take notice. You'll get a bird's eye view of the types of things your child will be working with day to day. While every classroom is different, kindergarteners typically use a variety of hands-on materials to learn concepts in math, reading, and writing. Look for things that would be easy to emulate at home, to give your child some extra practice. From labeled cabinets to get students used to seeing (and eventually reading!) words like "blocks" or "coats", to special setups for writing, Back to School Night is an excellent chance to gain insight into how to engage a young learner, from the people who know it best: teachers. Plus, knowing what's in the classroom provides a great conversation starter if your child isn’t so forth coming with details about what she did in school, for example, “I saw you have a basket of buttons in your classroom. Can you show me how you use them?”

Prepare to Network
Leave your shy self at home. This is one of the rare opportunities in the year that you will find so many parents in the room at the same time. Take advantage, and exchange phone numbers with several families for future play dates or possible childcare share arrangements. In the beginning of the year other families will also be looking to make new connections, so don’t be bashful. Not only will one-on-one time with classmates give your kid an opportunity to wade into the new social waters, it's an excellent chance for parents to make new friends as well. Having a set of other parents to call with transition-to-kindergarten jitters makes this big step into elementary school much easier. If you don't manage to get up the gumption to introduce yourself at Back to School Night, ask your child the names of some kids in the class that he might want to know better, and seek those parents out.

Fill Out the Paperwork
Many teachers hand out a questionaire for parents to fill out during Back to School Night. They'll want to gain some insight into your child's personality and how he learns. If the teacher doesn’t hand out a questionaire, consider writing something up yourself. It takes time to get to know 20 (or more) students. Take it upon yourself to write a note to your child’s teacher addressing any specific concerns you may have. For example, if your family has just had a major change happen such as a divorce, a move, illness, or a new sibling, you should share that information with the teacher as soon as possible. Information about your child’s personality is much appreciated as well. Maybe when your child gets angry or frustrated she needs some space before discussing the issue. A good teacher will figure it out soon enough, but a heads up is always nice. Just keep the note simple and to the point!

Sign On to Apprentice
Kindergarten teachers are notorious for pleading for parent help. And they mean it!  Kindergarten is one of the most hands-on, student centered, and messy grades there is. Back to School Night typically includes a signup sheet for classroom volunteers and many parents will grudgingly add their name to the list. Don't do it just to butter up the teacher. True, your presence in the room will be an enormous help to her and all the children in the class. But parents, it's good for you too!  Volunteering is an opportunity to get to really know how your child is doing: where she's struggling, where she shines, and everything in between. Plus, it's a great way to get to really know your child’s teacher, making him more available to you when you have questions or concerns. And last, but definitely not least, it's fantastic on the job training! A tremendous amount happens in kindergarten-- from learning to read, to learning to write. And you'll have a front row seat. You will learn the strategies your child’s teacher uses to help students grasp new concepts. Watching her teach will help you bring those concepts to life with your own child at home.

Kindergarten is a pivotal year. And your child's teacher is just one piece of the puzzle. As your child gets her feet wet this year with new skills like reading and writing, keep the learning going at home with fun activities that bring kindergarten skills to life.

Your child’s education is an important combination of home and school working together closely. Back to School Night is the first step in building a strong relationship between the two.