As soon as they arrived home from middle school last fall, Joe and Megan Montgomery knew something was wrong. A strong odor greeted them, which they traced to a pool of bleach, and their mom's purse lay spilled open on the kitchen floor.

Joe, now 14, promptly called his mom, Jan Montgomery, at work, where she is the vice president of a construction company. He told her the back door was unchained -- another clue a burglar had broken into the house and then tried to hide his tracks by spilling the bleach. She told Joe that he and his sister needed to leave right away.

What really scared Montgomery: "He shouldn't have [stayed in the house after] seeing the back door open," she said.

Had the children taken the "Home Alone" class that Megan, now 11, and her mom attended last month, Joe likely would have known better. The class, sponsored by Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville, teaches kids 8 to 11 how to read such warning signs and how to handle emergencies such as robbery, fire and injury.

Montgomery said the class, which each child attends with at least one parent or guardian, also encourages homework and hobbies like scrapbooking as alternatives to "vegging in front of the TV."

Said Ayesha Anwar, class facilitator, "That's why it's a parent-child class -- so they can open that communication channel" for brainstorming purposeful activities as well as emergency preparedness. Megan's favorite tip from the class, she said: "Not to be afraid when you're home alone."

To register for the Sept. 18, class, which will be held at the hospital from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., call 800-542-5096; for the Oct. 16, class, to be held at Gaithersburg Recreation Center from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., call 301-258-6350. Each class is $10 per parent-child pair; space is limited.

-- Samantha Ganey

Megan Montgomery and mom, Jan, act out home-safety roles.