It started out as a way to make decorations for our hallway. My teaching partner had the first room as you came in the door to the building with a big display window. Everyone passed by there and so we wanted to make it look festive for the holidays. We decided to set aside a day to make decorations and our parent gifts, and the tradition just continued from there. We did different things over the years, but our main purpose stayed the same—to do our parent gifts and decorate the building.
Step 1: Pick a date
We started by picking a date. We typically picked a Friday in late November/early December. This gave us enough time to have the decorations up and enjoy for the season, but not too early. Next, we informed the office, custodial staff, cafeteria, etc. and sent letters home to parents asking for volunteers and donations. A great thing about this project is that it is easy for all families to be involved. I had parents who came in and volunteered at a station, parents who came in to help set up, and others who couldn’t come in but were able to send in things or help prep materials at home. Having extra help is crucial!! If you don’t have great parent support, get creative! Are there specialists who could help?? How about university students or church/community volunteers? Maybe your own family members? Ideally, you would have at least one parent at each station. This way you are free to go to each station as needed—and trust me, you will be needed!
Step 2: Decide on projects
About two to three weeks prior to the event, decide on your projects. The amount of help and their level of expertise always helped guide my decisions. If we didn’t have much parent help, the projects were simple, so that they could be completed with little assistance. If I knew I had many parents who could help with more difficult crafts, then we did those. As I mentioned, we always did at least one craft, the parent gift, the photo booth and something to display—one for December and then, in later years, I added a project that could be put up right as we came back in January. We also had stations for early finishers. All of our holiday books were placed in a partner reading station, I had coloring pages and puzzles, and also enlisted student help with displays if they were done with their station but not ready for the next.
Step 3: Create a materials list
After you have decided on your projects, make a materials list. You can send home a letter asking for donations, purchase it yourself, or get items in your school supply order. For example, for years, part of our parent gift was a reindeer magnet, so I would order the slotted clothespins needed each year in my supply order. Once I knew this would be a regular event, I would also look for deals after Christmas for the following year. Craft kits from Michael’s or other craft stores were always a big hit as an early finisher and I could often pick them up for just a few dollars after Christmas and have enough for the entire class. For the photo booth, I used the photos to make cards, so each year I would look for the Christmas card stationery that allowed you to just slip a 4 x 6 photo into a frame for the front of the card. Again, I could get enough for a class set for just a few dollars after Christmas.
Step 4: Prep ahead
Prep ahead. If you have copies to make or materials to be cut and prepped, try to get these together at least two weeks prior to the event as well, so that you can send them home for parents to cut or prep for you. They often are glad to help and this is one thing you can take off of your plate at this busy time of year.
I always asked our wonderful custodians to set up extra tables in the hallway the night before. This way as projects were completed, we had a space to let them dry until we could hang them up. I also had a parent or two come in to help me set up the night before. We moved our classroom tables together to set up three stations in our classroom and then the photo booth was set up in the hallway. I had a parent with a list of partners in charge of taking all of the photographs and then printing them out and putting them in the cards. I was very fortunate that I had a parent who came back multiple years to help and it was always the project he did. I had another parent that put together our giant tree display (it was a floor to ceiling display!) each year. It was so nice to have that consistency!
In part 2 next week, I’ll talk about some of the projects I picked over the years and exactly how I structured the day. Until next week, happy teaching!
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