Taryn's Unique Learning Email Facebook Instagram Pinterest Bloglovin TPT Store Home About Me TPT Shop Freebies Contact

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

7 Ideas for Making Student Birthdays Special

As a teacher in the primary classroom, you probably already know how important student birthdays are. Celebrating student birthdays helps cultivate a sense of community in the classroom and makes each kiddo feel special! If you're looking for ways to make celebrating a doable part of the routine, come along to see some of my favorite ways to make student birthdays special! 

Use these 7 ideas for making student birthdays special in your classroom this year.

Why Celebrating Student Birthdays Matters

Before we dive into my ideas for making student birthdays special, let's chat about the why behind this! Chances are, if you're a classroom teacher you probably love being part of a community. 

Build community and help each and every student feel special by making student birthdays a special celebration throughout the school year.
Teachers play a vital role in cultivating a sense of community in the classroom, and celebrating with students is a great way to do so. 

Aside from helping to strengthen your classroom community, celebrating also offers an opportunity for students to feel special. Young children love having a day that's all their own. While many students will be celebrating at home with their families, not every child will get to do so. Taking time to recognize them in your classroom will help them to feel valued and cared for. 

And finally, celebrating birthdays is just plain fun! Once you've got a routine in place for birthdays, they will become a joyful experience rather than a disruption to routine. Your students will love it and I'm willing to bet it will put a smile on your face too! 

Now, onto my favorite ways to celebrate student birthdays in the primary classroom! 

1. Start the Day with a Crown 

In my opinion, every student needs a birthday crown! 

Create a simple birthday crown like this to help make student birthdays extra special for each student.
When I was still in the classroom, I always took a few minutes to make students a simple crown to kick off the day. 

For this, I took a piece of long construction paper folded in half lengthwise. Then, cut a jagged crown shape. It doesn't need to be perfect so don't stress about this!

Finally, take your 2 pieces and staple them together to make a large band. 

Write "Happy Birthday" with the student's name across the front and staple it to size when they arrive. You can also decorate it with a few stickers if you'd like to jazz it up a bit. Students love wearing these on their special day! 

2. Read a Birthday Book 

Books like these are a great way to make student birthdays special with a themed read aloud for birthdays.
In my classroom, I had a collection of birthday-themed read-aloud books. I kept them in a birthday gift bag and on a student's birthday, I'd have that child pick a book. There are tons of great books out there but here are some of my personal faves:

Whenever I saw an inexpensive birthday book in the Scholastic flyer, at a yard sale, or thrift store, I would grab it and add it to my collection. This is a really fun way to start the day during your morning meeting! 

3. Sing The Happy Birthday Song

In my classroom, I had this really fun, interactive birthday chart that we used every time someone had a birthday. 

Create a fun chart like this to help your students sing Happy Birthday to make students birthdays special.
Mine was shaped like a cake that had sentence strips with the lyrics for the "Happy Birthday Song" on it. 

On the morning of a birthday, I would add the special student's name and we'd sing along as I pointed to each word. 

If you don't have a chart like this, try setting up something similar in a pocket chart or making your own poster. You can make a large birthday cake shape or just grab a piece of poster board.  Write out the birthday song leaving a blank space where the name would go. Then laminate the poster for durability so you can use it for many years. 

Then, on the morning of a birthday simply write the student's name in the blank using a dry-erase marker.  You can also create a name card for each student and connect them to the poster using sticky velcro dots.

It's a really easy way to make kids feel special.  

4. Celebrate with More Birthday Songs   

In my room, we sang a lot of songs throughout the year. We used them in regular lessons, and especially to celebrate fun holidays and birthdays! Our favorite birthday song was by Greg and Steve. I'm pretty sure you can't buy their CDs anymore, but I found it on YouTube if you'd like to try this one in your classroom! 

When we sing, the birthday boy or girl gets to stand at the front of the room and hold a cake.  They also get to answer the questions from the song during the musical pause.  The lyrics ask for the name and age. Then for the big finale, the student gets to pretend to blow out the candles when we get to that part of the song. 

In my classroom, I had a small inflatable cake that was perfect for this. I haven't been able to find a similar mini cake, but a wooden one like this Melissa and Doug set would also be fun to place on display for the day. This is a great way to celebrate as a class if you're not allowed to have food in your classrooms. 

5. Make a Plan for Treats

Speaking of food in the classrooms, it's a good idea to map out your plan for birthday goodies. 

While candy and snacks may not be an option when celebrating student birthdays non-edible treats like these are pretty amazing too.
In my school, we had a no-food policy due to allergies. This meant that if parents wanted to send in a treat, they needed to be individually wrapped or bagged items that could be sent home. 

I had my birthday kiddo distribute these in student mailboxes at the end of the day. I also encouraged parents to bring decorative pencils, stickers, mini toys, and small party favors instead of food so that everyone can enjoy them, regardless of allergies! 

If you are allowed to have food in your classroom I would suggest creating a policy and informing parents at the beginning of the year.  The last thing you want is to be surprised with an unexpected birthday party in the middle of your math lesson.

Your policy should clearly state what type of food items are allowed under your school or district policy, what time the parents should bring the treats, and ask for the parents to notify you in advance when they plan to send a treat so that you can make sure the schedule is adjusted for that time.

6. Use a Birthday Box 

I loved using a fun birthday "treasure box" for student birthdays. 

A prize box like this is an extra way to help your kiddos celebrate student birthdays.
I used a sturdy, lidded box that was decorated with wrapping paper. This type of box works well because it looks festive, but the lid comes on and off easily. This box was special and only came out on birthdays.  

If you have a treasure box in your classroom, I would suggest keeping them separate and have different items in your birthday box.  That will keep it feeling extra special all year long.

I filled the box with all kinds of small treasures from the dollar store like stencils, bubbles, crayons, bracelets, matchbox cars, and other trinkets. 

You can often find piƱata-type prizes like these in the party section of stores like Walmart and Target too!

After singing Happy Birthday, I always let the student choose a gift from the birthday box. Everyone was always SO excited to see what they picked!

7. Make a Birthday Book 

Have you ever made birthday books in your classroom? 

Help your students remember their special day with a sweet student birthday book like this.
This idea is a little out of the ordinary birthday celebration and so much fun to complete as a class! 

I have each birthday student complete a "birthday application" form and the rest of the class completes a page for the book all about the birthday child. The idea here is that everyone will write something special about the birthday boy or girl. 

Once all of the pages are complete, you will bind the application and pages in order then present the book as a keepsake to the birthday child. 

This is such a fun way to recognize them and make them feel special! They will love flipping through the book for years to come. 

Have Fun Celebrating 

I hope you enjoyed these ideas to help make celebrating student birthdays a snap! With a routine like this one in place, you'll be able to make every child feel special on their birthday. If you're looking for more fun activities to add to your daily routines, be sure to check out my TPT shop for ideas! 

Save This Post 

Pin this post on Pinterest to keep these ideas for student birthdays at your fingertips. 

Looking for fun ways to make your student birthdays extra special this year? Here are 7 fantastic ideas to help you celebrate each and every one of your students this year on their special day. #tarynsuniquelearning #celebratingstudentbirthdaysintheclassroom

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

6 Cozy Staff Appreciation Ideas for Winter

Winter is a great time to recognize staff members at your school. This time of year can feel a little drab and gloomy. Help brighten things up with fun and unexpected staff morale boosters! Whether you're looking for staff morale activities that are non-holiday related or need some cozy staff appreciation ideas for January, I've gotcha covered! Let's dive into 6 fun ideas you can use this winter!

Implement these cozy staff appreciation ideas for happy teachers this winter.

The Importance of Staff Appreciation 

Teachers, school administrators, and staff members are a special kind of people. The members of this group usually have big hearts, a giver's mentality, and a deep dedication to showing up for our kids. 

With the hustle and bustle of the holidays over, it's time to remind your staff how much you appreciate them with thoughtful staff appreciation goodies this winter.
These people are changing the future and deserve to be recognized for that! While there are specific days of the year geared towards teacher and staff appreciation, I'd argue that this is something we should practice all year long for strong school morale! 

Aside from being appreciative to staff, there are even more benefits to boosting morale. We all know that happy staff members are more likely to create a productive work environment for our students. This can help sustain the overall health and social climate of your school, even in these changing times. 

Winter is an especially good time to lean into fun staff appreciation ideas. After the holidays have come and gone, things can feel a little dreary, and staff need a little sunshine in their days! 

These winter-themed staff appreciation ideas are just the thing to make teachers and staff smile and show them how much they are valued for their daily efforts!

1. January Scratch-Off Tickets 

Do staff meetings feel a little lackluster in your building lately? If so, I have just the thing to perk up your team! These January Scratch-Off Tickets are aimed at building excitement for meetings while awarding staff for their daily hard work. Talk about a win-win! 

Use scratch-off tickets like these for an extra special staff appreciation goodie which includes prizes your teachers will love.
This resource uses a fun winter theme on each ticket and allows staff members to uncover a prize. Give these out at your staff meeting and watch the smiles spread across the room! Some of the prizes include:
  • prime parking spots 
  • recess coverage 
  • prepped copies 
  • jeans day and more! 
These are low-cost, easy-to-make staff appreciation tokens with gifts that faculty will actually want to receive. Use them as prizes during your meeting or hand them out to all attendees. 

The resource includes two options for printing including information on pre-made scratch-off paper as well as a DIY version so you can choose what works best for your school. 

2. Winter Staff Appreciation Board

What better way to recognize staff than to "shout out" a job well done? 

A staff appreciation board like this is a great way to showcase all the awesomeness going on where everyone can see.
This winter staff appreciation bulletin board is a great way to spruce up your staff lounge after all of the holiday decorations have been taken down! 

This resource includes headings, decorative accents, and staff recognition tags to make this project simple and easy to put together. 

Simply add some wintry-themed paper and border to your board, add accents and headings, and then fill out the cards with personalized recognition for staff members. 

You can have staff recognize each other for a job well done, or principals and administrators can write encouraging notes for each person in the building. Then, all you have to do is put them on display for everyone to see and enjoy.

Either way is a great option to show staff that their good deeds are valuable and appreciated! 

3. Staff Snowflake Hunt 

Ready for something a little different this winter? You'll love this next staff appreciation idea! This morale-boosting activity involves a guessing game to find snowflake erasers or table scatter that have been distributed to staff members. 
Turn staff appreciation into a game with a fun snowflake hunt activity like this.

The idea behind the game is to determine who has a snowflake and acquire one for yourself before it's over! Staff will try and guess who has a snowflake and "steal" it away. The game is played throughout a previously determined day and when the time is up, prizes are distributed.  

You can even play more than once if you'd like by choosing different types of prizes for each day. One day you might have school supply-themed prizes, the next could be candy and food, and the third could be acts of service. 

The sky is the limit on this one and it just adds a bit of fun to an otherwise ordinary day. Staff will love shaking things up with this game this winter!

4. Winter Shout-Out Decorations

Are you looking for a fun and simple way to decorate staff lounges and prep areas this winter? 

Shout out decorations like these are a great way to show staff appreciation in a fun and unique way.
You'll love these Staff Shout-Out Decorations that are aimed at showing appreciation for your team! 

Use these printable signs to decorate bathroom mirrors, bulletin boards, the staff lounge, and more. 

Each sign has a fun and motivational winter saying that will make staff smile and add a bit of seasonal flair to your building.  

These would also be fun to print in bulk and leave in the staff lounge with a supply of pens. Staff members can jot down notes to each other on the back and leave them in mailboxes or post them on classroom doors throughout the month to show appreciation for each other. 

Recognizing things like patience, kindness, tidy classrooms, and prompt arrival goes a long way in making staff feel valued and part of a great team! 

5. Soup Luncheon Potluck

This next option is my absolute favorite winter potluck idea! Have you ever hosted a soup luncheon? The idea behind this is that everyone signs up for and brings different soups to school to share. This one takes a bit of planning, but it's well worth it in my opinion. 
Organize a soup luncheon potluck as a way to celebrate your teachers and as a fun and cozy staff appreciation opportunity.

To host this event, put out the sign-up sheets in advance and allow everyone to sign up for different soups. You could also have each team decide on the soup they will bring. If possible, try to encourage a certain number of specific types to allow for variety. You might ask for a few vegetarian options, a few chili-style soups, and maybe a few cream-based soups to offer a little something for everyone! And... don't forget to include salad, bread and/or crackers if you'd like to have those options.

On the day of, set up a few tables with power strips for everyone to plug in their crock pots full of soup. I also recommend using signs and labels to make sure everyone knows what is what. The soups can simmer away and warm up all morning long. 

When lunch rolls around, everyone will be excited to taste the different soups and enjoy them with crusty bread or crackers. This soup potluck is the perfect activity to help staff feel warm and cozy in the winter! Check out this resource for everything you need to successfully host this event! 

6. Frosty Friday Treat

I saved the best for last! If you're looking to treat staff members, you'll love this Frosty Friday Treat! 

Get a local business involved in staff appreciation with a fun Friday treat like this.
This idea involves coordinating with your local Wendy's restaurant to get all of your team members a delicious frosty. If you don't have a Wendy's near you, consider alternatives that would work as a good swap. In my opinion, any type of ice cream, milkshake, or other frozen dessert would make a perfect alternative! 

Hang up signs around the school in staff areas the week you plan to have treats available. This way, all staff members will know they can swing by the lounge during lunch to pick up their frosty treat! 

This is a great token of appreciation for staff at the end of the month to recognize their hard work and let them know they are valued in your school. 

Everyone loved Frosty Friday at my school, and I know your staff members will too! 

Staff Appreciation Winter Bundle 

Are you having a hard time choosing a favorite in this round-up of winter staff appreciation ideas? If so, check out the BUNDLE, which includes all 6 resources! This bundle will help ensure you're keeping your staff motivated and excited to come to work all winter long, without having to spend hours planning and prepping. 

Grab this bundle for low prep printable staff appreciation ideas you can use all winter long.

These ideas make staff appreciation simple and easy to incorporate into your monthly routine. Have fun celebrating your staff this winter and don't forget, a little sunshine is all it takes to make your school feel cozy and your staff feel appreciated! 

Save these Winter Staff Appreciation Ideas! 

Save this post on your favorite Staff Appreciation Pinterest board so that you'll be armed with fun ideas to boost staff morale all winter long!

Looking for fun and cozy staff appreciation ideas for the winter months? These 6 staff appreciation ideas and resources come with everything you need to plan amazing ways to show your staff how much they mean to you and the school community this winter. #tarynsuniquelearning #staffappreciationideasforwinter #winterstaffappreciation #staffappreciationideas

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Create a Staff Morale Hub to Spread a Little Sunshine!

Building and keeping staff morale strong is a direct result of continued action throughout the year. This ongoing process does require effort, but it's well worth it to make your staff feel appreciated on a daily basis. One of my best tips for making it a little easier is creating a Staff Morale Hub or Staff Sunshine Corner at your school. Set this up once and watch as your staff form meaningful bonds and connections throughout the year! 

Learn how to create a staff morale hub with these easy to implement tips and simple resources you can put into use starting today.

What is a Staff Morale Hub? 

First off, if you're wondering what I'm talking about, let me explain. 

A staff morale hub, also known as a staff sunshine corner, is a central location where staff can go to find goodies and notices related to them. 

A staff morale hub is a central location in your school where you can include anything and everything to show your staff how much you appreciate them throughout the year.
Ideally, it should be a little corner that's big enough for a cart or table, and have a bit of wall space for displays. This area is usually outside of the principal's office, or in the staff lounge so it's easy to access and most staff see it regularly. 

The idea behind a staff morale hub or staff sunshine station is to have a place where staff can find things that will encourage them, thank them, support them, and overall help boost morale. 

Holiday event notices should be here, as well as sign-ups for potlucks, and even special treats! As the coordinator for the Sunshine Committee for many years at my school, I loved getting this area set up because it was one of the best ways to make staff feel appreciated on a daily basis. 

Set-Up & Materials

Before we can decorate and add all the goodies, you'll want to make sure you have an area that will work. Talk to your principal and/or other administrators about where a good spot for this might be. Then, you'll want to make sure you have a couple of clear walls. Corner spots work well for this purpose! And finally, you'll want to secure some kind of table or cart to place everything on. 

In my school, we used a large media cart for this job. It was tall enough to be table height, had storage space underneath, and was easy to roll in and out! 

What Goes in a Staff Morale Hub? 

Now, on to the fun stuff, stocking your staff morale hub! This is the really fun part, where you get to instill personality and plenty of sunshine into your Staff Morale Hub. Remember, the idea is to help staff feel appreciated, supported, and like they're all part of one big family. Being intentional in choosing materials that will support that goal is key.  Here are 13, fun things I recommend stocking your Staff Sunshine Corner with for maximum effectiveness:

1. Staff Bulletin Board 

On the large wall behind your cart, I recommend using a bulletin board or making a mock one on the wall. This comes in handy for hanging important notices, event posters, and even fun memes to make the staff laugh.
Use a staff bulletin board or shout-out board as part of your staff morale hub to keep information and celebrations in a centralized location.

In the spirit of spreading sunshine, I always used bright and happy colors for this along with a fun header like this one. Feel free to get creative with this and add seasonal decor too! These small touches help bring your staff morale hub to life. 

2. Staff Shout-Out Board

If you happened to secure a corner for your staff morale hub, I recommend using the smaller wall on the side of your table or cart of a Staff Shout-Out Board. This simple idea encourages staff to recognize each other for acts of kindness and service. it has a way of snowballing and spreading sunshine like crazy too! 

To prep this, print out a staff shoutout board here and provide staff with post-its and markers. You can even print it poster size and place it in a large frame if you want to go the extra mile. Then, add a few notes to get the ball rolling and watch the shout-outs multiply. 

3. District Calendar 

While the staff morale hub is mostly for spreading sunshine and boosting morale, it should also be practical. Adding a district calendar to your main bulletin board is a must! You can also add any important notices specific to your district as well. Make sure to set a reminder to swap these out seasonally, if needed!

4. Check-In Sunshine Corner

This can be used for lots of different things, but it seems like it's most often used for sign-ups. 

A check in sunshine corner is a great addition to your staff morale hub because it gives you a dedicated space to keep announcements and sign ups for your staff.
At my school, we had a lot of events, so whatever was upcoming was always placed on the Sunshine Corner bulletin board. 

That way staff could quickly check and see if they were interested in participating. 

Some schools also require a daily check-in for staff. 

In which case, this Sunshine Corner bulletin board would be perfect for that! 

This helps to get staff to the area daily and they can take a quick peek at the board and see what's coming up. 

5. Basket of Blank Thank You Notes

This is such a simple add-on to your staff morale hub but it truly makes a world of difference! Grab a basket or bucket and fill it with blank Thank-You cards. I found a bunch at the dollar store. Then, as staff need them, they can grab a card or two to use. Over the years, I found that staff often brought in their own cards to donate as well and spread the gratitude!

6. Staff Address Book 

Include a staff address book in your staff morale hub for anyone who wants to send notes, thank you cards, or special gifts to staff throughout the year.
At one point, our district stopped sharing staff contact information. 

At my school, we were used to sending cards to each other at various times throughout the year, so I made a Staff Address Book for anyone who wanted to participate. 

The Staff Sunshine Corner is a great place to store this book in case anyone wants to send a thank you note, holiday card, or get well card to a staff member. 

7. Staff Favorites Book

The Staff Morale Hub is also a great place to store a Staff Favorites Book. This is a binder or booklet filled with forms that share everyone's favorite things. Some of the items on the list include favorite hot drinks, fast food, candy, pens, and more! I always passed out these forms at the beginning of the year, then filled up a binder and left this out for staff to access as needed. 

8. Candy Bowl 

Goodies of some kind are another must for this area, in my opinion! At my school, my principal liked to take on the responsibility of keeping this stocked. You can also fund this in other ways as well, or take turns filling it by grade level. No matter what you choose, it's nice to have a little treat available for staff at all times in the staff morale hub. 

9. Staff Birthday Display 

I don't know about you guys, but our school LOVED celebrating birthdays! 

A staff morale hub with a birthday bulletin board is a great way to help everyone remember special birthdays throughout the school year.
In my school, I always made sure there was a spot on the bulletin board for the current monthly birthday display, as well as the bound birthday book. 

We all know how busy the school year gets. So, when we can take a minute to show your staff that you remember their special day it makes a big impact on morale!

As an extra special bonus, the bound book was a way to peek at upcoming birthdays and the display showed the ones for the current month.

Our staff always loved seeing whose birthday was coming up, and then flipping through the Staff Favorites Book to surprise them with something they enjoyed! 

10. Kindness Plates 

This area is also a great spot to store some Kindness Plates for staff to pass around. If you've never heard of them before, they're easy and fun to use. Here's the idea: a Kindness Plate gets filled with a special treat, lunch, office supplies, or other fun goodies. Then it gets left for a teacher or staff member. That person gets to enjoy everything on the plate, and then it's their turn to fill it and gift it to someone else. 

At my school, we had 5 Kindness Plates in rotation all year long. Our rule of thumb was that once you received it, the kindness plate would be filled up again and passed on within a week. This is a fun way to encourage staff members, say thank you, or just spread a little sunshine!

11. Staff BINGO 

A BINGO style activity like this is a great addition to your staff morale hub because it creates a fun daily check in activity for your staff.
This next idea takes up a fair bit of wall space, but it's great to display in an adjacent area to your Staff Sunshine Corner. 

Staff BINGO is a fun way to reinvigorate your team and recognize them for all the things they do. 

Each page on the large BINGO board lists something the staff might do in their daily work. 

Each day they check the board and see if they completed anything on the board. 

If they did, they signed their name in that spot. The idea is to get 5 in a row to get a BINGO! 

This ongoing game is a lot of fun, and if you use Astrobrights paper it really brightens up a room too! 

12. Collection Envelope for Staff In Need 

This is an extra added touch, that hopefully you won't need. In the case that you have a staff member who is very sick, in the hospital for an extended amount of time, or otherwise in need, you can start a collection envelope. This is where staff can leave monetary donations to help the staff member and their family out. Staff might also want to drop encouraging notes here as well!

13. Random Acts of Kindness Tear-Offs 

Last but not least, we all need a few more random acts of kindness in our lives, don't we?! 
Get your staff excited about spreading kindness with these random acts of kindness tear off posters to include in your staff morale hub.

This is one of my favorites on the list because it promotes genuine and kind acts among staff that seem to boost morale more than anything else. 

These tear-off posters offer simple prompts that staff can choose from to pay it forward in some way. 

It's as simple as tearing or cutting off a prompt and taking it with you to remind yourself to make someone else's day extra special.

The prompts include things like bragging about the principal, filling the candy bowl, bringing a colleague a special treat, or bringing a vase of fresh flowers for the lounge. 

These small acts pay off BIG, and staff love grabbing them as they pass the Staff Morale Hub!

Use a Staff Sunshine Corner All Year 

So what do you think? Could your school benefit from a Staff Morale Hub or a Sunshine Corner? I sure think so! This project takes a little time to prepare, but I know you'll LOVE it once it's set up. Working with administrators, your principal, or the Sunshine Committee is a great way to get this set up in your school and reap the benefits of it all year long! 

If you're looking for more ideas on spreading sunshine and boosting staff morale, be sure to check out these posts too:

Save This Post 

Pin this post on Pinterest to keep these ideas for your Staff Morale Hub handy! 

Use a staff morale hub in your school as a way to celebrate your staff and show your appreciate throughout the entire school year. A centralized location in the break room, lunch room, or school office is a great place for a staff morale hub. Use these tips and tricks to set up an amazing staff morale hub in your school this year. #tarynsuniquelearning #staffmoralehub #staffmoraleideas

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Engaging Monthly Literacy Centers for the Primary Classroom

If you're a teacher in the primary grades you already know how important center time is! This is where the magic happens and rubber meets the road with daily practice. Having many opportunities to practice important skills is key to success! As a veteran classroom teacher, I found this to be especially true for literacy concepts. Our kiddos need ongoing practice with phonics, and monthly literacy centers are the best way to make it fun! 

Use these exciting monthly literacy centers in your classroom for fun hands-on learning activities your students will love during the month of December!

What Are Monthly Literacy Centers?

Wondering what I mean by monthly literacy centers? I'm talking about activities that will help your students master important phonics skills on a monthly basis. We all know that practice makes perfect, but the key to helping your students actually want to practice is engaging activities! 

Students are engaged by the holiday and seasons so use this to help them practice key skills.
In my room, I loved to tie in holiday and seasonal themes to our monthly learning to help make repetitive tasks more fun. That way, we could target some familiar skills month after month, without center time getting boring. Some of the skills we focused on in literacy centers include:
  • letter recognition 
  • letter sounds
  • letter fluency 
  • CVC words
  • CVC word fluency 
  • identifying real vs. nonsense words
Over the years, I found that these skills were the ones my kindergarten and first-grade students needed the most practice with. Because of this, I decided to focus on crafting monthly lessons that we could use to target these skills through fun holiday and seasonal activities. 

Benefits of Using Monthly Literacy Centers

Once I started using monthly literacy centers in the classroom, the payoff was very clear. As a classroom teacher, it was a big win knowing that my students would get the practice they needed with these important literacy skills on a consistent basis. Aside from this obvious benefit, there are a few more that are worth noting too! 

1. Prep Once and Use Forever! 

Once you decide on a system that incorporates important literacy skills you're looking to target, you're going to cut down drastically on monthly prep time! For example, in my classroom, once I started using my Monthly Literacy Centers, I only needed to prep each month once. Then, I'd store them away carefully and use them again next year. There's nothing better than opening up a box of prepped and laminated center activity pieces for the upcoming month to use in your classroom! 

2. Explain Directions to Students Once 

With so many awesome benefits to monthly literacy centers it's no wonder they are popular in primary classrooms around the country.
Another reason I love using monthly literacy centers is that once students understand the concept of each activity, you'll never have to explain the directions again. 

Well, maybe not never... We are talking about primary learners here, but you get the picture! 

Students will recognize the activities and get excited as they begin to recall how the games are played. They will be able to work independently in the center because the activity remains the same or similar.

In my monthly literacy sets, many of the activities follow a familiar format. So while the theme of the activity changes, the content doesn't. This means students can jump right in month after month!

3. Science-Backed Strategies 

My monthly literacy centers are aligned with the Science of Reading, which means you won't have to wonder if they're effective. If you're looking for monthly activities to use in your room, I highly recommend seeking out programs that use strategies from the Science of Reading. This will take the guesswork out of your lesson planning and make the most of the time you have. 

4. Versatile and Differentiation-Friendly

Hands on center activities like this sensory bin is a great way to engage students in learning.

I also love these centers because they are versatile. You can use them traditionally as center activities for independent and partner activities OR you use them in small groups or intervention. This also means differentiation is a breeze. Pick and choose which activities to use in each group or assign to specific students.  I love being able to use one resource in multiple ways to meet a variety of needs in the classroom!

5. Engaging and FUN!

Last, but arguably the most important on this list... monthly literacy centers are engaging! Let's get real. Students love holiday and seasonal activities. Rather than trying to control the pure joy and excitement that's bottled up inside your littles during the holidays, embrace it! Choosing monthly literacy centers with fun seasonal themes means you can count on engagement all year long. 

Choosing Center Activities for Each Topic

Now, on to the nitty gritty! Wondering what type of activities to include in your monthly literacy centers? Let's take a closer look at the tried and true tools I used as a classroom teacher to focus on each of the literacy skills mentioned above. 

Letters & Letter Sound Fluency Spinners 

First up, this activity is so. much. fun. for small group learning! This is a simple activity to use too, making it great for center time as well. 

Add these letters and letter sounds fluency centers to your monthly literacy centers for a fun game like approach to learning letters and letter sounds.
To play, students will take turns spinning a spinner. The picture they land on determines which row to read on the corresponding fluency mat. 

Students can read letters, sounds, or both depending on what you'd like to target. 

I make reading letters even more fun by using silly voices that correspond with the monthly theme. For example, kiddos will get a kick out of identifying letters in Santa's deep, jolly voice or the high, squeaky voice of an elf! 

Once students have the hang of this, assign partner groups to work together and take turns reading rows of letters to each other. 

Nonsense Word Fluency Spin and Say 

Identifying if words are real or nonsense is the theme of this fun monthly literacy centers game.
This next monthly literacy center activity is similar to the first, but instead of reading letters, children will read words and identify if they are real or nonsense. 

This activity is filled with decodable CVC words to help get your students familiar with common words. 

This activity is great practice for those of you who use DIBELS, Easy CBM, or Aimsweb, as well as general reading practice too. 

This one usually gets some giggles as kiddos think about whether or not the word they read was a real one!

Sensory Basket - Letters and Sounds

Do you use sensory tubs in your classroom? If not, you're missing out on a great opportunity for high engagement among your students! 

Help your students identify letters and letter sounds with this fun hands on literacy centers activity and sensory basket idea.
Literacy sensory baskets help combine the use of tactile materials and hands-on learning with phonics practice. In December, our sensory baskets featured seasonal letter cards and picture cards. 

This activity is meant to target letters, and letter sounds so you can differentiate based on skill level or mix and match. 

Students will search for letters or pictures that represent sounds in the basket and then mark them off on a corresponding recording sheet. I love that this activity uses a smaller version of a sensory table since many classrooms don't have room for them. 

A small tub or tray works great and you can customize the fillers too! Paper shreds, rice, dry beans, or styrofoam are all fun choices! 

Letter Identification & Sound Hole Punch 

A hole punch makes for a fun learning tool with this letter identification and sound monthly literacy centers activity.
I love this next activity for center time and students do too!

To use this one, students will draw a card and name the letter or sound represented on it. Then, they will search their holiday phonics mat for the matching letter and use a hole punch to mark it. 

The cards come in versions with letters in alphabetical order as well as mixed up to allow for easy differentiation. 

This activity is great because it targets fine motor practice while working on this important literacy skill. Students love looking at the fun holiday scene on each mat as well. 

Choose the black and white versions of the cards if you'd like to have students color the picture after they finish. 

Nonsense Word Sorting Activity 

Ready for a fun game that's super versatile? Then you'll love this Nonsense Word Sorting Activity. 

This literacy center asks students to choose a card, read the word on the card, and then sort it into the correct category: real word or nonsense word. 

In addition to using this as a literacy center, I love using this one in small groups too.  It really gives me a chance to see how students are doing with the blending concepts and understanding what they are reading.

Here's a peek into this activity in action!

All the Literacy Centers in one Place

In order to make things easy and help you save time, I have created monthly bundles of all the literacy centers.  In this post, I used my December literacy centers as examples. You can find all of the fun literacy centers that were featured in the December bundle.   

Grab this Kindergarten Literacy Centers Bundle for even more fun and exciting monthly literacy centers ideas to use in your classroom this December.

But what good are fun, easy to use skill based literacy centers if they are only available for the shortest month? Absolutely no good.  That's why you can find bundles for each month in my TPT store.  

Making Literacy Centers Fun Every Month

If you're looking for an easy way to save time and money when it comes time to plan your own monthly literacy activities check out the Full Year Literacy Centers Mega Bundle. Each month includes similar activities in a familiar format to help encourage learning and growth on important literacy topics. 

Looking for monthly literacy center ideas to use all year long? Grab this Mega Bundle for fun filled activities with engaging themes to use every month of the year.

Your students will look forward to these fun, hands-on games and centers each month. Plus, don't forget that these versatile centers can be used in multiple ways too! Differentiate as needed, use for intervention and small groups, as well as daily center activities. The options are endless, but the prep is simple making these a great option for your monthly literacy centers. 

Save This Post 

Pin this post on your favorite Pinterest teacher board to keep track of these ideas for monthly literacy centers!

Looking for fun and exciting monthly literacy centers ideas to use in your classroom this year? These awesome activities include everything you need for engaging literacy practice your students will love. Be sure to check out the MEGA Bundle for a whole year's worth of fun monthly literacy centers activities with seasonal and holiday themes your students will look forward to each and every month.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Tips for Planning a Family Literacy Night

Are you looking for new ways to promote literacy among your elementary learners? If so, a family literacy night might be just the ticket to get your students, and their families excited about reading! Come along to learn more about hosting a family literacy night at your school!

Plan a fun and exciting family literacy night at your school this year using these helpful tips and tricks.

What is a Family Literacy Night?

First things first, let's talk about what to expect at a family literacy night. Essentially, this is an event that is usually hosted outside of school hours and focuses on promoting reading among young learners. Typically, the idea behind it is to engage students and parents together in literacy-based activities.

A family literacy night is a night when you can invite families into the school to focus on all things literacy in fun and creative ways.
In addition, family literacy nights often prioritize educating parents on literacy development and providing strategies to help foster reading skills at home.  

My favorite thing about a family literacy night is that it helps build community and trust between school and home. 

Engaging parents and kiddos together in these activities with other children and families present is a recipe for getting students excited about reading!

Family literacy nights can be hosted by grade level, or with the entire school involved. If your school isn't already hosting a family literacy night, talk to your principal or administrator about getting it started. This activity is one that you won't regret, I promise! 

What Types of Activities to Include

Literacy nights can be structured in a number of ways, but more often than not, they are filled with fun and engaging activities for students and parents to participate in together. The activities target things like working together, prompting deeper thought, open discussion, and reflection. The more variety you can have in the activity types, the better! 

Personally, it was always my mission to choose activities and games that felt fun and a bit different from the norm. The goal is to get our kids reading and what better way to get there than with fun activities?! 

Being intentional about choosing activities that might be a little bit out of the box is super helpful when it comes to planning a successful family literacy night.

For example, one of my favorites is a "Book Walk". This activity is a play on the typical cakewalk game, which is a bit like musical chairs. To play, students will walk in a circular path while music plays. Throughout the path, there are books placed in random spots. When the music stops, students are awarded the book they land on. Ask about using PTO or Title 1 Funding to help buy books for this popular activity. 

Activities to include in family literacy night could be crafts, reading time, scavenger hunts, and much more.
Another fun activity that is easy to facilitate is having the principal, librarian, other teachers, community leaders or school board members read aloud during the literacy night event. Parents and students can pick and choose which book reading they'd like to attend. Not only will this allow for more time for reading, but it will help parents and students get to know other school staff members too! 

And. . . this is a great way to connect your school with the local library.  Invite the library to attend the event and set up a table where families can apply for a library card. This is a fun way to branch out beyond the resources within your school. Students will love learning about the public library and seeing when they can visit for story time and book browsing. 

Last but not least, sending students off with a book of their own after the event is a great way to end the evening! Ask community members if they would be willing to donate books for the event. You can also find used books for pennies at thrift stores and yard sales. Look for books that would appeal to the age range of your students.  Then set up a table with all of the available books. Students can flip through the books and choose one to take home with them. It's a great way to give every family a book so they can put into practice what they learned at the family literacy night.  

Get Creative with Literacy Night Activities 

It's also a good idea to choose a few activities that promote creativity and individuality as well. Over the years, I've discovered this truly is the secret sauce in helping students cultivate excitement for just about any topic. If we can guide them towards expanding their literacy skills while also allowing them to express their unique perspective, we can expect to snag their attention and keep it. 

Wondering how this strategy looks in action? Let's take a closer look at more activities I've used in the past with the most successful outcomes!

Family Literacy Night Interview Questions 

First up, this one is a classic and one of my favorites. Every Family Literacy Night I have hosted, I always made sure to include this activity because it's SO much fun. It's a great "ice breaker" for the evening since it gets those brains thinking too! 

A fun activity like these interview questions are great to include in family literacy night and will help parents and students get to know some fun facts about each other.
The questions in this interview pack are split into two levels. One questionnaire is for children in kindergarten through third grade and the other is for third through sixth grade. The idea behind this activity is that parents and children will interview each other to better understand how they feel about reading and share their interests. 

The questions include things like:
  • What kind of books do you like to read? 
  • What do you think makes someone a good reader?
  • How do you feel when you hear or read a story? 
These questions are designed to make both children and parents stop and reflect on their feelings about reading. Both parties will love asking and answering questions in this activity! After the interview, they will draw their family member as they see them as a reader based on the answers. This activity is great for starting out the evening on the right foot. 

Reading Scavenger Hunt 

Next up, this is one of those unexpected activities that's tons of fun and is always a huge hit! 

Use this fun reading scavenger hunt activity during your family literacy night event to help parents and students get to know their way around the school.
I loved planning a school scavenger hunt on family literacy nights because it offers an opportunity for parents and children to work together as they scour the hallways and classrooms for specific items on their lists. 

I included tasks such as:
  • find the kindergarten teacher with the longest name 
  • find a poster and write down what it says
  • find a poem somewhere in the building
This activity is also differentiated by grade level to make this applicable to all of the students at your school. 

Simply print and distribute scavenger hunt checklists, recording sheets, and clipboards if you'd like, and send the families off on an adventure! 

Cooperative Reading Banner 

If you're looking for a fun activity that involves everyone, this next one is a must! 

Ask students and parents to work collaboratively to color and decorate a reading cooperative banner like this as part of your family literacy night activities.
The idea behind a Cooperative Reading Banner is that families will work together to complete pieces of the banner. 

They will color pages, decorate them, cut them out, and assemble them into one large banner. 

The banner comes in a few options like "Reading Rocks!", "Family Literacy Night" and more! 

You can have students create banners prior to Family Literacy Night and display them as decorations or have families work on them as an activity at your event. Either way, this is a great way to encourage teamwork and strengthen the school community. 

In addition to completing the front pages of the banner, students can also personalize the back of each section with pictures and sentences about their favorite places to read, favorite books, and other fun facts. I liked to hang these across hallways so you can easily see both the front and back of each banner.

Reading Motivation Bookmarks

When reading, everyone needs a bookmark. Right?!?? So why not use that to create a hands-on bookmark crafting stating. This is a simple activity that's low-prep and allows everyone to make their own fancy bookmark to take home. 

Have students and parents cut and color their own reading motivation bookmarks like these as a family literacy night activity.
I started by printing these bookmarks that have motivational phrases on them on colored paper or cardstock. Then, let parents and kids go to town to decorate them! 

I liked to provide crafting materials to make this activity feel extra special such as:
  • markers, crayons, colored pencils
  • stickers
  • ribbon or pipe cleaners
  • glitter glue 
Encourage parents and kids to work together to create a fabulous bookmark to take home and use for their evening story-time routine. This activity is a great way to get your littles excited about reading long after your family literacy night has ended!

Would You Rather Questions Presentation

Looking for an activity that will get your families up and moving on Family Literacy Night? 

Run this fun Would You Rather presentation for parents and students to complete in your classroom as they walk through during family literacy night.
Check out this set of Would You Rather Reading Questions! 

This activity asks 14 different questions related to reading such as "Would you rather read a book you picked out or read a book recommended to you?". 

But instead of answering with words, students and parents will copy the movement of the answer they agree with. 

One option has them dancing in a "twist" while the other has them doing "the running man". 

Your students will LOVE this activity, and there's bound to be tons of giggles too! I love this activity because it's super low-prep too. All you need to do is project the presentation up on your screen or smart board and you're good to go!

Reading Rock Craft and Poem 

This final activity is one of the BEST when it comes to promoting some creativity at your literacy night. 

This reading rock craftivity is a great addition to your family literacy night activities.
In this activity, students will bring in a small rock and decorate it with their parents. I provide paint, markers, and googly eyes to jazz up the rocks. 

Then, parents and students will read the printable poem together and agree to use the rock as a reminder to read, read, read! The poem is a cute and friendly way to nudge students toward reading and remind them to read every day. 

The poems come in full-page and mini versions in both color and black and white to meet a variety of needs. Personally, I loved using the mini versions and laminating them. I know it's an extra step, but it will help ensure the poem lasts all year long! 

I encouraged families to hang the poem on the fridge at home and recite it from time to time to help promote more reading! 

Family Literacy Night Bundle 

If you're anything like me, you can never have enough activities on family literacy night! This was hands-down, my favorite event we hosted every year and so I was always excited to plan fun and engaging activities for it. If you can't decide on a favorite from this list, be sure to check out the family literacy bundle!

Grab this Family Literacy Night Bundle for all sorts of fun and exciting activities to do with your parents and students during family literacy night this year.

It includes 6 of the fun activities mentioned here to help make planning your own family literacy night fun and easy! No matter what you choose to use at your own family literacy night, focus on FUN and variety for a successful event! 

Save This Post

 This post is filled with all of my favorite ideas and activities for family literacy night. Pin it on Pinterest to keep these activities handy! 

Are you looking for a fun way to boost your reading engagement with your students and families this year? Host a family literacy night! Use these fun and exciting activities during family literacy night for a fun filled time full of reading, crafts, scavenger hunts, and more! Kick off your first annual family literacy night with all the great activities included in the Family Literacy Night Bundle! #tarynsuniquelearning #familyliteracynight #literacyactivities