Thursday, November 20, 2014

8 Steps to a Class Party You Can Enjoy

When I think back on my first year teaching, there are many things that make me shudder, but perhaps this is most true when it comes to my holiday party.  Back then, I was still a little bit afraid of the ever-threatening parent involvement so I asked exactly ONE parent to help with my party.  I also drafted my sister to come help, but being that I was 22 and she was 19, most of the expertise in creating childhood Christmas fun came from my lone grade parent.  Bless her.  Most of what I recall of that chaotic hour and a half involves a roomful of loud and crazy fifth graders with my head spinning and counting the moments until it would be over while I tried to juggle every activity, craft, game, and snack.  

Thankfully, I’ve since learned how to plan a classroom holiday party that I actually enjoy so I thought I’d share my plan:

Step 1: Draft as many parents to help as possible.  There is no such thing as too much parent involvement for this event (the kids are so wild by this point- the more adult eyes that are on them, the better).  

Step 2:  Allow parents who have their own idea to run their own station and for the parents that don’t have their own idea, provide an easy-to-run station that they can run by themselves (see below).  Do not plan to run a station yourself.  This frees you up to do other things during the party OR to run a station should the need arise. 

Step 3:  Compile a list of needed supplies and send home this note to parents who were willing to send in supplies right away.  Ask that the supplies be sent in a day or two before the party.  Ask someone to send in six inexpensive plastic table covers (Dollar Tree) so you can throw them over the student desks and other tables in your room and instantly have a party room instead of a classroom.   This also contains the mess at the end of the party- they all go in the trash!

Step 4: About a week before the party, e-mail a few choice parents and ask them to come thirty minutes prior to the party to set up.  Get the kids out of the room for this time (think specials, lunch, recess, etc.)

Step 5: The day before the party, put the supplies for each station in a plastic grocery bag with a copy of a sign for that station stapled on the bag.  Print another copy of the signs and include one in the bag so that the sign can be put on the table after the station is set up.  Leave these bags out for the parents who will come in to set up before the party.  Don’t forget the plastic tablecloth for each station!

Step 6:  Put your students into groups (however many stations you have should be your number of groups).  As you walk in the room, assign each group a table to start at and roll.  I allow 10-15 minutes for each station.  A tip: make snack one of your stations.  Five students grabbing for food at once is always better than 25.  

Step 7: Enjoy the party!  I walk around chatting with parents, having fun with students, and most importantly TAKING PICTURES!  The parents will be busy running the stations so they won’t be able to travel with their child from station to station.  Every year, I make a Winter Party Animoto and e-mail the link out to parents the next day as a thank you.  It’s a hit year after year!  Educators can apply for a free Animoto account.  Check out my Animoto from last year here so you can visualize the whole thing:

Step 8: End the party with ONE whole group activity, usually the best one (a grand finale of sorts).  This could be a crazy game, a fun video, or a book exchange.  See ideas below.

Easy-to-run Holiday Station Ideas (Step 2)
·      Holiday Drawing with a Twist:  Have students follow these directions, but have them draw on a paper plate that they must hold atop their head as they draw.
·      Holiday Pictionary:  Get a free word list here.
·      Holiday Bingo:  If you play this, make sure you ask a parent to send in candy for the prize.  Order a Holiday Bingo here.
·      Holiday Musical Chairs:  Simply play holiday music and play the classic game.  You’d be surprised at how much kids still enjoy it.
·      Make your own snack:  The ideas on Pinterest these days are endless.  My personal favorites are simple: decorate your own sugar cookie or decorate your own Christmas tree (a sugar cone). 
·      Make your own holiday cards:  Every year, I ask a few family members and friends to give me the Christmas cards they would otherwise throw away.  I let my kids cut them up and make their own cars.  Simple, free, and they love it!  You can let them keep the cards to give away or you can donate them to a local nursing home.

Ideas for Grand Finale (Step 8)
·      Backward Charades:  Divide the class into two teams.  Put two students (one from each team) in front of the board with their back to the board so the rest of the class sees the clue but they don’t.  The rest of the class silently acts out the clue while the two people who are “it” guess.  We played this with regular words at youth group at church recently and it was a huge hit!  I’m trying it for the first time with my class this year.  You can get my PowerPoint for free here: Holiday Backward Charades
·      JibJab:  I’ve gone over the top the past two years and created JibJab videos with my students’ faces.  A JibJab account ( is $18 per year, but I’ve used it for church and other things as well.  This is always a surprise to the students and they LOVE them, make me link them on my website, and watch them again and again.
·      Fat Santa:  Get sweatpants and sweatshirts that are WAY too big for your students (two outfits).  Choose two students to put on the sweatsuits and split the students into two teams.  Provide students with balloons (it would probably be a good idea to already have them blown up- perhaps the parents who help set up can do this) and whoever can stuff the most balloons into their person’s sweatsuit in two minutes wins.   This game always gets lots of laughs.
·      Classroom Book ExchangeStudents can bring gently used books or Scholastic book club always has a lot of $1 books to choose from.  You can do the book exchange using any party present giving game or idea.

Lastly, when the party is over, you’re only faced with one final task: making sure you kept all those sweet gifts straight and writing thank you notes for all of them.  I believe that it is really important that the thank you notes get written promptly so that children understand the importance of gratitude and manners.  However, I tend to be wordy with my thank you notes and spend more time than I really have to spend on them at times.  The past couple of years I’ve used a shortcut that’s too good not to share.  After Christmas, I order kids’ thank you notes on clearance, the kind that just leaves blanks for you to fill in and a place to sign your name.  I almost always write in a couple of extra sentences as well, but this still has cut the time I spend on thank you notes in half while still getting the job done.  Here's a sampleThank You Notes

Remember- this is one of those moments that the students may actually remember when they look back on their year in your classroom.  Hopefully some of these tips will allow you to be all there and enjoy the moment with them. 

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