Are you a camper? I’m not. But I know people who love the great outdoors, spending time with family, and making memories. When we thought of a literacy night theme, camping sounded like the sort of fun family activity everyone could get excited about.
This year my TPEP (Teacher Principal Evaluation Program) goal was family involvement and communication. Here is a critical attribute from the Danielson Framework:
Teacher develops activities designed to successfully engage families in their children’s learning, as appropriate.
I just recovered from my first ever whole school Literacy Night. How did I do it? Here’s my countdown:
3 months out
Connect with PTA. Although I could have planned this all myself, I wanted sponsorship and a blessing from the PTA. I have an idea of what families ‘need’, but what do parents in this community really think? Would this be a useful event?
Come up with a theme and goal. Pinterest can be a friend here. Camp Reads a Lot theme was an early winner. A Camping theme has many possibilities and is not something we’ve done before.
My goal? For families to come to school, have FUN, and engage in literacy activities. When families have fun together reading and engaged in oral literacy, it helps the reading development of the students. Kids see their parents having fun reading a book, and the love of literacy can spread. If they can walk away with great ideas to try again at home, even better.
Ask questions. I’ve never done a family night to this scale. I had lots of questions. Can I serve a meal? Who pays for it? What prizes can we purchase? Will the custodian help me set up tables? I need answers to these questions before I planned any further.
2 months out
Ask for passionate teachers to volunteer. I didn’t want teachers to sign up for one. More. Thing. I wanted them to be passionate and have a good time. I shared my vision (fun, literacy, camping), and let them come to me. 8 teachers volunteered to participate and each had something they wanted to share with families that they could get excited about. They had great ideas: spooky stories around the fire, singing around the campfire, glamping in the school library with technology.
Secure local librarian. Our local public librarian loves to connect with the community. She was a great addition to our event.
Secure local book author. Through a friend, I found a local author who wrote a children’s book about viewing the night sky. It’s literacy, science, and connected with our camping theme! Perfect!
1 Month Out
Secure more volunteers. I had a good collection of classroom teachers who were willing to create stations for our camping themed literacy night. To my delight, several teachers from other buildings and the district office volunteered as well. They wanted to host a similar night at their school. In exchange for labor, they would get all my great ideas. The ELL coordinator wanted a booth, and so did the LAP (Learning Assistance Program) teachers from another building. The district Title coordinator wanted to do a booth to support families reading at home together. I was overwhelmed. Here’s all of our Literacy night centers!
I also needed parent volunteers to help with other centers. I needed parents to make s’mores (the ‘prize’ at our event), to help teachers at their stations, and to donate gear like tents and artificial trees (to give our gym that woodsy ambiance). The PTA president helped create a Bring It sign up sheet. I needed student volunteers to man the sign in table, act as guides, and welcome celebrity volunteers (the librarian, the author, and the lady who brought her labradoodles!)
Start the publicity buzz. I designed fliers to ask for book donations (for our Book Exchange- more later) as well as to advertise the event. These fliers started to go home 3 weeks before the event, and each week after. The Assistant Principal created an event on the school Facebook page. I asked teachers to put the event in their newsletters home. Get the word out!
1 Week before
Make copies. I didn’t want to do anything the day of or the night before. All copies for all the centers including camp songs, camp poems, sight word fishing, etc. were all made well in advance and collected in a box in my room. We made copies because we wanted families to go home with resources. If they sang songs around the campfire, we wanted the booklet to go home with them so they could sing those songs at home.
Collect and organize books. I wanted kids who needed books to go home with books. But I had no budget. One smart person shared the idea of a book exchange. Our book exchange was simple: The week before our Camp Reads a Lot event, families could bring in ANY gently used books. We collected hundreds of books. Most families were happy to purge their homes of books their kids no longer read. On the evening of Camp Reads a Lot, we gave away hundreds of these books. More later.
Create thank you gifts. I was so grateful to the volunteers who shared their passion of literacy, I wanted to make something special. I created personal s’mores baggies (1 marshmallow, 1 Hershey Bar, 2 graham crackers) with a thank you note.
1 Day before
Create delegation checklist so on the night of, when running around like a headless chicken, one can delegate. I knew the night of the event I would not have a brain cell left, but I’d need help. I created a list of all the things that needed to happen in order on that night. Here’s my delegation checklist.
Create final volunteer list. There were some slots open, so I moved some volunteers around. Several staff members volunteered their teenage children and spouses, and I found slots for them.
Clipboard central. I put the final volunteer list, map of events, extra stickers, and pen on a clipboard. I carried this around with me all evening so I could check on each volunteer by name, put out minor fires, and stay organized!
Wear prescription strength deodorant and running shoes. I don’t need to say more, do I?
Watch the fun!
Sit back and enjoy! All the hard work is paying off.
The best part of the event was the Book Exchange. I assumed children in this upper middle class neighborhood would not need or want new books to clutter their bedrooms. I was wrong. The Book Exchange table was the hottest ticket in the room. Kids were so excited about their new books they got to pick for themselves. Parents were excited to fill bags for even the littlest reader in their home (3 boxes of board books meant everyone could go home with something age appropriate).
1 Day after
Count number of participants. Here’s our numbers:
133 Camp Cards turned in for S’mores
Hundreds of books to new homes
220 Total attendees
Share success data with school and volunteers. This event wasn’t about me. I wanted to thank all the participants, so I shared the above numbers with them. We all consider it a success. The PTA is already planning a budget for next year’s Literacy Night. Whew!