I'm always interested in ways to involve parents in learning activities. I don't have to tell you how important it is to promote the home-school connection. A few years ago I came across a wonderful idea for involving parents in the first few weeks, while they're still eager and excited about making the school year a positive experience for their children. I can't recall where I initially came across this idea, but it's one of the best activities that I know of for involving parents. What is it? It's called a Read-along.
The Read-along is an event that involves students, staff, and parents or other family members. It takes place on the 2nd Friday of school, near the end of the school day. The major focus, which I think is the best part, is literacy. The Read-along sets the tone for the school year by letting parents know up front that our classroom is a reading classroom where books are read, shared, and valued. The Read-along is inspired by the book, The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant. The story is about a family whose relatives come to visit, and the house is filled with aunts, uncles, and cousins. The relatives spend a few days together eating, talking, sharing, and hugging.
I start preparing for the Read-along by reading and discussing the book during the first week of school. After the initial reading, I only reread portions of the book. I send home the parent letter on the first Friday of school, along with the other important mail the students take home that week. The Read-along is a surprise event and the kids don't know anything about it. In the letter I tell parents that it's a surprise and not to let the children know about it or it will spoil the surprise. I've held a Read-along with both my third and first grade students. I don't think age really matters, however, as they get older, it becomes more difficult trying to keep it a secret. I'm happy to say that keeping the surprise has never been an issue.
In the letter I tell the parents to bring a handful of books, a blanket, and a few snacks. The Read-along is held during the last hour of the school day on the second Friday of school. I ask parents to report to the classroom at the scheduled time but to wait quietly in the hallway. I prearrange for one parent to knock on the door. A few minutes before the arranged time, I bring the students to the meeting area to discuss a portion of the book again. All of a sudden there is a knock at the door. I ask one of the students to open the door, and to their SURPRISE, their relatives start pouring in. You should see the look on their faces when they realize it's their parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents-Their Relatives. The look on their faces is priceless. I take the students and their families to the cafeteria, we spread out, and we read and eat for about half an hour. At the end of the Read-along, we gather everything up and the students leave for home with their parents since this occurs at the end of the school day.
What about the kids whose family can't attend?
I'm always concerned about making sure these kids don't feel left out. First, I determine which families plan to attend and those that will be unable to participate. I do this by asking parents to return an RSVP indicating their intentions, and letting me know if they will attend the Read-along or if another family member (like a grandparent) is planning to attend in their place. Next, I enlist the help of staff members by asking them to adopt students whose parents can't attend the Read-along. The staff people that I enlist are the principal, learning consultant, resource room teachers, parents, and any other available staff that would be willing to adopt students. Finally, I pack extra snacks for those children and they each get their own bag of goodies. Sometimes I group 2 or 3 kids together depending on the number of staff willing to adopt kids. My students truly enjoy this event! Be sure to have your camera handy because there are lots and lots of photo ops during this event.