Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Daily E-Mail Newsletter

Today's blog is actually a reprint of an article written about me a few years back and the daily e-mail I send out to the parents of my students:

You’ve Got Mail! From “Mr. Kindergarten”"Parents love the daily email newsletter," reports Dwayne Kohn. "I have more than 40 names on the list, representing 27 of my 32 students. Divorced spouses both receive the information. In addition to parents, there are grandparents too. They love to see what their grandchildren are doing. The parents love the fact that they know exactly what is going on in the classroom each day, almost as it happens."
A typical daily newsletter from Kohn's classroom at Breeze Hill Elementary School in Vista, California, contains a review of what students did in class that day, a preview of coming activities, a "classroom needs" list for upcoming projects, an explanation of the assigned homework, and other games parents can play with their children at home. Other items -- such as upcoming school events, a listing of students who have earned a classroom "Wall of Fame" certificate for special achievements, thank-you notes to parent volunteers, and photos of the kids also might be included. Kohn publishes a weekly printed newsletter each Friday and special printed notices when needed so everyone receives the important news, not just those who are online.
"We have one father in the Navy who can see what his daughter is doing in kindergarten from his submarine on the other side of the world," Kohn told Education World. "Whenever parents send us pictures for our photo wall, I share them with everyone by sending out one or two along with the e-mail. That allows me to thank the parent for the pictures, share them, and get other parents to send in their pictures too."
Kohn uses his newsletter to appeal for classroom supplies. When a request appears in the message, he often receives the needed items the very next day. On a few occasions, when he’s asked for snacks for students to enjoy during recess, parents dropped the treats off that afternoon when they came to pick up their children. With two daily sessions of students, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, the e-mail message is also helpful when last-minute scheduling changes occur. Kohn even relies on e-mail to invite parents to last-minute assemblies or events.
"When we ask for party supplies, for example, parents can sign up online," he explained. "I send out the list of what we need -- paper plates, forks, napkins, punch, fruit, etc. -- and parents e-mail me to identify what they can bring. I update the list each day in the e-mail newsletter, noting which items already have been promised, and we end up with exactly what we need. That also works for art supplies, volunteers, and more. Parents love signing up online, and we don't have any lost notes from kids or miscommunications."
To save time, Kohn starts with a basic template for his newsletter. He uses the same title and graphics each day, with headers like "Tonight's Homework," "Today in Class," and "Upcoming Events." Then he updates the text.
"You can add attachments, class photos, and other items [to an e-mail newsletter], but don't make it too long or parents won't read it," Kohn advised. "Change the content each day. Other than a calendar of events, don't send out the same material more than once or parents will assume nothing is new and not read it when you do change it. If nothing is new that day, don't send out a newsletter, or just send out a brief note stating that nothing is new. In kindergarten, though, there is always something new each day!"
For privacy purposes, recipients' names and e-mail addresses can be undisclosed. Kohn has chosen not to hide this information because parents of his students use e-mail to chat, schedule play dates, and send invitations to birthday parties. Parents especially appreciate that they can contact Kohn via email at any time.
"The daily e-mail newsletter is a great way to get parents more involved in the classroom," he reported. "You can reward volunteers by mentioning them in the news, such as 'Thank you to Tom's mom for coming in today.' Not only will that parent respond to the positive praise, the attention often encourages others to become involved."
Regular e-mail communication also helps the class academically, Kohn believes. He notes that when students are congratulated for reaching a specific milestone, other parents often work with their children to help them achieve the same goal.
Kohn added, "The best part about the daily e-mail is that it takes only about 15 minutes, and it allows me to reflect on the day and prepare for the next day's activities."
Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2007 Education World

Monday, April 18, 2011

Filling Easter Eggs

Continuing on the theme of Easter....

A colleague of mine was complaining about having to fill so many Easter eggs for her classroom. I asked her why she didn't let the kids fill the eggs. After all, that's half the fun of Easter.

I usually ask the parents to send in plastic eggs and filler starting two weeks before the big Easter Egg Hunts (see previous blog). Besides the obvious chocolates, jelly beans, etc., I also ask for non-candy fillers: erasers, small toys, stickers, etc. As the items come in, I thank each parent in our daily e-mail. This usually results in even more donated items the next day. I keep the parents aware of how many plastic eggs we have and how much filler we have so that we get the correct balance (not too many empty eggs!).

The day before the Easter Egg Hunts, I place piles of the filler in the middle of each table. I demonstrate how to stuff each egg. One small candy just won't do, I explain. You have to get as much stuff into the eggs as you can. That usually means filling up both halves and quickly closing the egg before things fall out! I then show them the "Shake Test." Once you close your egg, shake it. If you can hear things inside moving, open it up and stuff in more! The kids have a ball! With 32 students, the eggs are filled up rather quickly. I usually have some parent volunteers in the room. Once the kids head outside for recess, they then perform the "Shake Test" on the eggs that kids have just filled and add more candy where needed.

I use only wrapped candy for this activity. Any bags of jelly beans, M&M's, etc. are used for other activities. One such activity is a jelly bean graph. I make sure to save an empty plastic egg for each student so that once they finish the jelly bean graph, the candy goes into the egg before being put in their basket.

The most frustrating part of this for the kids, of course, is that they can't eat any of it! At least not until the next day (and even then, I only allow them to choose one candy!)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Easter Egg Hunt

I always have two Easter Egg Hunts in my Kindergarten class. The first one inside, and the second one on the playground.

For the indoors search, I "hide" a variety of plastic eggs, candy, small toys, etc. around the classroom, but in plain sight. In fact, I tell the kids to watch me as I "hide" the stuff on chairs, under tables, by the sink, next to the computer, on the bookshelf.... I then have the students sit on the carpet and choose two (who are at the same reading level) to come to the front of the room. I have them turn their back to the dry erase board, facing the other students, while I write their "clue" on the board. These clues can range from a color ("blue", "pink"), a couple words ("yellow toy," "green egg") or a complete sentence ("Look for an egg by the sink." "Get a purple egg."). I then say "Go!" and the two students turn around, read the clue and are off to find their egg (Running is not allowed. Those who do so are disqualified and end up without an egg.). The first to find the correct egg gets to place it in their basket. The one who doesn't win gets to have another turn until he/she does win an egg. If both students find the correct egg at roughly the same time in different parts of the classroom, we have a tie and both get to keep the egg. (It is amazing how many ties we have in our class!). Once everyone has had a turn (and won an egg), we start over. We normally play until everyone has won three eggs. (Meanwhile, the parents hide the remaining eggs ouside....)

For the outside Easter Egg Hunt I used to count the number of eggs we are hiding, divide that number by how many students we have and tell them they can only get that number of eggs. It would take the parents 20 minutes to hide all of the eggs. However, the kids would find them all within 2 minutes. So, in order to stretch out the search, I now have the kids line up on the edge of the playground. I spell the name of a color ("B-L-U-E"), count to three and shout "Go!" They then have to find one egg that color. Once everyone has found that color, they line up and we do it again with another color. We continue through every possible color. Then, for our final hunt, it is a free-for-all and they can keep whatever they find.

If, despite the attempt to balance out the eggs among the students, I still find that one student has far more than the rest (usually someone who picks up 4 multi-colored eggs when I said "One blue egg.") and another has far fewer, I will ask the first student is he/she would mind sharing with their friend. I've yet to have a child refuse to share.

Once back in the classroom, while we are graphing jelly beans, the students are allowed to choose and eat ONE candy from their basket. The basket, by the way, is a plastic milk gallon that has been turned into a rabbit (See the "Easter" Holiday unit from http://www.misterkindergarten.com/.). After our graphing activity, it is time to hop on home.


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