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  • Lindsay Weiner

Holiday Class Parties - An SEL Opportunity for Parents and Teachers

Updated: Dec 9, 2020

Parents and Teachers:

How Collaboration Can Inspire SEL Opportunities

I’m often approached about how parents and teachers can collaborate and create social emotional learning opportunities for children. The truth is, SEL opportunities exist in every corner of the classroom. Take the annual classroom holiday party as an example. Typically, this parent-led party involves a combination of a read-aloud, a craft-making, and a snack. The kids enjoy it—it is a party, after all—but there is something missing from the typical party formula: the opportunity to bring intention and meaning to this tradition.

Why not rethink the holiday party in an SEL-inspired way and develop something more enriching and meaningful?

This past December, together with my child’s 3rd grade teacher and the other class parents, we did just that. While we debated different activities, including writing letters to children in hospitals or soldiers overseas, ultimately our discussion with the classroom teacher helped us arrive at an idea that truly ticked all the SEL boxes: a gratitude project to our community service providers. Later this year, the children will be studying their community and this would be a great chance to talk about community providers such as the fire department, town hall, the police and the library, and at the same time an opportunity to express gratitude for the work they do.

This is how it worked:

  • During class time, the teacher led the children in a letter writing activity to help express their thanks and share a holiday message. This exercise can be accompanied by a reading of the book The Thank You Letter by Jane Cabrera. The exercise was completed during school time to bring more structure to the activity and to help children brainstorm how these different groups contribute to our community.

  • Then, during the parent-led holiday party, the children rotated through 4 different activities (which also included a craft, snack and a game). When the children rotated through the gratitude activity we set up, they decorated the letter, drew pictures and added their names and class photo. Small groups gave us a chance to reread each letter and reinforce the children’s thoughtfulness.

  • In the interest of time we had class representatives deliver these letters before the holidays and made sure to take photos. When they returned to school this week, their teacher was able to show them the photos so they could see (even if they didn't get to experience first-hand) how their letters were received.

In this article that appeared in Edsurge, Leah Shafer talks about involving families in SEL programming and the importance of an integrated effort between parents, teachers and administrators. In our case, the success of this parent-teacher team approach offered an opportunity to develop an important SEL skill, gratitude, while at the same time build upon the teacher's "community" curriculum. By making a small shift in something such as the class holiday party, we can nurture the values we want children to have and find ways to reinforce what children are learning about in school.

Ultimately, there are many opportunities during the school year to make small changes and shift what has traditionally been done to something that is more SEL- inspired. Next year, we plan to encourage more parents and classrooms in our school to take on this easy change and incorporate the idea of gratitude into their holiday parties, elevating the nature of the party and nurturing these important skills in our children. With some planning and forethought, and by utilizing a team approach which brings together parents and teachers, we can inspire small changes that have a big impact.

This blog post was originally published on the blog Confident Parents, Confident Kids on January 30th, 2020.

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