For a number of years my school, like many, has done a literacy night. It’s typically all about how to help families help their children as readers. This year, thanks to one of my brilliant colleagues, we decided to try something new. We hosted a Family Writing Night for Head Start through 3rd graders.
In case you don’t know anything about my school, we’re in the DC suburbs and we serve mostly families and students who have immigrated from El Salvador or Honduras. We have students from other areas as well, but the overwhelming majority of our kiddos and families come from those two countries. Many of our students made the journey but others are second-generation immigrants. Our school boundaries are pretty close to our school, with many of our students living in two apartment complexes basically a stone’s throw from our building. We have wonderful parent liaisons and secretaries who ensure that families feel welcome so we have a strong community within and outside of the building.
For our Family Writing Night our big goals were to offer families ideas for writing together and give them some time to try them out. As families arrived they were all given a copy of a picture book (King Kenrick’s Splinter, thanks to Never Counted Out). We had set up in our cafeteria and covered all the tables with bright butcher paper, which meant people could write or draw on them. We had bookmarks on the tables for kids to decorate as they waited for everyone to arrive.
To get started, we wanted to offer families some ideas without talking at them for too long. Everything was to be said in both English and Spanish so keeping the talking to a minimum was extra important and challenging. We began with Georgia Heard’s ideas from Heart Maps. We had hearts for families so they could collect ideas for writing: people, places, things that make them happy, memories, whatever. We talked about how those could be in any language, including drawings and they could hang them on the fridge at home to add to or reference in the future.
We talked some about wordless picture books (we had different ones on every table for families to use) and other books as places to get ideas as well as photographs. We shared the idea of skimming through the photos on your phone for ideas. Finally, my youngest daughter and I spent a few minutes modeling some writing together. We kept reinforcing the idea of talking, drawing, and writing. For the next half hour, families talked, drew, and wrote together. We all walked around and listened, answered questions, and encouraged. It was amazing.
At the end we did a quick wrap up and then had door prizes. Our book fair was going on (it was open the hour before and the hour after this event) so we had gift certificates for it. We also had baskets full of writing supplies: markers, colored pencils, notebooks, white boards, etc. We had one gift certificate and two baskets for each grade level so 15 families went home with an extra treat. We gave families this handout to take home as well.
I don’t know for sure how the families felt when they left, but I know I left feeling energized and excited. We did have some older siblings who were there with families who wanted to know why we hadn’t included 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. A totally reasonable question and something for us to consider in the future.