A New Twist on a Gift Exchange!

For many years I struggled with the idea of a gift exchange.  It always seemed that some children were not happy with their gift, or already had it, or the gifts were much different in value.  I tried a book exchange – still had many of the same problems.  I considered dropping the whole gift thing but then found a fun idea that solved the problems for me.

I asked each family, if they were interested in contributing (totally voluntary) to send in identical small items for each child in the class.  They might send in 25 small Santa erasers, little pads of paper, small containers of Play-do, etc.  The items could be wrapped or unwrapped.  I loved this idea because every family could decide how much to spend – they could get a pack of stickers at a dollar store and cut them apart for 25 gifts, or give each child one marker from a set; or they could spend more if they chose – but every child would receive exactly the same things.

I bought plain unbleached muslin – usually about 99 cents a yard, and had a parent volunteer sew small drawstring bags for each child.  At school we decorated them by stamping a reindeer shape and adding pompoms, jiggly eyes, etc.  You could use a generic decoration if you have children who do not celebrate Christmas.  You could easily use lunch bags – they come in colors at Target – and let the kids decorate those too.

Then I took the donations and divided them up into the bags.  It was a lot of fun seeing what the parents sent in, the children loved it.  It did not matter whether every child brought in a donation or not – no one knew who donated each item.  I added a request that parents do NOT send in food or candy because of allergies – and because a friend who tried this got mostly candy instead of little toys.

Here is a letter I sent home explaining this to the parents:

Gift bags

I hope you are all enjoying this special – but hectic – time of year!

Merry Christmas!

Let’s Make Books!

Every year I asked the children to create a very simple book as a family homework assignment.  I gave directions for this assignment right before our Holiday break, and many parents chose to work on it during vacation, but my goal was to have a book from each child by the end of February.  In my district we celebrated “March is Reading Month.”  I’m not sure if that is common in other districts, but we were always expected to do something special for reading during March, and these books were great.

Most of my families attended our Holiday Program, so after the program and before refreshments I used this opportunity to explain this homework assignment, and read a sample book to the parents.  My sample books were always a very short, simple pattern that used sight words we had already learned.  The examples I am sharing contain photographs, but I also showed parents books made by cutting out magazine pictures, and some that had illustrations drawn by the children.

Here is another sample book:

I also sent home a detailed letter explaining the assignment.

Parent letter

When the children brought their book into school I asked them to sit in our “author’s chair” and read it to the class.  I had a microphone system in my classroom, so the children read their book using the microphone – they loved that!  They called on children to give them a compliment, then I put their book aside to save for March is Reading Month.

I photocopied a list of the children’s names with space to write, and attached one of these inside each book for comments or compliments.  Then I bought extra large, 2 gallon sized baggies.  Each book was put inside a baggie for safekeeping.  Each day during the month of March the children borrowed another child’s book to take home.  They wrote their compliment next to their own name on the paper in each book.  I emphasized to parents how important it was to return these books every day so more children could have a turn to borrow them.

Comments & Compliments

In my letter I asked parents to make duplicate copies if possible to be sure we had enough books to borrow, even if someone forgot to return one.  I didn’t worry or keep track to see if everyone borrowed every book, they just enjoyed the ones they got to take home.  At the end of the month I collected all the books and returned them to the authors, along with an author certificate that I made on the computer.

I got a LOT of positive feedback from parents about this project.  Even parents who were leery about doing it with their child reported how much they enjoyed reading the books the other kids had made at home.  There were a few children who brought in books with lots of long, involved text; but most of them created a book that every child in our class could read.  It was a lot of fun!

Holiday Program

One of my goals for my Kindergarten children was to help them feel confident speaking in front of a group.  They had lots of opportunities to practice this skill in our classroom, and several times a year we “performed” for parents.  The families of my children almost all celebrated Christmas, so that was the focus of our holiday program.   If I had children who celebrated other holidays I tried to include a song that represented their faith too.   During the month of December I was usually concentrating on rhyming, and Nursery Rhymes, so that was an important part of the program too.

In my post on Nursery Rhymes I shared the book we made that changed many of these rhymes to include the children’s names, and I also gave them a photocopy of their photograph for each page.  We used that book to practice writing names using lower case letters, as well as playing with language.

I found this book that gave a silly version of many rhymes.

I taught the children simple sign language to go along with the traditional versions of each rhyme we learned.

This book was very helpful

This book showed diagrams of sign language for just about every word in the rhymes.  I found that too hard for my Kindergartners, so I adapted and just signed important parts of each phrase.  There were some rhymes that I wanted to teach that were not included in this book, so I used my favorite sign language books to find the signs we needed.  There are also great sites online for sign language.  I loved including sign language because it provides simple actions that go along with the rhymes,  helps children develop awareness of disabilities and how people do things differently, as well as being great exercise to develop fine motor skills.

During December we made lots of holiday ornaments and read fun books, but our focus was on rhyming and Nursery Rhymes.  We made a simple project to go along with most of the rhymes we learned, we learned the traditional rhyme along with simple sign language, and we learned the silly version.  Then we changed the rhyme to add in our own names and made the Nursery Rhyme book.  Of course we continued working on Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop, and Everyday Math at different times of the day.  There were also opportunities to include math activities with the rhymes and we did a cooking project or two.

For the program each child would be part of a small group of 4-5 children who would stand up and be the “stars” two different times.  Each child would stand up for one Nursery Rhyme, and then later in the program for one holiday song.  The entire class recited every rhyme and sang every song.  I just featured a small group each time to give them a chance to stand up and be the focus.

Here is a copy of the rhymes and songs we performed one year.  They changed a little from year to year.

Holiday Program Words

I made picture cues and glued them onto construction paper cards to help the children remember all the words to the song “Nuttin’ for Christmas.”

I copied these and gave one to each family after our program so they could enjoy them at home.

I will try to give you an idea of how our program ran.  We did this program in our Media Center (library).  I set up a short riser, or some years I used carpeted blocks for the small groups of children to step up onto.  We usually practiced using milk crates.  I put masking tape on the carpet to show the children where to sit when we entered – our audience of parents would already be seated.   It is really helpful if you can put the rows of masking tape far enough apart for the children to sit criss cross, and still leave room for other children to walk past them.  One of the hardest parts was getting the children to face the audience, not turn around to watch the kids standing on the blocks.

Here is a very rough diagram:

There were 4-5 children sitting on each masking tape line.  When we got new carpet in the Media Center I started using painter’s tape so it definitely would not leave sticky residue, but it doesn’t stay down very well.  If you don’t leave masking tape very long it is usually fine.  I organized the children to sit in a row with the other children standing up for the same Nursery Rhyme.  We practiced walking around to the back of the blocks, stepping up, the TURNING AROUND to step down and walk back to their row.

I made headbands for the children, using simple clipart pictures that I colored and laminated.  I stapled a picture on one side of the headband for their Nursery Rhyme, and on the opposite side for the song they stood up to sing.  For the song SANTA I used one letter for each child.  When we began the program I turned all their headbands so the Nursery Rhyme picture showed (a shoe for the old woman, an egg for Humpty, a horn for Little Boy Blue, etc.)  I had an adult sitting near the end of the blocks who turned the headband after they stepped down from the blocks so the song picture was facing front ( a bell for Jingle Bells, a house for Up On The Housetop, etc.) – then the kids went back to sit in the same spot.

When the small group was standing on the blocks for the Nursery Rhyme we began with the traditional rhyme, including sign language.  All kids recited each rhyme, but parents just had a chance to see their child standing up. Then I held up 2 fingers and they recited the silly version – sometimes we included motions because that seems to help some children.  As the parents applauded, the kids would turn around, step down – stop to get their hat turned, and go back to their row – staying in their line.

After we finished with all the rhymes I would say the name of a song – I did not keep the kids in the same group (I never did things the easy way for some reason!)  So the kids standing up for each song were sitting in different rows – it always worked out fine – we practiced always walking in the same direction to go around to the back of the blocks and step up carefully.  Then when they stepped off the blocks they went back in a line to their own spaces.

At the end of the program – for the last few songs that we all did together I had the row of children closest to the blocks go around behind the blocks and stand.  Then the middle row stood up – went back and sat on the blocks.  The very front row turned around and walked back – then turned to face the audience and sat on the floor in front of the blocks.  That made it easy for the parents to take pictures of the whole class.  One of my friends did her entire program with her class in 3 rows – standing, sitting on the blocks, and sitting on the floor – rather than having small groups stand up.

Please don’t feel like you need to use my management ideas in order to do a performance, I was just trying to give you an idea of how it flowed for me.  It really doesn’t matter how you organize your program – it helps children gain confidence, and parents LOVE to see their children perform!


At the beginning of December I liked to do a project with my class to help them count down to Christmas, or our Holiday break.  But I also really wanted to find some ways to help the children realize that the holidays really are a time to think about other people, not just which toys they hoped to get.  I created this Kindness Calendar –

December Kindness Calendar

By the way – it took me YEARS to figure out that making a list like this Kindness Calendar was a better idea than formatting it like a calendar.  For many years I retyped it every year onto a December Calendar.  Duh…

Then we made a project – I usually had the children make a Santa that had 25 circles on his beard. They took it home with a letter of explanation, and every day when they completed their Kind Act – they would add a cottonball to the beard.  I also attached a baggie and had the children count out the cottonballs, but you wouldn’t have to provide them.

Here is a link to the Santa project I used.  I copied the hat onto red construction paper and the face on white.  The children cut and glued them together, then colored in details.

Countdown Santa

A friend of mine adapted it so the hat and face are all on one paper:

Santa 2

Another simple idea would be to make a paper chain and they could remove a link each day.  I kept one of the Santa’s in my classroom and looked for ways to do these kind acts at school too.

There were a few times I had children in my class who did not celebrate Christmas, I helped them make a snowman to hold their cottonballs, and instead of using 25 I would put 31 circles, or the amount of days until our holiday break.

Our class also visited a Nursing Home or Assisted Living center.  I know these facilities get a lot of visitors during December, but it was another way to help my class reach out and think about others – and the residents loved having them.

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