I have three rules that I follow for parties. Simple rules, I think, but important for managing a classroom party.
Rule 1: parties are on my terms
I get to decide when parties are held, for how long, and for what purpose. I don't ever throw a party just so I can kick back and kids can watch a two-hour movie. For my students to be successful we need to be learning almost every single minute of the day, and we try to keep that as a goal in my classroom.
So parties are planned – by me – when they fit my schedule and priorities.
Rule 2: parties must be about our classroom community
Parties must build up every single person in my classroom. Everyone's included, everyone's involved and everyone's having fun.
No games or activities that lead to cliques or exclusive groups. Ever.
Rule 3: parties must have a specific purpose
When these rules are followed, classroom party management is much, much easier. Let's consider some examples of how my rules would be applied for different holidays.
Some schools have Halloween parties but not all families are OK with this holiday. Not only does that violate my second rule, but honestly, I'd rather tie it to something we're learning in the classroom anyway.
For example, if we have been studying bats, around Halloween time we might have a little classroom party celebrating everything we know about bats – watching some interesting bat videos and tying our healthy snacks into things having to do with bats.
Christmas isn't OK for all families, so we throw a winter-themed party that is all about our science unit on snowflakes and the science of snow.
It's a perfect time to eat cold things like ice cream cups, or white things, such as:
- white cheese
- cauliflower and ranch dip
Kids really love that kind of thematic party, believe me! And because we are sensitive to the needs of all children in our room, they can all be involved because it's based on content from the classroom and there's no cultural differences to consider.
Video tips: managing a classroom party
Classroom party expectations
As far as I'm concerned, there is never a time when your children are in the school building when you do not influence control over their behavior by setting expectations.
You are the primary mentor for the children in your class when they are at school. Period. You are the leader of their little pack, and if you take a break from that role, you undermine your overall authority as the ultimate rule-setter. This means there is never a time when you abandon the behavior of your classroom to another adult.
Here's my Christmas story, which makes this point, but also demonstrates the extensive lengths to which you can go to set expectations in order to achieve appropriate behavior.
Expectations are always appropriate
Every year one of our local philanthropic organizations donates a book to each child in a low-income school. They provide the money, teachers buy the books, and then a few members of this organization show up before winter break to hand out the books to the children.
These community leaders loved to hand out the books in my room year after year. They often saved it for last so they could finish up this wonderful charity activity with a good feeling. Why? Well, picture the scene they encountered in most rooms (and which I observed on more than one occasion):
Volunteers arrive to present books. Teacher briefly introduces them and points to the box of unwrapped books sitting off to the side of the room.
Teacher retires to the back of the room to check email, ceding all authority and control over her classroom to untrained, uncertain adults who are not used to facing twenty to thirty children at a time. Wild talking, grabbing, and general misbehavior ensues for ten minutes as the books are dispensed, whereupon the volunteers get out of the room as quickly as possible.
A Christmas miracle
Contrast that with what occurred in my room. The set-up was almost as important as the expectations: I wrapped each book (which I had chosen based on the child's interests), put them in a decorated box, and hid the box outside of my room so the volunteers could walk in with it as if they were Santa.
But my kids were expecting them because I don’t like to leave anything to chance!
What the volunteers experienced was the result of an extensive expectation-setting and practice session. As they stood by my fake cardboard fireplace, warmed by the radiator it covered, the children gathered in a circle on the floor around them with their hands nicely folded.
After I introduced the volunteers (praising their generosity), they would individually select books and call out a child's name. Each student would come forward, shake each of their hands, thank them profusely, and walk back to their place without any other noise in the classroom.
After all the books were handed out, the kids would nicely open them and pull out a book that was sure to please them (I had made certain of that). During the excited babble that followed, every one of them took the opportunity to go up, shake the volunteers’ hands again, and tell them how much they loved their book with a specific example of why:
“Thank you so much! I love books about frogs because they are my favorite thing in the world!”
The volunteers then walked out of my room, smiling as if they had just been given a present themselves. And my kids got an extremely valuable lesson in how to be polite to visitors and how to graciously accept a gift.
Have I made my point yet? Classroom party management is no accident!