By Rebecca Honig, director of content
The screeching started at 6:00am on a Monday morning. I raced to my son’s room following the sound. In my sleepy state I couldn’t tell if it was anguish or joy. When I arrived, I found him sitting, arms raised in the air, like he had just won something BIG. “Mom!” he said when he spotted me in the doorway. “It’s only 5 days ’til Friday!”
“What’s happening on Friday?” I asked, trying to match his excitement.
“We get to do the Friday dance!!”
On Tuesday he celebrated 4 days til Friday with a few laps around his room.
On Wednesday his excitement woke his two sisters, the dog, the cat, two guinea pigs and, I’m fairly certain, the neighbor’s rooster.
On Thursday he didn’t even sleep.
By Friday we were all in a frenzy. And when the start of the virtual school day arrived, the whole family followed him, expectantly gathering around his computer. We needed to witness, for ourselves, the mythical Friday Dance.
As his classmates’ faces appeared on screen, it was clear that Miles was not the only one who’d been counting down to The Friday Dance. Everyone arrived wiggling and bopping, barely able to contain their excitement over what was about to come…
And then it came…
First a little drum intro… and then they all burst out in song and dance:
“It’s Friday, It’s Friday. Jump around for Friday.
It’s Friday, It’s Friday. Clap your hands for Friday.
Nod your head. One two, one two, one two.
Clap your hands, One-two, one-two, one-two.
The joy was contagious. By the end our whole family had joined in the Friday Dance. And even now, it follows us all throughout the week. Often someone is humming it as they cook. It loops in my head as I log on for a meeting. Every time I smile. Not because the song is on my list of top ten hits, but because when I hear it in my head, I picture all those second graders. Moving along, giggling, actively participating in a moment of communal joy and learning.
Bottling the Friday Dance
Last year, the ParentPowered team began our journey to virtual Family Workshops with the goal of bringing ParentPowered messages to life. And as we got to work, it didn’t take long to hammer out the practical details. We knew that the workshops would:
- Happen once per month, live on Zoom
- Involve the whole family
- Last 1 hour
- Include live captioning in both English and Spanish
- Always spotlight a different area of our ParentPowered Curriculum—Math, Literacy, Social and Emotional Skills…
But then we got to the important questions: what experience did we wanted families to have? What feeling did we want them to walk away with? What did we want them to say about this hour we’d spend together?
In the world of family engagement, it’s all about inspiring and empowering. What would that look like for a virtual workshop?
And as I boogied along to the Friday Dance, I could feel it in action. This was it! We wanted to give families the feeling of the Friday Dance.
In the same way that we map our ParentPowered text messaging content onto everyday moments, we decided to map ParentPowered Virtual Family Fun Hour learning goals onto sock puppets, songs, stories, characters and interactive games.
In the same way that the whole family couldn’t wait to join the Friday Dance, we wanted our workshops to get everyone joining in, participating in the chat box, moving, and acting, and playing together.
Music is such a great way to draw participants in. So to set the stage for interactivity, we decided we would start every workshop with a song. We could build right there in the moment—integrating kids’ ideas into the verses!
And then we got to work putting together a crew that could embody ParentPowered learning moments for our participants.
Introducing… the ParentPowered Family Fun Hour Crew!
Mr. Busy Pants helps us turn everyday objects into learning tools (often with a song).
The Big Fancy Word Lady introduces 3 domain specific words during each workshop.
Who’s in charge of introducing phonics games? Why DJ Sound of course!
She comes with an arsenal of interactive games for building reading skills right on top of the very thing you are already doing. Are you walking to the bathroom? She’ll lead the way with “Listen and Step,” a game that gets kids cuing into beginning and ending sounds. Zipping your coat? She’s got a rhyming game to get the job done. Need to get out those afternoon wiggles? Try this!
When introducing ways to build math skills with everyday learning tools we call on The Teenies. This crew of number-loving critters are always right on hand.
Toby is our resident bookworm. He’s always up for sharing great book recommendations and strategies for getting the most out of a story.
And Popcorn… well, he’s always popping in to lead an interactive moment of fun (and learning).
Turning an Hour into an Event
Now that we had our crew, we needed to create an event that would show families just how easy it is to layer learning into everyday moments. So we created a program that moves us through an entire day of interactive learning, discovering ways to have fun learning together MORNING, NOON and NIGHT.
And because parents ALWAYS have questions, we decided to end with a Q&A so that caregivers can ask their most pressing questions.
We felt really good about our approach, but the proof is always in the family feedback. So we offered workshops to families and got ready to listen and learn.
What Parents Say
We LOVE to learn from families. And we were thrilled to hear that families were enjoying joining workshops just as much as we were enjoying hosting them!
When we surveyed parents and caregivers after our second-ever family fun workshop:
94% of parents said that the tips and activities were helpful or very helpful and 98% reported that their child was engaged during the workshop.
And when it was all over, this is what they said:
- Just a quick note of thanks and WOW!!!!! I attended the Family Fun Night. It was just WONDERFUL!!!!
- The interaction is awesome.
- I loved the different ideas and activities that are easy to incorporate into my child’s day.
- My favorite part was watching my kids engage (we all did!) and new game ideas.
- You guys are the best, I learn new things every time with you.
- I think the workshop was fabulous and I would love to join again soon!
- This was amazing for me, my child and son.
And as she left, one parent thanked us for the “great party.”
Let’s Make Learning Easy and Fun
Having that Friday Dance feeling is something we could all use more of these days. After so much isolation, so much time spent apart from community and friends, it can feel so good to get a little silly. Families are ready to get a little playful and to do it together with others. And to do it while learning everyday ways to help kids thrive.
We’ve also talked to lots of partners who are looking for ways to build strong home-school connections during this challenging time. So after each workshop ends, we send a recording, handouts and a facilitator guide so that partners can host their own Family Fun Hours too.
We’d love for you to join us for our next Family Fun Hour. Reach out to us to request a personal invitation.
And in the meantime, here are some tips and tricks for bringing families together to play and learn as a community (even from far away).