In the early grades, we've been keeping a daily journal (called "The Everyday Book"), which has been very effective at providing practice and instruction across a number of instructional areas.
The book -- a simple three ring binder (we use a 3" one, as it gets quite full over the course of the year) -- includes a calendar for the month, and a page for graphing the day's weather. The templates for each of these are printed out on cardstock, one on either side, and placed in a clear protector sheet. They are filled in daily. (Each month, a new template is added in exactly the same way, with the protector sheets acting as dividers for each month's journal writing).
For Kindergarten, the calendar has a space to paste a pre-printed month label on the top. Then a pre-printed number square is pasted in the appropriate spot on the template. We practice counting, identifying numerals and saying today's date. We also practice the names of the days of the week, and recalling the names of the days for yesterday and tomorrow, as well. As appropriate, we also use the opportunity to identify letters, initial sounds, rhymes and other pre-reading skills. As the months progress, the pre-printed number squares will form patterns of increasing complexity (starting with a simple ABAB), which will be clapped out (stamped, snapped, you name it), and the next piece of the pattern predicted. This is all presented in a very lighthearted and fun manner as part of the daily journal routine, and even though it only takes a few minutes each day to accomplish, it bears a tremendous amount of fruit!
Next, we take out a clean journal sheet, again pre-printed for our daily practice tasks. The top of the page is labeled, "Today is _________" on the top line, and "Outside it is _________" on the second line. I have preprinted labels for the days of the week and 5 basic weather patterns (sunny, cloudy, windy, rainy, snowy), and the appropriate one is selected and pasted on the line. For now, I just tell Taz which is the correct day label, perhaps giving him a clue with initial sounds or letter names, but eventually he will recognize the correct one. Later in the year, depending on how quickly he learns to form letters and words, he may even be ready to attempt writing the words himself! (I also date the page with a rubber stamp. This is partly because it's fun to do -- the kids love to date-stamp their work when they finish -- but also because it helps later on in noting progress for portfolio purposes.)
The bottom of the sheet is outlined in a square (of course, optional, but may be helpful in supporting spatial organization). I ask Taz a few questions about what he remembers from our day, and encourage him to draw a picture of whatever he wants.
(Occasionally, we may paste in a photograph, instead, if he prefers, perhaps following a special event or activity. For example, when Junie B. needed an x-ray of her wrist once, we found a wrist x-ray picture online and used that to illustrate her journal for the day.)
When he's done, he tells me a few sentences, which I write below (or next to) his picture as he says them (faithfully transcribing all pronunciation and grammatical errors, exactly as he speaks them). These tell a great deal about how he organizes his thinking and how his language skills are developing, while also helping him to see that the function of the printed word is to preserve spoken language and ideas. The entire book provides an ongoing record of progress throughout the year. (Of course, once he begins writing himself, he can write any words he would like as part of his journal, as well! I continue to write out his longer sentences, however, since he will obviously be much more capable at speaking than writing for quite some time!)
Lastly, we place a sticker on the graph to show the day's weather. At the end of the month, we will count all the stickers for each weather type we have recorded, and print the number in the square at the end of the line. Then, we can compare and discuss such concepts as more/less/most/least/same, and begin to draw conclusions about the general character of the month's weather. As the months progress, it is fun to compare the progression of weather patterns, too, and try to answer questions about which month was sunniest, which snowiest, and so on; and see if any seasonal patterns exist.
This lesson can be done in parts throughout the day -- for example, we usually complete the calendar, day and weather stickers in the morning, and the journaling is done at day's end. Of course, we do many other learning activities throughout the day, but of all of them, this little daily activity is the closest to "instant school" of anything we do. It's simple, fun and highly productive, especially over time.
Best of all, it makes a wonderfully precious keepsake when the year is done! :)
My kind of activity! :)