Looking Ahead – Eight Tips for Successful Closure to the School Year

This blog was originally published on Wonder of Children on May 26, 2011.

Lisa Wells has taught for 20 years in independent schools in MA, NY and MD. She currently writes a blog on child development, teaches yoga and tries to spend as much time with her two high schoolers as they will allow. Lisa’s committed to knowing each learner as an individual, creating a classroom community where the social curriculum is interwoven with the academic fabric and sharing her work with yoga and meditation with teachers and students. As a consulting teacher for the Northeast Foundation for Children’s Responsive Classroom, Lisa facilitates training on this teaching approach, as well as presents on constructivist learning, research workshop, yoga/meditation in the classroom the and reflective teaching practices. Her blog, Wonder of Children, is a Teach 100 blog.

 In case you’re living under a rock, I’m here to let you know -- It’s the end of the school year!

Change is good. Change is hard, especially when we think it is not hard.

Soon our schedules, faces, and routines will change. Our sense of identity and community will be challenged. All the work we invested in getting to know each other, building trust, taking risks, learning and sharing, will fold into the fabric of our being to nest deep inside until we need to draw upon those experiences or until something triggers our memory. Look inside any classroom and you can see it. Perhaps it’s masquerading as excess energy, giggles, negative-attention seeking behavior, a lower frustration threshold, apathy, irritability, or challenging well-established rules and guidelines. End-of-the-year angst can strike kids at any age – adults, too.

What’s we’ve come to expect is going to shift. We may be feeling sadness or disappointment that the friends we’ve come to respect and crave will not be daily fixtures in our lives. We may wonder who will fill that void over the summer and beyond. Is there any wonder behavior begins to change as the year comes to a close?

Romantic and nostalgic images of summer include lazy days of berry picking, swimming, lounging in pjs, road trips to gramma’s or the beach. The reality of the transition from the end of school to whatever summer actually is, can be difficult for children even if they are excited for summer fun. They’ve worked hard and it’s been a productive year – and hopefully they have grown in numerous ways. So it may feel like all that progress is slipping away.

Successful navigation of change builds confidence and resiliency and is a life-skill all of our children need. Like any other skill, it needs to be modeled, practiced, reinforced and celebrated. The security and “known-ness” doesn’t have to slip away if all the pieces have been put into place throughout the year and remain in place until the final hours. The building blocks of knowing each child, fostering a community where responsibility and care are valued, and empowering children to solve problems and share ideas, will make children stronger, more resilient, and ready to take on the challenges of summer and next school year.

How to help children bring closure to the end of the school year? Here are 8 things you can do in the classroom or in the family room.

Look back – Literally, look back at photos, documentation, class books and journals. Notice what things looked like and sounded like earlier in the year. Children often notice the physical growth they see in pictures or how the arrangement of the room has changed. Dig deeper as you inquire about what they remember, how they felt, how they might tackle the same project or question now.

Make notes – What greetings, activities, songs have you done as a group? Keep the list running for a few days to see how many you can come up with. Vote or graph your favorites. Revisit those during the last few weeks. At home, make a list of your family’s top 10 events or accomplishments of the year. Make a poster, a list or a video to share and plan a small celebration!

Name and listen to the experts – As the class gets to know each other, the strengths of each individual become evident. Call out those strengths and have each person share based on their expertise. Chances are, the kids can recognize what each classmate is an expert about. How cool is it to hear the children affirming friends they know so well?

Leave a guide or letter to the next class – Have children make notes or drawings about their year to leave for the next class. Tell them about your experiences and what to expect. At home, write a letter to teachers that tells them what you liked, what you learned or what you will miss.

Go for a visit – Even if not all the children will be moving to the next grade in your school, go for a visit to see the next classroom. Reinforce the idea that as the year wraps up, children grow and move to a new room, new teachers, new friends who will get to know them and learn alongside them.

Keep it consistent – Change will come soon enough. Keep the same classroom routine and expectations. Ditto for after school schedules, dinner and bedtime routines. There will be plenty of days to be “slushy” about routines and sticking to what provided the structure and boundaries all year. Consistency will stabilize things if they are starting to unravel.

Pledge to keep in touch – It doesn’t take long to drop children a postcard or short note. For those who seem particularly anxious or who have really connected to a teacher, a brief, personal note affirms the growth and connections made over the school year and gives them a reminder that you’ll still be a part of them even if you don’t spend each day together.

Celebrate – Most importantly, take time often to celebrate both the community of learners and the progress each person has made over the year. No matter how grand or how small, recognition of hard work and growth will help children recognize their progress and demonstrate compassion for others. At home, set aside small blocks of time to celebrate accomplishments by sharing work, making a special meal, or having a family party that recognizes the hard work over the year and looks ahead to a summer of reading, adventure and fun!

Make the most of the last few days of school – no doubt it’s been a busy, productive and positive year. The work you’ve done every day will provide the foundation for a smooth change that will do children (and adults) good as they move to the next chapter of life!

NOTE: Chip Wood wrote an eloquent and beautiful piece, The Hummingbird Comes With Poised Attention and a more pragmatic and actionable post, Helping Students Make the Transition to the Next Grade on his blog. Check them both out!


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