It’s been a long year for kids and teachers, but here we are, almost at the finish line. It’s a time to enjoy the students you got to know and care about this year and celebrate the unique classroom identity they formed. Staying focused on work as the weather turns warm and summer is on the horizon is never easy. These strategies can help you keep your classroom calm, incorporate fun into learning, and reflect on all you have accomplished together during the final weeks of school. They have worked well with my first graders and could be effective in other elementary grades as well.
Keep the energy calm. Sometimes when the energy level in the room is high, sticking to established routines can help keep expectations clear and encourage students to stay focused on class procedures you have worked hard to establish during the year. To do this, we sometimes need to slow down and practice these expectations again to help students reset behaviors and remember classroom norms.
Routines can also help kids feel safe when inevitable change is ahead at the end of the year and things feel uncertain. Knowing what to expect each day keeps school a predictable place that kids can count on. Incorporating meditations into your day or a quiet time with the lights low when you give students a choice to write, read, or draw independently is another way to keep the energy calm and focused.
Take a break. If the energy level in the class begins to escalate, using Responsive Classroom’s “Take a Break” method is an excellent way to keep the classroom calm, safe, and orderly. It allows kids to step away from the group when they begin to lose self-control and come back when they are ready to refocus on learning and work productively with others. Sometimes, even the teacher needs to relax for a moment.
A good way to do this is to have the whole class settle in to listen to a story together from Storyline Online. It’s a fun way to engage with well-loved books. For example, try Oprah Winfrey reading The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen, and then the class can have a Hula-Hoop contest outdoors. At the end of the day, you can enjoy Chris O’Dowd reading Arnie the Doughnut and then share a box of doughnuts. It is a sure way to bring a few calm moments, combined with some fun and laughter, into your day.
Keep learning fun. Allowing kids to have academic choices within a framework is one way to keep them engaged at the end of the year. Use the independence that your students have developed over the year, and give them some freedom in designing how they will accomplish their work. This could look like having stations at math time where kids choose between their favorite math games, having a genius hour of student-directed research, or engaging in a project-based learning activity such as identifying and mapping the plants or trees growing on your school property.
Also, incorporating learning games like Quiz, Quiz, Trade, playing charades with vocabulary words, or having students create and lead review games using an online platform like Kahoot or Quizlet can keep things interesting for kids.
Get outside. Spring is the perfect time to get outside with your students to see new leaves on trees, observe flowers popping up, and look for birds returning to the schoolyard. This year, I have taken my class outside each week for something we call “sit spots, storytelling, and hot tea.” My students spend 10–15 minutes sitting alone in their sit spots with a journal to write and draw what they observe in nature. It encourages them to notice what is happening around them as the seasons change. Then we come back together to tell stories of what we saw or how we felt as we share cups of tea. It is our favorite way to center ourselves and reflect together as a class.
Write gratitude letters. The end of the year is a great time to look back and reflect on the highlights. I will often ask my students: What did you accomplish this school year? What are you most proud of? Who helped you achieve your goals? We use these reflections to write gratitude letters to friends and teachers who were important to us throughout the year. The kids love walking around the school to deliver a gratitude letter to a favorite teacher or friend. It is a wonderful way to celebrate accomplishments and appreciate the people in your school community who helped contribute to your students’ successes.
Make time for celebrations. Find ways to plan celebrations for the kids to look forward to each week outside of the regular work routine. It can be simple, like a walking field trip around the neighborhood or heading outside for a rock-paper-scissors tournament. It can also be a more elaborate celebration, such as inviting families in for an author’s breakfast to listen to the kids reading some of their writing from the year, an outdoor field day, or a class picnic. Having your class vote on ways they would like to celebrate the end of the year makes things feel more festive and joyful for students and teachers.
As hard as it is to keep kids engaged at the end of the school year, it can also be a joyful time with your students. Keeping a calm, predictable routine until the end, finding ways to make learning fun, and reflecting on accomplishments together are reliable ways to keep kids happy and engaged, reduce behavior issues, and end the year strong and proud.