This is certainly not how I expected the year to end… I think we are all feeling sad, even grieving, wishing we had closure for the end of the school year. You spend all year (for us this year it was 117 days of school…) building relationships and forming a classroom community. And now… nothing? We are just expected to say “See ya!” and move on? I’ve thought of some ways that I plan on using with my students to give everyone some closure to the end of our school year, to celebrate what we have accomplished in the year, and to prepare students and families for the summer and for next year.
Probably more important this year than ever, we want to share memories of the happy times we shared, the community we built, and all that the students learned this year. But how can we do this remotely?
I plan on creating a slideshow like I always do at the end of the year, but this time I will ask families to submit a few photos for the slideshow from their time at home. I like to use iMovie to create my slideshow, just because I have more control over the speed of photos, adding captions, and music. At one of our google hangouts towards the end of the year, I will show the slideshow. Afterwards, I will share it with the families so they can watch as a family. I hope that this will help them to remember all the good times we shared together and to feel connected to our classroom community again.
Another way to share memories is with a memory book. In the past I printed out the memory book and had everyone fill out a page or two a day in the classroom. That is not possible this year. So I created a digital version – well two versions actually! I made one version that means each student can get a page to complete for the class memory book , and one version that would be an individual memory book. In each version, the teacher fills out part of the book with memories and photos. Then the families will help their child fill in the rest.
Normally, I give each child a portfolio of materials they’ve worked on throughout the year and some favorite photos of them. I obviously can’t do that this year. So instead, I will probably do both of these digital portfolios. I will make one that everyone in the class can see and encourage families to fill in their own page. I will also make one for each child and I will fill in their photos and some fun memories. If the family doesn’t actually sit down and fill it in, that’s ok! Because they can still look at the photos I put in the memory book.
Celebrating the end of the year together
It’s always important to celebrate at the end of the year – celebrate all the students have learned, how hard they have worked, and all the fun memories we have had together. We won’t be able to have a class party this year. I always loved having a month of fun events at the end of the year that combined academics and fun theme days. These days (you can read more about them here) really helped everyone to be excited to come to school, including myself, gave everyone something to look forward to, and really helped focus our end of the year in a fun, positive way. I am sad that this class won’t share these fun memories.
So, I am thinking that I can share some of these fun memories with the students in our final weeks. I can share some of the activities for families to do at home and invite them to dress up if they want. I can also do some of these fun days in our final google hangouts.
Some of the easy one’s for families to do at home, and over our google hangout, would be backwards day (Spoiler alert… it’s free!), rainbow day, pajama day, toy day, show and tell day, wacky hat day, and sunglasses day. Some fun days for families to do at home would be books and bubbles day, beach day, fairy tale day, camping day, pirate day, cinema day, and my favorite day of the year – board game day. I love having my students create their own board games – they are so invested in creating them that they spend hours on it!
Easing anxiety for the end of the year
I think more than ever, students will be experiencing many feelings about the end of the year. There’s always an increase in anxiety at the end of the year as the children are nearing a major transition – the end of this teacher and this classroom community. What will next year bring? Will next year’s teacher like me? What if I don’t have friends in my next class? Of course, children can’t really verbalize these feelings and so they usually communicate them through increases in behaviors and regressing in their social emotional development.
Normally, we have many ways that we can support students in the end of the year (you can read about that here). However, this year adds on a whole other layer of anxiety that no one can really ease. So instead of trying to ease the anxiety, I have created a simple (FREE) social story to help my students verbalize what they are feeling and reassure them about the next year. Once the feeling is named for students, many of the feel much better and their behaviors decrease.
Extending the distance learning to summer
Finally, with so many unknowns about the summer still out there, and given the fact that our students have missed so many days of school (virtual learning or not… it’s just not the same as the learning they can do in the school day), it will be important to support families and students to keep up with their practicing of academics. I always give my families a summer packet that is filled with helpful information and resources, as well as a calendar of fun daily challenges that families can easily accomplish at home with no extra materials. I will be sharing this with my families prior to the end of the school year.
This year did not end how anyone would have expected. While we can’t be together, there is still a lot that teachers can do to support their students in celebrating our classroom community and all that they have learned throughout the year. We can do our best to ease our students’ anxieties and support them in preparing for next year.