Monday, May 4, 2015

Five Tips for Surviving the End of School!

"These kids are driving me crazy!"
"They've got spring fever!"
"They should know better than this by now!"
"Boy, my class has gotten squirrely lately!"

Do any of these phrases sound familiar?  It is not uncommon for behaviors to change toward the end of the school year leading to lots of frustration.  It can be such a bittersweet time of the year for students and teachers alike!

The end of the school year is the splattered with a large array of emotions. One of the key triggers is all the pending transitions from what is familiar into the unknown.  In just a few short weeks children will be leaving a familiar children, teachers and routines to prepare to do it all over again in the fall with a new children, teachers and brand new routines.  This can create a lot of anxiety which results in "mis"behavior and leaves you feeling like your backpedaling!

The good news is we have a CHOICE!!!  We can choose to punish these challenging behaviors and get all stressed out about how out of control it has become OR we can see the behavior as communication of some unmet needs.  If we choose the later, then we remain in our brilliance and have the ability to manage our own stress and help the children do the same! 

I have had many colleagues over the years who do end of school countdowns.  I have mixed opinions about such countdowns.  Although they give us a timeline for the end of the school year, they also tend to come with the message "I can't wait till its over."  This creates a survival mindset.  It increases anxiety, sadness, and frustration.  You have spent all year building safety, trust, and loving relationships with these beautiful children and now you can't wait till it ends?

Perhaps you could choose to see it differently this year...

Are you willing to take a new perspective?  Let's try this:  "How can I make the days count rather than counting the days?"  If so, you will create new possibilities for yourself and your students!

Here are a few tips you could try to help you manage stress AND make the last precious days with your students count!

1.  Maintain a routine as well as you can.  Although many of the academic requirements are winding down, do what you can to give your students the structure they need in order to be successful.  Continue the rhythm of your day that they are used to!  This video demonstrates the arrival routine in a first grade classroom.  Your routines are like the skeleton that "holds up" the rest of your day!  Make sure you include visuals and model your expectations or "remind" them of the routine even though it is the end of the year.   

2. Be very intentional about including stress management strategies throughout the day.  These might include music and movement, deep breathing exercises, stretching, brain breaks, and visualizations.  Here is a video of Dr. Becky Bailey demonstrating some breathing strategies with a group of young children.  Take time to breathe every day!

3. Provide more information about the upcoming grade level.  For example, have an "ambassador" from the next grade level come and tell your students what to expect in Kindergarten.  I often hear teachers use threats such as, "they won't let you get away with that in Kindergarten" in an attempt to make children behave.  That strategy relies on fear in an attempt to manipulate behavior.  It would be more helpful to see the transition as similar to a visit to a foreign country.  Provide children with a tour guide, road maps, and all the helpful information you can as they plan for their new adventure!  This will be very beneficial in managing much of the anxiety that is bubbling up inside your little ones!

When I taught preschool, we planned a "field trip" to kindergarten.  Each of my preschoolers were paired up with a "tour guide" who showed them around the kindergarten classroom and helped them become familiar with this new environment.  The kindergarten children created books for the preschoolers about what to expect in kindergarten!  It was such a fun activity!

4. Increase rituals and focus on relationship and  remembering.  Make time to connect daily with your children.  You can do this through songs, finger plays, partner games, and whole group activities.  Be sure to include opportunities for eye contact, touch, presence, and playfulness.  Here is an example of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" with kindergarten students as a connecting activity.  This activity is also great for increasing impulse control and cooperation because it helps children access their executive function.

Wishing Well!  All year long we practice wishing well when members of our School Family are missing.  We tell the children that we will hold them in our hearts while their upset, sick, or absent from our School Family.  A couple of years ago we added this end of the year  ritual to symbolize our connection as a School Family.  Each child's name is written on a puzzle piece.  At our end of the year celebration, each child adds their piece to the puzzle to represent the fact that they will always hold a very special place in our hearts.  We also use this special heart with the new preschoolers the following year to represent the special children that have come before them!

Safekeeper Ritual!  The Safekeeper Ritual is a representation that we use in our Conscious Discipline classroom all year long.  It symbolizes the teacher's commitment to "keep the children safe" and their commitment to "help keep it safe."  This commitment becomes especially important as the end of the school year looms near.

5. Focus on the Favorites and HAVE FUN!  One thing I did at the end of every school year was to allow the children to vote on their favorite activities.  This was a great opportunity to "remember" the many fun and meaningful activities we had done in just a few short months.  During the last couple of weeks of school we revisited those activities and did some literacy activities associated with them as we wrapped up the year.

Of course, one of our all time favorites was Pete the Cat.  Pete was such a great example of keeping your cool by taking a deep breath and being a S.T.A.R. (smile, take a deep breath, and relax) when the world wasn't going your way.  So it only seemed appropriate to use these favorite children's books as a part of our end of the year activities!

Pete the Cat Bulletin Board for upcoming students

Pete the Cat book with group photo gift for each student

I hope this helps you have a new perspective on the "end of the year crazies".  Yes, it is frustrating when you have so many things that need to be done and the children's behavior is more squirrely than usual.  You hope that they would behave differently and demonstrate the skills you know they have.  Using just a few simple strategies can really help you AND your students have a more positive experience and leave you feeling full of joy and happiness as you stroll into summer with a smile on your face!  Because it's "all good!"

As always, I'm wishing you well!
Jenny Spencer, Conscious Discipline Certified Instructor
Ignite Learning LLC


  1. I LOVE your end of school routines. We keep with a lot of the same ideas in 2nd grade, and our end of school ritual is something the kids look forward to all year. They get to pick the science unit they'll be doing the last month of school, and they present what they've learned to their families and the incoming 2nd graders the last week of school. We also make a "Proud to be Me" classroom book for their third grade teacher as an ice breaker.

    1. What a fun way to end the year Joy! My daughter is in fifth grade and she brought home a project tonight where she was assigned the task of creating the Math lesson plan for one day next week. Each team in her classroom gets a turn to "teach" a lesson as the year winds up! What fun!

  2. Love it!!! I pulled out my Becky Bailey "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and we tried this today! WE went on our kindergarten visit yesterday and the kids are excited! Thanks for sharing these tips---they are certainly going to come in handy in the next two weeks!!!


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