The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas Vacation can be daunting and overwhelming leading to a type of teacher tired that can only be explained by the image above. I have to say this is one of the most exhausting times of teaching. Right up there with back to school and the end of the year.
The kids are super excited, and teachers are just trying to survive. So I went to work digging into my memory and investigating a guaranteed survival guide for those last few weeks of school before the holiday bonanza begins. Because let's face it, The holidays aren't much of a time for rest and rejuvenation for any of us! So conserving your energy is going to take some well thought out planning. And who has the time or oomph to do that?! So hang on to your Santa Hats!
How to Guarantee Survival the Weeks Before Christmas Vacation
Stay Focused on Routines
Keep on teaching in your daily routine as much as possible. Kids need the consistency of procedures. So instead of switching everything up for a holiday activity, keep your schedule in line and add into your regular day. For example, if you wanted to do a Makerspace/STEM Christmas activity put the reading portion into your regular reading block and save the response for your science or engineering time. I have several Makerspace Moments in Literature (MMIL) for Christmas. Don’t know what a MMIL is? Check out this blog post for all the information.
For instance, my MMIL Christmas version is based on Christmas Trolls by Jan Brett and Are You Grumpy Santa? by Gregg Spiridellis. Each story has multiple standards in which to do a focused Close Reading. All of the literacy activities can be completed in your regular Interactive Read Aloud timeframe in your Reading Block.
The makerspace activity is a response to the problem each character is facing. Students are planning, designing, and creating a solution or improving upon an already existing solution for the characters in the story. This engineering experience is perfect for science/engineering time and it will keep your kids engaged and on track.
2. Embrace the Holiday Spirit
If you can’t beat them, why not join them?! Sometimes when we pretend something isn’t happening it gets louder! So why not embrace this season with Christmas Read Aloud and responses. Readers Theater is another great way to keep the kids active while learning. Kids love readers theater!
How about taking your science topics and making them Christmas related. Long ago I took our Matter unit of study and created Holidays Matter. It is such a fun way to learn about solids, liquids, and gases with a holiday theme.
Or how about teaching informational text standards with nonfiction Christmas symbols during your reading block? If you know your standards, you can always make things fit.
Another great idea is Holidays Around the World. It is always compelling for kids to experience other traditions. This helps our children learn tolerance, empathy, and acceptance. Win win win!
3. Reward System
Also known as Bribery! Sometimes whatever works is critical during this time of year. I’ve read that some teachers write Christmas Party across the board and if the class as a whole is having difficulty, a letter gets erased. The goal is for at least one letter to remain to have the party. I think there are some pros and cons for this idea. Overall, class consequences can often be unfair. However, I also believe that even the excellent kids need to demonstrate leadership skills and be part of the solution. That may mean reminding others with a subtle hint that they need to get it together. But I would be careful about solutions such as this.
Another fun way to entice kids is with prizes. I’ve heard of some classrooms using elf bodies with the heads of students as the scoreboard. Every time something positive is displayed a tally is given. Prizes are distributed by a number of tally marks. Rewards can even be free and straightforward like- I get to read with my shoes off, I get to walk around the classroom with Christmas socks, and so on.
4. Kindness Lessons
Sometimes the best way to survive the weeks before Christmas are to focus on something good. I love the idea of teaching kids about kindness during this time, especially since kids can be a tad self-centered in December. I recently created a Christmas Kindness activity. Each student gets to be a secret Santa. Kids draw names out of a Santa hat or Christmas stocking. Next, the student gets to create a letter to the selected student about how great they are. This is a powerful time to remind students about how they respond and looking for goodness in each one of us. This may take some modeling and some examples and non-examples!
5 Christmas Advent Calendars
Another one of my favorite things to do to get through school in the weeks before winter break is to do an advent calendar of activities. An advent calendar is a calendar that counts down the days before Christmas. In this case, Christmas break! I created a 12 days before Christmas Vacation advent calendar with fun (and academic) activities 12 days before the break. Each day the students open a package (Printed and glued on a lap book). They complete the activity for the day. The kids get so excited about each day and when they can look at what’s coming next! You can even use this as a type of reward.
6 Movie and Game Day
I know some schools don’t allow movies to be played. But how about using it as a compare and contrast to a book? The Polar Express is a favorite among teachers. I also love to do Yes, Virginia.
After the movie, a fun game day where the kids bring in their favorite board games is a hit, as well. Games are a great way to learn and have fun! Sometimes what you are learning is how to get along with others, how to win and lose, and communication skills. (Just in case your admin needs a reason!) Plus, games allow kids to spend time in the Zone of Proximal Development (where things are challenging but not TOO hard). Just throw Vygostsky at them if necessary. LOL
A genius suggestion from a teacher in a group I am in on Facebook, recommended getting yourself completely prepared for your return. I thought that was so smart. They said plan like you would for a sub for the first 3 days back. (Need help with that? Check out How to Be Prepared for A Subbing Emergency. There is even a link to winter sub plans. You might just want them. Just in case. ;) Actually, since you made it this far, I would like to give you a copy of the first day of the Winter Emergency Sub Plans. See link below!
7. Lastly, Wine and Personal Days!
If all else fails a good glass of wine or a personal day never hurt anyone! Sometimes we do whatever it takes to make it until Christmas. The funny thing is there are actually blog posts out there for PARENTS! How to Survive the Christmas Break! So funny!
Whatever you do, try to enjoy it just a little. Christmas will be here before you know it.
Merry Christmas and Happy Teaching and Learning!