All educators know that the classroom can feel chaotic during the holiday season. Everyone is filled with excitement and anxiety, which sometimes reflects in student (and staff) behavior.
As a teacher working with an underprivileged demographic, I know that my students experience challenges when they are home an extra 2-3 weeks during the holidays. Some of them are left to fend for themselves while their parents are at work during the day. Some might go without food or spend their holiday in a cold home. Some might have extra relatives staying for several days that create pandemonium in the home (and typically displace them).
As a mom, I’ll admit that when my daughter is home with me over breaks, we typically don’t stick to a schedule. She hardly naps, we don’t eat as healthy, and we usually get a little stir crazy from being at home so many days in a row. By the third or fourth day, my patience starts to wither away, and by the end, we’re both ready to get back to a regular schedule. That’s just an honest reality.
With that knowledge, it’s imperative that educators give their students a little extra grace during the holiday season. More important than grace, we need to create an inviting and captivating environment for kids- even more so than usual. We need to increase student engagement in order to decrease behavior.
Be intentional about making school a place kids want to be over these next couple weeks. Check out my tips below on adding a little fun into the academic mix over the holidays.
Increasing Student Engagement During the Holiday Season
- Make students feel at home by decorating your room. You don’t have to sacrifice a lot of money or time, in fact the students could even help you make decorations. It’s a great way to add a welcoming feel to your room.
- Display and read holiday books. I always display my holiday books and make sure students know they’re special to me. They are constantly asking to borrow them and take extra special care of them. What a great way to promote literacy!
- Celebrate the holidays. Learn about other cultures and holidays around the world. Eat a Christmas meal together. Put together a small gift exchange or make a Christmas craft. Bring snacks for a celebration. Take time to celebrate the holidays together. It doesn’t take long, but it makes a lasting impact on students.
- Incorporate more STEM and project-based learning. Channel their need for movement and noise into a productive project, allow students to be creative, and provide an avenue for autonomous learning. December isn’t the month for “drill and kill” or MAP test preparation. Use this time for culminating projects or extra science experiments. Their engagement and your sanity will increase exponentially.
- Create a library of seasonal and holiday books on Epic. I made a collection of books and shared it with my students. It’s FREE and they absolutely love it! Bonus: Epic also has advent calendars for every month with activities for students to do at school or home.
- Get an Elf on the Shelf. I really underestimated the power of this added surveillance system that reports back to Santa. Apparently kids are really motivated by the thought of only receiving coal for Christmas. Not to mention, their reactions are hysterical when they enter the room in the morning. Our elf is pretty naughty and gets into everything!
- Listen to holiday music. You might actually be the Grinch if you don’t enjoy holiday music. It brings a cheerful vibe to every environment. Create that feeling in your room!
- Incorporate seasonal topics into the curriculum. Read holiday books and discuss character traits and story elements, or find a non-fiction book to pair with it. Write a persuasive letter to Santa or research arctic animals. Create word problems that relate to Santa’s workshop, mileage that he travels on Christmas, or the number of cookies he eats in one night. The possibilities are endless!
- Provide incentives to encourage positive behavior. These next two weeks are the perfect time to shower students with positive praise. Give more Dojo points than usual, stock up on candy to hand out frequently, set daily behavior goals and celebrate at the end of the day.
- Lighten your mood and have fun! The holidays are a time of gratitude and friendship. Show your students some love and maximize on building those relationships.
Remember, the holiday season can be tough for some people. Students need a safe, welcoming environment. They need to learn and have fun. YOU are the single most important factor in creating that environment for kids.