Most elementary school teachers are in countdown mode. Only 30 days to summer… 29 days to summer…28 days…But even veteran K-5 teachers will concede that, no matter how road-weary you are, you still need to consider the perspectives of your students right to the very end. Children look forward to celebrating their year and their successes. And you should, too. After all, you’ve been building a cohesive classroom community all year, so make it a strong finish!
Although teachers are inclined to want to reward their young students with treats and parties at the end of the year, these traditions need not be lavish. Ideally, school parties should still be meaningful, authentic learning experiences for children. Celebrations are excellent opportunities to reinforce a myriad of things like responsibility, self-discipline, imagination and creativity.
For fresh ways to spend the last week of school, we found some wonderful examples from Mrs. Feinman’s class, a first grade teacher in Houston. Mrs. Feinman lets everyone share their opinion by providing “exit interview cards” to her first graders. They answer questions about the past year and about their teacher. This is realistic feedback that can help teachers of any grade level determine the learning experiences that resonate most with their students.
Mrs. Feinman also makes “advice cards” for her exiting students to tell next year’s class what to expect. She attaches each student’s class photo to the cards and hangs them in the hallway to greet her incoming students in the fall. It’s an empowering exercise for students to “advise” their successors, and works well for even the youngest of children.
Inspire Imaginations with a Cultural Theme Party.
Instead of the typical end-of-the-year pizza party, last year Mrs. Feinman planned a pretend field trip to “Hawaii.”
She sold plane tickets ahead of time for a few dollars each and used the money toward party food and decorations. She made mock tickets from this very cool website and laminated them for instant souvenirs.
When her students arrived on the morning of party day, this teacher-turned-flight attendant collected each student’s boarding pass as they entered the classroom. They were delighted to find their seats arranged in rows of two with an aisle down the middle like an airplane.
The principal made a pilot’s address over the intercom system and welcomed students aboard their flight. Mrs. Feinman played sound wave clips of airplanes taking off (get yours free here), and showed a tourism video on Hawaii as an in-flight movie.
When the class reached their destination, they disembarked to the playground, (parents could be enlisted to distribute Hawaiian leis). The rest of the afternoon was spent playing simple games that fit all skill levels, such as limbo, surfing contests on towels, and coconut toss. They snacked on tropical fruit.
No doubt, there were some tired travelers that night! Parties like Mrs. Feinman’s are self-esteem boosters, because they provide interesting, yet simple activities for children of all social maturity levels to master and enjoy.
We recommend that your end-of-the-year parties always have some set plans for learning. Do not be tempted to hand over complete control to well-meaning parent volunteers. Parties are still learning opportunities that happen on your watch during the school day, so in other words, you are ultimately responsible for what occurs. Some structure mandated by the teacher prevents class parties from becoming free-for-alls, where students who are less socially oriented might feel isolated and uncomfortable.
For more examples of fun ways to learn, download our Extension of the Classroom Guide of teacher-tested tips, and put a fresh spin on an old idea!