Reflecting on the School Year’s End
Creating a Thoughtful Transition Into Summer
The pace of activities and anticipation of summer can add to a sense of frenzy in these final school days. Children are excited about vacations and swimming. Parents are ready to shed the early morning commute to school and the pressures of homework duty. It’s tempting to race blindly forward into the sunshine without looking back. But there is significant value in taking a moment to reflect on the growth of the past year – friendships, academic progress, and newly developed interests.
Children may be sad to leave their teacher, their friends and the predictability of the school routine. They may worry about the loss of the stability and consistency that school provides over the summer and all of the unknowns of the anticipated next school year. There are some small, simple steps you can take to ease the transition and also deepen the lessons of the year through reflection. Here are a few suggestions.
Retell the defining moments.
I began asking last night, as my son and I anticipated the last day of school, questions about his year. What was the most surprising thing that happened? Did you make a new friend? When did you feel embarrassed? What made you belly laugh? What were you most proud of learning? These simple questions elicited a range of stories. I could tell my son loved thinking back on the significant moments of the past year. And you can promote reflection on learning by asking questions about specific subjects and what your daughter knew at the beginning of the school year, how she progressed and where she is ending the year in her knowledge and experience. These reflections help children think more about their own thinking (metacognition) and learning processes which, in turn, will help them when they return to school in the Fall feeling a sense of capability, motivation, and persistence. At a family dinner, bedtime, or on a road trip drive, ask some reflective questions and spend time together thinking about the many defining moments of this past school year.
Work together with your child on a thoughtful card or letter for her teacher.
End of the year gifts or flowers for a teacher are one traditional way to show appreciation. But consider instead of or in addition to a gift, sitting down with your child to write a letter together about what you appreciate about that teacher and the past school year. Talk about it a bit before launching into writing. “What were some of your favorite activities you remember from this year? Why is your teacher so special? Do you remember a time when your teacher was especially kind?” are all questions you might ask before putting words to paper. My son was so excited each day as we moved toward the final day that he rarely sat down. So instead of a letter, I wrote some prompts for him to consider and he easily contributed to this meaningful appreciation of his teacher (see picture). Writing down what you appreciate about the teacher and the school year with your child can serve the dual purpose of a valued keepsake for the teacher and a helpful reflection for your child on her year.
Create a temporary museum using artifacts of learning.
You likely have a pile, a bin or a busting-at-the-seams binder (as we do!) of school work from the past year. Before recycling or filing away, why not use the accumulated papers as evidence of learning and growth and a tangible way to reflect on that progress? Use your home as a museum. Place the school work in the order of the school year starting in the fall. Line them up across chairs, the couch and on end tables for display. Walk around as a family and talk about what you notice particularly when you note positive developments. With a little support from you, your kids may be excited to put together the museum themselves. With multiple children, use different rooms of the house and you may have a full academic museum for an evening.
Create a time capsule.
A terrific early summer activity might be to generate a time capsule in memory of this past school year. Work with your child to find and decorate a shoe box or other container and mark with the name of the child and dates of the school year. Now ask your child to consider their older self. What if he came across this time capsule hidden in the attic years later? What items would help him remember the unique attributes of this past school year?
Transitioning into Summer…
Talk about your routine “lite.”
Though you may be eager to relinquish the rigor of the daily school routine, children still thrive with some sense of predictability. So talk about changes in your routine while your family is together. Consider your morning, bedtime and meal times and other transitions in the day. How will things stay the same? How will things change? Having this discussion can help set expectations for the summer and also provide that sense of stability children can thrive on through routines.
Consider instituting quiet time or reading hour.
Sure, you may be gone some days during a typical quiet time. But consider assigning a particular time of day to serve as a quiet time whenever you are around the house. After lunch seems to work well for our family. Turn off devices and media. Haul out blankets and books. You could include snacks. But it should be a time when all in the household “power down” and take it easy. Set the expectation for this at the beginning of summer and kids will assume it’s part of their summer routine.
Brainstorm a list of favorite summertime activities.
Grab a poster board or newsprint and brainstorm together a list of favorite activities you want to be sure and get in over the summer. Separate into “at home” and “out.” Make sure there are some ideas that can be done as solo play. Hang it on the refrigerator or somewhere you can refer to it throughout the summer. This serves as a terrific way to anticipate the fun of summer and can be an invaluable support for pointing to when your child comes to you bored and unsure of how to spend his/her time.
Discuss summer screen time boundaries.
When I speak with parents who are anticipating summertime, this seems to be their biggest concern. “Feels like a power struggle every day of the summer,” one parent told me. So establish rules around screens from the outset. Involve your child. Do the summer activity brainstorm first and then consider what they might not get to do if they spend hours a day on screens. Learn more about ways to limit screen time by learning together. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for this two and under, two-years-old to five, only one hour. For five-year-olds and up, they recommend two hours a day of sedentary screen time, no more.
In Anticipation of the Next Level in the Fall…
Catch a glimpse of next year.
While you are able with school staff still around, wander past next year’s classroom with your child. See if you might catch next year’s teacher in the hallway just to say hello. Perhaps talk with a student who has just ended the next level and ask about highlights from the year. Teachers are likely talking with students about their next step. And your child might be harboring worries about the great unknown ahead. Stepping into the new environment and even making a brief connection with the teacher can go a long way toward allaying fears and preparing for a smooth transition.
Great is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending.
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Happy School Year’s End and Summer’s Beginning to You and Your Family!
Adapted, Originally published on June 1, 2017.