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. In fact, your child will never experience that grade level or that particular class culture again.
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. They may be looking forward concerned about 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. I asked:
- 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 in 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.
Recognize the important caring adults who contributed to your family – teachers, coaches, principal, school volunteers.
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. For more ideas on recognizing those caring adults in your child’s life, check out Appreciating Our Child’s Influencers.
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. I line the dining room with rope and post papers and artwork with clothespins.
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.
Do the big book line-up.
It’s likely that most of the books your child read this school year are hanging around your bookshelves. Why not create a temporary display? What a sense of accomplishment to see a book sculpture with all of the stories you’ve read, learned from and enjoyed since the school year start. It may even spur conversations and reflections on your favorite characters and stories! It may also encourage further reading this summer and inspire a new stack for the coming months.
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?
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 relaxing summer and a smooth transition next fall.
Show how much your family truly values the process of learning. Celebrate together the accomplishment of a school year filled with hard work. Go on a picnic. Gather at the local ice cream shop with friends for some delectable cones. Take a moment to recognize this change.
Great is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending.
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
In a few weeks. I’ll post on transitioning into summer with some new tools to set you and your family up for fun and cooperation! Meanwhile…
Happy School Year’s End to You and Your Family!