December is a crazy month, and the closer you get to break, the crazier it gets. The frequent interruptions to instructional time and the seemingly endless supply of sugar and sweets can throw everyone out of kilter and out of focus.
Some days, the typical suggestion to “stick to the routine” seems just plain impossible. Between the holiday play practice, the Secret Santa Shop, the musical performances, and the anticipation of the all the wrapped surprises under the tree, even when the students are physically present, keeping their attention is more challenging than ever.
Teachers know that time is one of their most valuable resources – both for preparation and for instruction. Here are 6 simple strategies to help reduce the stress, keep your class on track, and actually enjoy the special activities of the month.
Plan for the unexpected.
December is full of the unexpected – guests, interruptions, snow days (in some parts of the country), and unfortunately, lots of germs. Good planning and preparation are especially important. Take an extra 10 or 15 minutes each morning to make sure that you have all of the materials you’ll need for the day and be ready to go before the students arrive. And, try not to get worked up if your plans are disrupted. A greater sense of “flexibility” will help you keep your sanity and your sense of humor.
Busy work does not equal busy.
Keep your students engaged and don’t rely on endless work sheets. They have more energy this time of year, so give them reasons to get up and move around rather than restrict them from it. Set up simple stations (flash cards, manipulatives, activity cards, crafts, etc.) and let kids rotate through them for shorter time periods rather than center activities that are more time consuming. You can provide both structure and fun learning opportunities while building in movement and activity to address their heightened energy level.
Give kids a creative outlet.
The holidays are full of family gatherings, traditions, and lots of emotions. Provide many opportunities for children to express their feelings and capture memories through creative projects and DIY gifts. Making holiday cards, ornaments, special gifts, and other simple projects enables students to experience the joys of giving through their own creativity.
Catch kids being good.
Behavior is more likely to be an issue now, especially with the students that do better with more structure. One way to both reinforce good behavior and communicate it with parents is to prepare a postcard (addressed and stamped) for each student. Your secretary can probably help you quickly print out a set of labels to save time. When you “catch someone being good,” write a quick note on that student’s postcard. Drop it in the mail and you’re done. You’ll know which students you haven’t recognized from the postcards you still have. Send the remaining cards home with a simple holiday message to reach every family in your class.
Fill the room with peppermint.
It may sound silly, but numerous studies link the effects of peppermint with improved mental performance, attention and cognitive functioning. Use a peppermint scented room spray or fill up the candy jar with peppermint candies. Hey, some days you’ll try anything, right?
Avoid caffeine and sugar.
If you are a coffee drinker, try decaffeinated coffee or better yet, herbal tea or just plain water. If you know there is an enormous cookie tray in the teacher’s lounge that you won't be able to pass up, try to avoid going in there unless you have to. Too much caffeine can increase irritability, and every “sugar spike” has the inevitable crash.
Take time for yourself.
Even if it is only 5 minutes each day, close your door and take a few minutes for yourself, take some deep breaths and regroup. Don't just give yourself permission - make it a point to schedule a few minutes each day to relax, recharge and refocus.
Let us know what strategies work for you!