December is a crazy month! The excitement of the holidays, the frequent interruptions to instructional time, and the seemingly endless supply of sugar and sweets can throw both teachers and students out of kilter and out of focus. As hard as we try to maintain the “business as usual” mantra, some days it just seems impossible. Between holiday play practice, visits to the Secret Santa Shop, the thrill of the concerts and other performances, and the anticipation of the holiday break, it seems like when we do have the students physically, their attention span is challenged by all of the other things going on.
Teachers know that time is one of their most valuable resources – both for preparation and instruction. Some simple organization and planning tips can help reduce the stress and maintain instructional time in your classroom throughout the month of December.
Plan for the unexpected. December is full of unexpected – guests, interruptions, snow days, and sick days. Good planning and preparation is especially important. Take an extra 10-15 minutes each morning to make sure that you have the materials you need for the day. Spend a few minutes at the end of each day to take a quick look at the next day. Sometimes, just a mental checklist can be an effective way to minimize those overwhelming feelings. Also, try not to get too worked up if your plans are disrupted.
Busy does not equal busy work. Keep your students engaged and don’t rely on endless worksheets. They have more energy this time of year, so give them plenty of reasons to get up and move around the room rather than restrict them from it. Set up simple classroom learning centers (flash cards, manipulatives, activity cards, etc.) and let kids rotate through them for shorter time periods. Provide both structure and fun learning opportunities while building in movement and activity.
Catch kids being good. Behavior is more likely to be an issue now, especially with the students that need a great deal of structure. Look for examples of good behavior and really emphasize the positives. One way to both reinforce good behavior and communicate it with parents is to prepare a postcard (addressed and stamped) for each student. Depending on the grade level of your kiddos, you can even ask them to fill in the address. Knowing that you’re looking for good behavior to report to parents can build some excitement and motivation for students. When you “catch someone being good,” simply jot a quick note on the postcard and drop it in the mail. You’ll also know very quickly which students have not received a postcard from those that you still have.
The power of Peppermint. It may sound like an old wives’ tale, but numerous studies link the effects of peppermint with improved mental performance, attention span, and cognitive functioning. Use a peppermint rented room spray or fill up the candy jar with peppermint candies.
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