Letting go of summer and gearing up for the new school year ahead can be many things for children.  This transition brings up the feelings of excitement, anticipation, anxiousness and nervousness. Creating structures and routines helps the whole family deal with the change.

Here are some ideas to encourage children transition into the new school year:

  • Routines If you haven’t already made a morning routine, sit down with your child and draw it out. You are looking for progress not perfection. Each day you can ask, “How did the routine work today? What can we do tomorrow to make it even better?”.iStock_000003927517Small 2
  • Thinking through the day Have a discussion with your child, encouraging him or her to think about how to prioritize now that school has started. What happens after school? Are there days with special activities like sports teams or art classes?
  • Calendar Are there days or times that your child spends with another parent or caregiver? Make a calendar for that so that the child can predict what is happening.
  • Homework What is the plan for getting homework done?
  • Family time What is the plan for spending time as a family? Will you have family dinners? Will you read, go on a walk or play games in the evening?
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The most important thing that happens in the school and classroom community during the first few weeks is encouraging children to get to know each other and to begin to see their class as a team.

Here are some activities for creating connections with your community of learners.

  • Ball of Yarn Have students join you in a circle. Hold a ball of yarn, share your name and something about yourself. Holding the end of the yarn, toss the yarn ball to a student. That student shares his or her name something about him or herself.  The student holds on to the string and then tosses the ball to a third student. When all the students have had a chance, the ball is tossed back to the teacher. It now looks like a spider web. It is an opportunity to discuss with students cooperation, interdependence. Instead of names you (and they) could share a hope of what will make this a great school year.iStock_000006627044Small
  • People poems Students write their name vertically on a piece of paper, and write things about themselves that begin with each letter of their name.
  • Time Capsule Collect empty Pringles cans or paper towel rolls. Have students write a handwriting sample, draw an outline of their hand, list some favorites (TV show, food, color, etc.). Place in the can/roll and seal. Open on the last day of the school year.
  • Sticker Partners to get to know each other better. Give a sticker or specially shaped paper to each child as they enter your classroom. Make sure there are 2 of each item so that students can match up. Have the students find their matching partner, interview him or her (name, favorite color, something they are good at) and then take turns introducing their partners to the class.

Other ideas for starting the school year:

Routines: https://sounddiscipline.wordpress.com/2015/09/10/routines-less-stress-more-time/

Starting the school year: https://sounddiscipline.wordpress.com/2015/08/07/getting-started-on-the-almost-perfect-school-year/

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Reconnecting With Joy

August can be a time of big transitions. The days are getting shorter and in many families, the first preparations for school are beginning.  It can be really busy!  Sometimes when there is a lot to be accomplished, adults in the family take their responsibilities seriously and focus on getting things done. Many of us show up as “human doings” instead of “human beings”. This is an invitation to make sure there is time each day to pause and connect with your children and what is really important. You can fit connection into your day pretty easily – but it requires paying attention. Here are some ideas:

  • Be in the moment. When you hug your child be there. Really. Not on the way to something else.
  • Let some spontaneity in to your schedule. Are you listening to the radio while you are getting ready for dinner and hear a song that makes you want to stop and dance? Do it. Invite your children to do it with you.
  • Share some of your story. Our children love to hear stories about how life was like back when we were little. What was your favorite summer memory from then? What is theirs?
  • Share gratitude. “I feel really grateful that I had time to snuggle with you this morning before we started our day.” “I feel joyful when our family is outside playing together”.
  • Have fun. What is fun for your family? Playing catch? Shooting hoops? Charades? Card games? I spy while you are on a car trip?

Play is good for the human brain. Play can:

  • Relieve stress. Play can stimulate the release of the bodies natural “feel good” hormones, endorphins.
  • Improve brain function. Solving puzzles or doing fun activities that challenge the brain improves brain function.
  • Boost creativity and mental flexibility. We all learn a new tasks better when we are safe, relaxed and the activity is fun. Play can also stimulate imagination and problem solving.

Enjoy the last days of summer!

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Joy In Learning

August is a wonderful time for reflection. The new school year is on the horizon and the past school year is now fading a bit in the distance. As a teacher or administrator, you face tremendous pressure to support students to achieve significant academic progress. Under this pressure, it can seem like every minute counts and academic learning must be packed into every nook and cranny.

Yet most of us did not get into education to fill brains. We are here because we get satisfaction and joy when we see the light in a child’s eyes when they “get it”, or discover something new, or get curious. We enjoy the process of learning together, of sharing new ideas, or a sense of wonder. Learning can be really fun!iStock_000006627044Small

We also know that play is good for the human brain. Play can:

  • Relieve stress. Play can stimulate the release of the bodies natural “feel good” hormones, endorphins.
  • Improve brain function. Solving puzzles or doing fun activities that challenge the brain improves brain function.
  • Boost creativity and mental flexibility. We all learn new tasks better when we are safe, relaxed and the activity is fun. Play can also stimulate imagination and promote problem solving.

Now is a great time to make a plan to bring a little more joy and playfulness into your classroom. This is not about making students happy, but rather being able to be spontaneous and joyful at appropriate times.  Here are some ideas:

  • Be “in the moment”. When you greet each student, make sure you are there “with” them for that few seconds.
  • Share what makes learning fun for you. This isn’t a mini lecture, but rather one or two sentences here and there. “You know, sometimes when I solve a really tough math problem, I just feel accomplished afterwards.” “One thing I love about reading stories is that it helps me think about things differently.” “Seeing a movie about a different country makes me want to learn more and wonder what it would be like to be there.” “Isn’t it interesting how all of our science groups came up with slightly different answers to the same problem?”
  • Be willing to laugh with (but not at) your students. Sometimes things happen in the classroom that really are funny. It might be a mistake you made, or something that surprises all of you.
  • Reflect and celebrate. Pause occasionally during the day and invite your students to reflect on one thing they learned. What have you learned?
  • Be you. You are a teacher for a reason. What will help you keep that alive when the going gets rough? Your students will notice and appreciate your passion.
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Self-Care for Educators

It’s important for teachers to remember that taking care of yourself isn’t a luxury; it’s a conscious, mindful strategy that results in being more energetic and present. This makes teaching more enjoyable and frankly, more survivable. Summer is a great time to reflect on the ways to take care of yourself and begin self-care routines for the school year. Here are some ideas:

  • Make time for friends and family.
  • Relax and have fun. That might involve spending time outside or swallowed up by a great novel.
  • Make exercise a regular part of your schedule – walk, bicycle, dance, do yoga regularly.
  • Connect with others. Before the school year begins, reflect on who your ‘go to’ people are. Who can you count on to listen deeply, see the humor in a situation, or exercise with you?
  • Store your inspiration. When the new school year starts, keep a folder or journal of inspirational quotes and/or the positive comments students, parents, colleagues make to or about you.
  • Gratitude practice. Spend time each day noticing what you are grateful for. Research shows that this changes your brain.
  • Anchor yourself. Think of small ways to stay grounded during the school day. Make a list of ‘pick-me-up’ items you can keep in your desk (protein boost – granola bars, nuts, stress ball, herb tea). Create a box of some of these items for your desk. You could even make one for a colleague.
  • Create a transition routine. Now is a good time to plan for ways to unwind or relax after each school day. Be creative: call a friend, take a walk, play with your pet, watch a show, dance, sing, take a bath, draw, cuddle with your children, knit, eat a healthy meal.
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Parents and Self-Care

Parents spend a lot of time and energy helping their children learn and grow. By the end of the day of meeting the needs of others (children, partner, colleagues, neighbors) you may not have much energy left for yourself. Taking care of yourself is not a luxury. It is a necessary, conscious, mindful strategy. In the busy-ness of your life it is more likely to  happen if it is planned and scheduled up front. Filling your own cup first leaves you with more love and energy for yourself, your children and the other important people in your life.  Some ideas:

  • What do you already do? Think about the ways that you already take care of yourself. Do you walk, meditate, listen to music? Or do you try to deny or ignore stress, procrastinate and avoid situations that are challenging? Reflect on what you might want to add or change.
  • Go for variety. Realize that self-care activity will work for all stressors. Find and practice a variety of tools. Plan for self-care that nurtures your body, mind and spirit: paint, do a craft, join a yoga or Zumba class, listen to music, connect with nature, walk your dog, watch a game, join a sports team, fix something.
  • IMG_0662Gratitude practice. Spend time each day noticing what you are grateful for. Research shows that this changes your brain.
  • Notice strengths. Make a list of your child’s strengths and what you love about your child. On those days when your children are pushing your buttons, go back to that list. Remember who they really are when they are feeling better.
  • Ask for and accept help when you need it.
  • Pay attention to your own needs. Practice saying ‘no’ when appropriate.
  • Pay attention to your body’s needs. Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night, hydrate and eat healthy foods. Allow yourself a treat now and then.
  • Be gentle with yourself. Ease up on expectations, especially of yourself.
  • Be aware of your self-talk. Make sure it includes noticing what you did well. “I helped my neighbor”, “I handled that well”, or “I did my best”. Ask your inner critic to not work overtime.

A final thought. If you find yourself shouting, maybe you are shouting for help. Take care of yourself!

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Moving Into A Strong Finish

As the end of the school year approaches, students of all ages become more anxious and excited. It is a big transition as the rhythm of the school routine will not be there. They will not be with all of their friends and a teacher they care about. Many students also face uncertainty with their families. This is a hard time of year for teachers, too. Teaching is hard work! Most teachers are pretty tired by now, and you have to pack up your classroom and write report cards. You’ve connected and cared about your students, and you are sending them off. We invite you to look at the end of year as an opportunity to strengthen the skills you’ve worked hard to build in your students and to support them and yourself in the transition into summer. Some ideas:

  • Stay with your well established routines (even reteach if necessary). Routine will help your students and you stay connected.
  • Have realistic expectations of yourself. This is a good time to make sure you invest in self-care. Keep things in perspective – don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • This is a great time to review and practice self regulation. Join your students in the practice. If you haven’t seen it yet, try out mindyeti.com. It is free and offers simple practices that students can continue over the summer.
  • If you are using class meetings, you can use the structure of the class meeting to talk about the transitions and hopes and dreams for the fall.
  • Take time for reflection and small celebrations. Help your students notice how far they have come. They can do this by comparing work samples or group sharing. What did they enjoy most this year? What was their biggest challenge? If they were to write a letter to a future student in your class, what would they say?
  • Instead of big end of year parties, think about a goodbye ritual or practice that you might do with your students. Some classrooms use the ball of yarn activity. Others write appreciations for each other.
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