Relaxing in front of YouTube. Playing Minecraft on a tablet. Soaking up cartoons on TV. Living in pajamas surrounded by a tsunami of new presents from Santa and grandma. Vegging out on the couch with holiday food in tow. These are just a few of the ways that kids let go during winter break. Unfortunately, this can make it difficult for them to return to the reality of the classroom and get back into the habit of doing homework after school.
If you are a teacher faced with a sea of distracted, drowsy, or unfocused young faces on the first few days back from winter break, you're going to need a strategy to get your young learners back into gear. But it isn't just students who feel the drudgery of having to return to school after the holidays — educators must also get themselves back into gear. After all, kids aren't the only ones enjoying time off during the break.
Here are a few of our best recommendations to make it a little easier to refocus yourself and your students and help get your classroom back into the swing of the remaining school year:
Give Students Time to Tell Their Holiday Stories
On the first days back from the holidays, it's essential to allow children to express themselves. Students will want everyone to know what they did over the break, which gifts they received, and all about the fun they had in their time away from school.
By making time for everyone to reintroduce themselves to the rest of the class, say a few words on what they did over the holidays, and tell everybody about one or two exciting things that happened outside of school, you'll give them the time and space they need to get re-acclimated.
Consider taking about an hour to simply go around the room to hear these stories, allowing time for students to interact and ask questions back and forth. Remember, not all students celebrate the same holidays over the winter break — introducing the concepts of Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and other winter break holidays will help students understand different cultures early on.
Ease Back into Classwork and Classroom Participation
The first week back to school after such a long break is hard on both you and the kids you're teaching. Rather than plowing into lessons right where you left off before the break, consider planning something a little more relaxed for returning students who may be tired.
The main thing you'll want to accomplish is getting kids back into the routine of the day. To do this:
Focus on group activities that get your students working together: this will help take their attention away from the clock and from thinking about recess or other breaks coming up next.
Use circle time or partner activities to reintroduce the daily schedule: This will take the pressure off of individual students to perform or know the answers on their own during participation activities.
Consider flashcards and other visual learning tools: These make it easier to get little brains firing on all cylinders again while also making it more fun to engage.
Review, Review, Review
In the first two weeks after winter break, school should include repeated focus on topics and subject matter covered in the weeks before the holidays. By thoroughly reviewing the academic concepts you expect them to have a handle on by this point in the year, you will be giving them better odds at full mastery by the end of the school year.
Go back to the basics for the best use of your time in the first week or two back to class. Beyond this, the first days after returning to school should be spent reintroducing students to your rules, your classroom procedures, and what you expect of them as students and as neighbors to their classroom peers.
Remind young learners of what they can expect from each day, how they ought to treat one another, when homework is due, and about upcoming long-term projects.
Simple rules are all things you will want to remind students of as they return to the classroom in the new year:
Be quiet while the teacher is talking
Raise your hand to speak
Be kind and respectful to other students
Follow all of the school's broader citizenship procedures
Keep an Eye Out for Struggling Students
As with all things in the classroom, some of your kids are more likely to have a harder time getting back into the groove. What's more, the transition back to the classroom can just be more difficult for some kids than it is for others after the holidays.
To make time in class after a break easier for every student, it's best to identify who might be struggling early on. Once you know who they are, consider offering more focused time for these students as you work to encourage them during participation and other activities.
If you anticipate that many of your students may have a particularly hard time coming back to school after the winter holiday, consider breaking up the first few days with more drawing, show-and-tell, and other interactive and entertaining activities. This can help students begin to warm back up to the classroom environment.
By allowing kids to share their stories and express themselves artistically after the long winter break, you are getting them started back to school on the best possible footing. Pair this with going over the material you were focused on before the holiday, offer opportunities for group work, and make sure everyone understands the rules of the road. Before long, your students will be ready to move on to new concepts.