The end of the year is rapidly approaching and it’s usually the best time of year. The class is gelling, the memories are abundant, and the warm weather has finally hit which allows you to get outside and enjoy some different activities. This year will be a little different with everyone completing online digital learning and away from the students they love so dearly, but that doesn’t mean that the memories have to end.
Set up a day to culminate your curriculum and have a thematic day. My daughter’s favorite day in school was Renaissance Day. They dressed up in costume, if possible, wrote with a quill, drew pictures while laying on the floor under their desk (tape the paper to the underside of the desk), and more. If you can’t come up with 4-6 activities for a theme day, then try a fun theme week. Make Monday favorite outfit day, and Tuesday funny socks day. Have a sports day, superhero day, and others. Just make sure to think about the inclusion of all kids when you do this. For instance, twin day is hard for those kids who are socially introverted and those who may struggle making friends for any number of reasons.
Countdown the Days Together
When about ten days are left in the year, create a paper chain or balloon count down. Each day have a random act of kindness, a shared memory, or a task for your students to complete, such as doing a mathematical coloring page, or filling out a survey on their year. Build the drama and suspense each day and make it as fun as it can be without losing all control.
Place a large piece of butcher paper up on your wall and give your students a few days to start noting down all their great memories from the year. I’ve found that it usually takes a few days for the really great memories to start flooding back to them, so give your paper, or this free Digital Memory Wall, some time to brew. Make sure you leave time at the end of the year to review everything that’s been written, photographed, and shared, so you can have a few more laughs together as a class.
Memory books are another great way to capture your student’s thoughts, ideas, and reflections from the year. Each student can have their own unique memory book, or you can do one that is more general to the class as a whole with unique highlights throughout. I used to make beefy memory books for my students and then my digital offering “way back when” was a DVD of all our photographs set to music. It sure took a lot of time, but it was a labor of love and boy, did I love those books and DVDs. Nowadays you can make a digital memory book much more quickly and assemble it so much easier. A couple of my friends have some great options if you’re looking to go with paper or digital with this task this year. Joyce & Steve, over at 1st Grade Pandamania have a fabulous paper memory book for the younger crowd. Parents love to see kids trace their hands, write their name, and more. While The Craft of Teaching has an awesome digital version for this year. Each grade (3rd-6th) has a book and students make it really unique with their memories from the year.
Field Day is another end of year event that I just love. We get to head outside for the day. The kids are all relaxed and ready to have fun, and the P.E. teacher always has such a great day of activities planned. I am all about sports and a total tomboy, so this day was always a blast for me, but one of the highlights of the day is eating a picnic style lunch together as a class and just talking about school, life, memories, etc. We often get quite a few laughs together and it really proves to be a great bonding time. Even though we’re online learning this year, having a lunch with your kids, while online, is not out of the question. You could even play some games online, like ArcademicSkillBuilders, Cool Math, Minecraft, or many others. Enjoy the time you get with them before the year is over.
Another thing I absolutely loved about field day was our class shirts and hats. I would create a design, have all the kids sign it, and then take it to a local T-Shirt shop for production. The first couple years I actually paid for the shirts and hats myself, as an end of year gift, but not too much later I started asking for the parents to chip in. I even had a spot where parents could donate money to help those who were less affluent. No one ever went without our class shirts. Then later, seeing everyone all in a group, working together for a common goal, and sporting our class duds was so neat. The pictures were pretty fabulous too.
Advice for Next Year’s Crop
As the days dwindled, a great writing activity is to have your students write to an up and coming student. Have them explain what your grade level is like. Do classes rotate or are they contained? What teachers do they see? What lessons (life or otherwise) have been the most important? What skills are needed to be a great student? All these questions and so many more, can be answered in a letter to the new students. Then save those papers and have one on each desk on the first day of the new year to help students feel welcomed, reassured, and ready to tackle the school year.
Clean Up & Pack Up Together
This necessary task doesn’t have to be done by you alone. Get your students to help by packing up their totes, cubbies, or lockers. Have them clean out their notebooks, desks, and backpacks, and then wash those desks down with some shaving cream fun*. I usually buy one can for every 8-10 students. Give them a small pile on their desk and have them draw, answer questions, or just play for 10-20 minutes. Then walk around with a spray bottle, add a little water to each desk and have them scrub it clean with paper towels or cloths. You’ll have a clean classroom and the kids will have another great
memory. *This is an affilliate link. I am an Amazon Associate and earn on qualified purchases.
Hold an Awards Ceremony or Two
Each year as the days drew to an end, another event I would make sure to undertake and capture, was classroom awards. I gave out awards for academics and effort, attendance and reading, and best of all character. I’d usually do all my awards at once, but sometimes we’d have multiple award days, and you know what, there’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes kids aren’t celebrated and applauded enough. My character awards have always been a true passion of mine. I agonize for days over who should get which award and how to make sure everyone is included in the best way possible. I then make certificates for my students, each with a unique quote about the character trait included. Then usually on the last day of school I hand out my awards with a story and reason behind each and every one. I love to share their deeds and accomplishments with them through my eyes, and have gotten teary-eyed, if not weepy, more than once. The students are so appreciative and supportive of one another, that character awards are something I look forward to all year long.
Definitely not a requirement, so don’t feel obligated, but I always enjoyed giving my kids a gift at the end of the year. Some years and some schools were more extravagant than others, but you really only need to do something small that reminds your kids that you care about them and will miss them when they move on. I’ve given shirts and hats, as mentioned before, cups, water bottles, bubbles, small stuffed animals, and a mish-mash of little trinkets, but my daughter’s favorite gift of all time was in 2nd grade when her teacher made her class bookmarks. She had the whole class sign the back and then laminated them before handing them out. My daughter used that bookmark for years to come. 1st Grade Pandamania has some adorable free bookmarks that can be used for many different grade levels, and Apple-y Ever After has some great pirate bookmarks that would make a cute end of year gift too.
However you decide to celebrate the end of the year and the special days you’ve shared with your students, it will all be good. Kids just like to know that they mattered to you and that you will remember them. And if they can remember you in the process with a token, certificate, or even just the memories they hold in their heart, they will take that with them forever.
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