The end of the year is rapidly approaching. It's usually the best time of year. The class is gelling, the memories are abundant, and the warm weather has finally hit. You can finally get outside and enjoy some different activities. For me, the days always seemed to sprint by as well. While you're finishing up the last pieces of the curriculum, weave in some final days fun. Keep reading for 10 fabulous end of year activities for the upper elementary classroom.
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, and wrote with quills. They also tried to make art like Michelangelo by drawing pictures while laying on the floor under their desk. Just tape the paper to the underside of the desk. They also explored the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci and tried to build with popsicle sticks and toothpicks. It was great fun!
If you can't come up with 4-6 activities for an end of year 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. They can complete a mathematical coloring page, write a thank you to their parents, or fill out a survey on their year. Build the drama and suspense each day. Make it as fun as it can be without losing all control. Just keep in mind that you and your classroom might be the only happy spot for some of your kids. Make sure you honor and validate all feelings that can arise at this time of year. Have fun, but don't stomp on other's feelings to do it.
Memory Walls Mark the End of the Year
A memory wall is just that, a wall of memories! For this end of year activity, 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 very 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 for the entire class. I used to make big individualized memory books for my students. 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 their own 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. Students head outside for a day of fun and relaxation. The P.E. teacher always has such a great day of activities planned. I am a total tomboy, so field day was always my favorite. One of the highlights of the day is eating a picnic style lunch together as a class. Hanging together and just talking about school, life, memories, etc. is always a good time. We often get quite a few laughs together. It really proves to be a great bonding time. 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. All the kids would sign it. Then I would 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. Not too many years later, I started asking for the parents to chip in. I also included a spot on the order form 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 dwindle, a great end of year 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? Are there skills needed to be a great student? What lessons (life or otherwise) have been the most important? 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. This activity will help students feel welcomed, reassured, and ready to tackle the new 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. A little bit goes a long way. Have them draw, answer questions, or just play for about 10 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 might have to repeat this a few times. But, you'll have a clean classroom and the kids will have another great memory.
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Hold an Awards Ceremony or Two
Each year as the days drew to a close, another end of year activity I made sure to include and capture on film, 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 all my students. Each has 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. I definitely have gotten teary-eyed, if not weepy, more than once. The students are so appreciative and supportive of one another. Those 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 in the gift department. 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. I've also given plastic cups, water bottles, bubbles, small stuffed animals, and a mish-mash of little trinkets.
My daughter's favorite gift of all time, however, 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.
Whatever activities you decide to do 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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