December can be a great month. It can also be exhausting. Your schedule gets tossed aside for concert rehearsals, bad weather and overstimulation of the little darlings in your care. How do you teach when your whole schedule needs to be tossed? This is our guide to calm the chaos.
There are three whole weeks of learning that are supposed to happen in December, but it can be VERY challenging to fit it all in. Here is what we do to mitigate the chaos.
While December is the month with the most disruptions for us, these ideas can work any time of year.
We try to keep our schedule as close to the usual as possible. We try to stay ahead of all the scheduling changes by keeping track of school events, field trips and performances. With that said, we try to be as flexible as we can. There is no point in getting frustrated with the schedule. It will just be wasted energy that you could use to work with your students.
We teach to calm the chaos
We teach. Although, we don’t teach anything that would be considered critical. Focus on big ideas, things that need reviewing, and items that students can extend or reinforce. All of the activities are important; however, they can be easily made up later.
In math, we pause the fast-moving lessons and do a bit of review. We practice different skills with our Math Practice Worksheets for Grade 4 or Math Practice Worksheets for Grade 5. We also have them for Grade 3.
This “downtime” where it isn’t as busy is the perfect time to pull students who could use a little extra attention. You can teach small groups or individual students because there aren’t as many students who need your attention.
Play math games. Students get to practice their skills and it’s fun. They stay busy, too. You might want to download our task card game Whamu!
In Language Arts, we do Book Clubs instead of regularly scheduled Guided Reading groups. This allows students to read the book when they can and there is more flexibility in your day. We try to assign these projects to be completed over about a month. A flexible schedule allows for all the reading time needed.
Add a little drama into your classroom by using drama circles to help review concepts in social studies or science. We have a few posts about adding drama into your classroom: Ways to Teach Drama in the Classroom or Add Some Drama to Your Classroom.
Projects can help calm the chaos
These are two we love for the holiday season:
- Design a Gingerbread House: Combine math and art in this fun activity that makes a mess and a wonderful creation!
- Elfbook: A Digital Creative Writing Activity: This activity uses Google Slides and lets your students create a social media profile page as if they were an elf.
We use project-based learning in our classroom regularly and by mid-year, our students are pretty good at working with various levels of independence. If you’re interested in how we do project-based learning in our classroom, read our post: The Reasons for Project Based Learning. Download this project based learning checklist.
Start projects before it gets busy. Students work on the project of their choice during their independent work time. Our class usually contains lots of students who join things like choir and drama, meaning they are out of the room a lot with performances and rehearsals.
We don’t want to punish students who are away or want the students in the class to feel punished with more work.
This usually means that we start a project in social studies. At this time of year, we’ve typically finished geography and regions for Alberta or Canada and are just starting on some of the histories. We usually assign a project that our students can work on for several weeks. For Grade 5 that is usually Design a Fur Trading Post and for Grade 4 that is usually Design a Prairie Homestead.
We start a Design a Gingerbread House project that students can work on. The whole class does the papier mâché part of the activity together, but they paint and decorate their projects on their own.
We set up students with five or more art projects at the beginning of the month. They work on these projects all through the month. We require them to have in three for assessment and the rest are just for fun. We use lessons from some of the art sets we’ve created over the years
- Artists of Canada This collection is inspired by various artists that call Canada home.
- Indigenous Artists of Canada These projects are inspired by a variety of Indigenous artists that live all over Canada.
- Winter Themed Art Projects These themed projects all involve winter. These are great for those winter days and winter displays.
- Landscapes & Geography Inspired Projects All of these projects relate to geography and landscapes and can be easily tied to your social studies lessons.
- Light & Shadow Inspired Projects These projects are designed to help students learn more about how light and shadow interact.
- Plants Inspired Art Projects These projects are inspired by plants throughout nature.
We also allow our students to work on various craft activities. Are you looking for a lesson you can do that isn’t too Christmas-y? Try our Snowman Heads lesson by joining our email list. You’ll also get access to our Resource Library full of other resources.
Students use our classroom makerspace to create gifts for their family members. You might want to check out our post: What Goes in a Makerspace? We use this as a learning tool throughout the year and it gets a good workout this time of year as it’s open for business most days.
Routines help calm the chaos
It can be nearly impossible to hold onto regular routines, so it’s important to create temporary routines that students can hold on to.
Every morning we start our day with quiet reading. We fill a bin with Christmas books or books that are seasonal. Some students choose to read these books during that time while others read their books from the library or our classroom library collection.
We start the day like this so that students who got stuck in inclement weather have a bit of time to make it into class without missing any vital information.
Students know that after quiet reading I will put up our “schedule” for the day and then we’ll have a quick class meeting to start our day.
Our meeting is a basic “how are you feeling?” type meeting where students can ask questions about the schedule, concerns they have about things like “when will we have gym if the gym isn’t available?” We do our best to answer as many of these questions as possible based on the information we have. We talk about how we need to be flexible with the schedule.
Then we start our project work time. We let the students choose what they’ll work on during this time, but we use a simple chart to keep track of what they’re doing. We use a pocket chart, but you can easily make a chart on a piece of chart paper or on the whiteboard. In the left column is a list of all the possible projects or assignments students have the choice to do. They put their name next to the item they’re working on.
Write the must finish assignments at the top of the chart. Students must finish that work first before moving on to their choice.
Create Some Calm
When the schedule is out of whack everyone is on edge, particularly students who need routines.
Look for opportunities to calm the chaos. We turn off the lights (still not dark in our room), ask students to rest their heads on their arms and then we read to them. We keep our voice as quiet as we can manage and all the students can still hear us. The kids love this and it’s a great way to bring everyone down to a quiet level.
Sometimes we’ll put on soft music. When you search for concentration music on YouTube there are hours of music that don’t have lyrics. Be sure to use an ad blocker so you don’t scare the bejeezus out of yourself when the ad comes on loudly.
One of our class’s favourite activities is reading in the dark. We turn off the lights and put on a crackling fire (on the SMARTboard). Students find a comfy place to read with a flashlight. Sometimes we have a healthy snack during this time like apples or cheese and crackers.
We love to take our students for walks. If the weather permits, we go for a walk almost every day. It’s a great way to get a little exercise, fresh air and get a break from being cooped up all day. Sometimes we’ll stop and play at the playground as the gym is often not available to use at this time.
Get a Little Exercise
Being locked up in a classroom all day every day in the middle of winter can break a person’s spirit, so we try to do a few things each day to break up the day. It keeps students from getting too fidgety and it’s fun. Here are some simple things we do to break up our day with movement:
- put on some music and dance
- use GoNoodle.com It has lots of movement activities.
- Try “snowshoeing” by using scrap paper. Stand on the paper and shuffle your feet and you move around the classroom. You must keep the paper with your feet all the way around the room.
- Egg on a Spoon becomes Pencil on a Ruler. Use this traditional game for a little fun.
- Balance it on your head. Choose a random item that won’t break if it drops to the floor. Balance it on your head. Have a contest to see who can hold onto it the longest. Make it more difficult by standing on one foot.
- Snow Ball: A crumpled piece of paper and a metre stick can become a simple version of baseball.
- try our post: Energize Your Gym Class With Very Little Equipment
- do an art project
Self-Care is Vital
Teachers are notorious for not taking care of themselves. They tend to put people first and if you’re finding you’re burning the candle on both ends this message is specifically for you. Remember to take care of yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for help at home when things heat up at school.
Try your best to get plenty of sleep, eat well and exercise.
You don’t want to sacrifice your family and personal time over the Christmas break to illness because you were stretched too thin, so just take this as a warning. No one likes to spend the holiday sick in bed (and yet it often happens to teachers).
Hopefully, this has given you some ideas about how to handle the chaos of the season. If we’ve missed anything or if there’s something you struggle with, please reach out by leaving us a comment below.