The end of the school year, for students and staff alike, is always filled with an eagerness to be on summer vacation. And this school year, in particular, has been filled with incredible additional challenges and struggles. Two years into the pandemic, student academic, social, emotional, and behavioral needs have been greater than any other time in recent memory. At this point, many students are filled with extra energy and excitement and struggle with focus and motivation. And teachers, counselors, and administrators have poured their expertise and care into supporting student growth and development and find themselves exhausted.
As students and staff work to get through the final quarter of the year, it is important to regularly assess how everyone is feeling and to take moments throughout the day to adjust accordingly. Being intentional about breaks and changes in the environment can go a long way to improve overall well being, maintain stamina to finish out the year, and build student SEL skills and understanding.
- Get Outside: For students and staff, fresh air is both restorative and energizing. And changing the scenery from the classroom to the bright sunshine and greenery of the outside can instantly work to diffuse stress. Consider moving a lesson outside or allowing students to eat lunch or snack outdoors.
- Play Games: Games are engaging, fun, and can quickly change the dynamic of a classroom. Think about the types of games that your students might like best, and be ready to play for a few minutes whenever needed. Would You Rather games, Kahoot quizzes, or even a game of silent ball (tossing a small ball in the classroom in an attempt not to drop the ball or talk) provide an easy way to engage a group of students.
- Create a Calming Environment: Days at school can be loud and chaotic. Oftentimes, students need a break from the sensory overload of a classroom. Dim the lights, play music, and encourage students to slow down. Students of all ages might enjoy working with fidgets, playing with Play Doh or putty, or even drawing or coloring. Consider sharing a video where students can learn how to draw particular characters or make origami.
- Promote Laughter: Another way to provide a break for students is to find ways to encourage laughter or explore more obscure topics that might be of interest to them. For younger students, National Geographic provides a Just Joking video series that provides 1-2 minute videos filled with age-appropriate jokes and tongue twisters. For middle and high school students, refer to this list of Ted Talks that may amuse or intrigue students or this Ted-Ed video series, History on Trial, that explores some interesting historical nuances.
- Encourage Movement: Movement is a natural way to help students transition between activities, work through challenging emotions, or refocus. Consider building in time for movement and exercise throughout the day. Students of all ages enjoy having the freedom to move around the classroom or to go for walks in or around the school building. GoNoodle is a popular site that guides younger students through fun, short movement activities. And students of all ages would enjoy an outdoor game of kickball or wiffle ball. Just a few short minutes of movement can have a big impact on students’ moods and ability to engage in learning.
As you check in with students and use these strategies, reflect with them on how they felt before the break, during the break, and after. Discuss how movement, a change of environment, or a pause can help improve how they are feeling. You might ask if they are able to focus more after a break or if they feel calmer as they go on with their day. Share how they might integrate these practices into their daily life. These conversations about paying attention to feelings and working to regulate and balance emotions can be an integral part of social emotional learning and wellbeing.
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