Thursday, December 18, 2014

Undeck the Halls

December:  A month of magic, of music, of mayhem!  For years I couldn't understand why my young charges would be so wild before Christmas vacation.  Then I looked around my room.  Blinking lights, garland, stockings, and glitter had found it's way into every crack and crevice.  Music about flying reindeer and a magical man to bring presents echoed off the walls.  A mountain of coats being collected for kids spilled over from it's designated corner into our circle area.

I considered the schedules of my kids:  basketball games of the older siblings keeping them up until past 9, visits with Santa at Legion Halls, dance rehearsals for parades downtown, family parties, baking cookies with grandma (and subsequently eating half of them),  fireworks and tree lightings ruled their days.  Then there were the kids doing none of the above, with parents figuring out how to pay for rent, and heat and food. And then there were kids who celebrate Hanukkah, or nothing at all.

It dawned on me as bright as the star the Three Kings followed.  I created some of this craziness.  By making my room look like the North Pole threw up on it, I was ripping away the structure and predictability my kids relied on to get through the day.   We were making calendars for families that required an art project involving glitter and glue for every month. I made every writing prompt and read aloud about the excitement and glory of Christmas. In short, I was winding up kids like a kitten discovering a Christmas tree.  It's hard enough to settle 16 five year olds without a Morse code of lights sending a message of better things to come.  Over-stimulating these kids with a hyper-focus on the "most wonderful time of the year" was biting me in the posterior.

So the next year, I held back.  Instead of studying "Holidays Around the Word," we took a look at how toys worked.  We looked at toys from the past and discussed what made safe toys for babies, preschoolers and kids their age.  We invented new toys.  We did read some Jan Brett stories that had Christmas themes, but we also read about Herschel and the Hanukkah goblins, the solstice, and winter clothes.  The kids had a great time with the toy unit stories, but they were calmer.

Now, I'm not advocating the removal of Christmas from the classroom.  I happen to love Christmas.  I just love migraine-free teaching days better.  We still have a party before vacation.  The parent group has wrapped a book for every kid. They will enjoy unwrapping their books and reading them.  We will play with candy cane play do and enjoy reading The Polar Express.  The kids will feast on a healthy snack, and then do a math activity based on some red, green and white candy.

Teaching is a continuous learning cycle. I am forever tweaking lessons, trying to make them just a little bit better.  My December teaching isn't perfect, but it is more thoughtful and intentional.  If I can't manage peace on Earth, then perhaps I can maintain at least a little peace in my classroom.  Have a wonderful holiday break and a glorious new year.

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