by Stacy Cope
Endings can be difficult for both children and adults. As the last days of school approach, the children in my first grade classroom and I will be feeling a range of emotions, including sadness at saying goodbye to friends, anticipation of new adventures, and anxiety about the coming transitions.
The public school where I teach draws from an urban district in which there is a high level of transience and economic uncertainty. Many students eat breakfast and lunch at school and stay for after-school programming, where they also receive a meal. For these students, preparing to leave the comfort and security of daily life at school can be particularly unsettling.
I've worked hard to create a safe learning community and know that it will be difficult for us all to say goodbye to each other. As I approach the last days of school, I plan activities that will help the children feel safe as they make the transition to summer activities and a new classroom in September.
Here are three strategies I use:
1. Morning Meeting
I pay special attention to our final Morning Meetings, knowing that they will be remembered throughout the summer. The familiar and safe structure of Morning Meeting allows us to acknowledge our feelings as we say goodbye, and to reflect together on all the learning we've done during our time together.
For greetings and group activities, we choose class favorites, such as the Ball Toss Greeting, the Spiderweb Greeting, Partner Tag, and Under-the-Bridge. Along with having fun together, we'll talk about why these greetings and activities are our favorites and celebrate our expertise at doing them.
The sharing portion of Morning Meeting offers a great opportunity to reflect on learning. To ensure this happens, I do focused-topic sharing. Some favorite topics include:
- A favorite book I read this year and why it is my favorite
- A new friend I made this year
- My goals for the summer or for the coming year
Everyone gets a chance to sign the final morning message of the year, and the message is then raffled off to a lucky class member who gets to take it home as a memento. (We also raffle off the rest of the year's morning messages, so each child gets at least one message to take home.)
2. Closing Circle
Children look forward to our daily closing circle, which helps us end the day calmly. For our final closing circles of the school year, we do activities that will help us mark this important transition. I begin by reading from a book that the class really came to love, for example, Did I Tell You I Love You Today? by Deloris Jordan, Shane W. Evans, and Roslyn M. Jordan or A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon. I ask the children to think about how the story relates to their lives as learners. How does it reflect something they became passionate about in their studies? How does it reflect something they had to grapple with as a diverse group of learners?
We end with celebrations of our time together. For instance, one year, we shared memory books that we'd filled with photographs and anecdotes from the year.
3. Goodbye Letter
Finally, I write each child a letter in which I describe his or her growth and name areas of particular expertise. I also forecast how the children's strengths and achievements will help them in the year to come, and I wish them a good summer. On the last day of school, I meet with students individually and present them with their letters.
The overarching message I want to give to my students as they move on is that I have confidence in them and that I value what each of them brings to our school community.
Stacy Cope is a first grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School in Harrisburg, PA. She is also a certified Responsive Classroom consulting teacher.