Top Ten Classroom Culture Tips When the Kids Won't Play Nice (Surviving the Week Before Winter Break)

The day before Winter Break can be a little manic for kids and teachers alike.  Okay, so the week and month before Winter Break can be crazy too!  This year I had a pretty good week though.  Here are some things we did to be festive, productive, and ease in to vacation.

1.  The Holiday Concert:  Ours is during the day, and our music teacher was very clever this year.  She had the whole school sit in a horseshoe shape so everyone can see each other.  That way, instead of having each grade level transitioning up to the stage when it was their turn to sing, she just had to motion for that grade level to stand for their turn.  It worked out GREAT!  It works for us because instead of an auditorium with seats, the kids sit on the cafeteria floor for assemblies.

2.  We took the time to appreciate each other.  This was a "punishment" for my class because we had an incident last week where a student threatened another student after being picked on by a group of kids.  So I told the kids that before they were allowed to have a holiday party, they would be required to write something nice to every single student in their class.  This sounded like a horrible chore to them at first.

Then we brainstormed a list.  I told them I did not want them writing things like, "I like your shoes" or "You have nice hair" because they are not about the person, just their physical features.  I modeled an acceptable statement, "You helped me with long division when I was confused."  That was all they needed; over the next 3 days they came up with a list of over 20 ideas!

Next, I created a page of 18 text boxes that each ended with "Sincerely,____" and ran them off on our classroom stationery (which looks just like this).  The top of the page said, "Dear (name), We are glad you are in our class!  We appreciate you because..."  When the time came on Friday to actually write, they were so ready that they only needed 90 seconds per classmate (I had planned for 2 minutes each). 

At the end of the project, kids were so excited to read their pages.  One told me, "This is going right in my scrapbook when I get home."Not a bad punishment, huh?"  I teased.

3.  We reflected on GIVING, not receiving.  For Friday's Morning Work, I wrote, "Think about people who you bought gifts for.  Who are you MOST looking forward to watching open their gift?"  I told them the story of when I bought my brother a Dundee because he loves the show The Office, and several kids were able to talk about their excitement about giving.

And for that matter, I'm thinking about our Morning Meeting share the day we get back.  I want to avoid the "bring and brag" sort of, "I got this and this for Christmas" because we have a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds in our school.  I haven't decided the best approach yet, but I have a few days for inspiration to strike!

4.  We had a Yankee Swap that wasn't really a Yankee Swap.  They each brought in a gift for about $5 (usually I ask them to bring in a girl gift if they are a girl, and a boy gift if they are a boy).  Then I pull names out of a hat one at a time for a kid to go up and choose a gift and open it (and I snap a photo).  There's not actually any "swapping" allowed until the end, and it's only if two people both want to swap with each other.

5.  We talked about the important social skill of being gracious and hiding disappointment.  "How would you feel if you brought in a gift for me, I opened it, and did this?"  I sighed and pouted.  I reminded them that although they won't know who brought the gift, they are there, and watching.  It definitely helps!  Not everyone is an expert at it, but they all made an effort and no one brought down the mood with sulking or complaining. 

6.  I used battery operated Christmas lights to decorate our classroom bookshelf to look like a hearth!  The kids opened their presents in front of it, and the effect is always very homey.  One boy in particular, who is typically a real challenge for me, was especially appreciative.  "That was SUCH a good idea, Mrs. Thomas!  It looks AMAZING!" 

7.  I kept "extra gifts" on hand for kids who didn't bring one.  That way everyone could swap.  I even had a couple parents bring in their preschoolers to the party, so I quietly put a couple little teddy bears in gift bags off to the side, and midway through the swap, when I noticed the little ones were just starting to notice the gift-giving and looking doe-eyed, I said, "Okay, we're going to take a little break...(half my students yelled WHAT?! indignantly, haha) and have our Preschool Swap!"  I put both little one's names in the cup and after pulling one I said, "You can pick one of these gifts off of the chair."  My students all said, "AwwWWWww" as they opened up their teddy bears! 

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8.  They had a "snack and craft" afterwards, and the hour flew by!  We listened to Jingle Bell Rock and Frosty the Snowman since they are nondenominational. 

9.  I gave them optional homework.  I used to give plenty of vacation homework until I started working in a district where that is frowned upon.  Now I'm a convert; I'm happy to give the kids  a break and I'm happy to not be swamped with correcting once I get back in January.  However, some parents like their children to do "extra," and I thought I might even appeal to the kids' intrinsic motivation to achieve in math.  "Your test is after break, not the day you get back, but still, all the stuff you learned this month will be on it in January.  If you're worried that you'll forget, or if you're a kid who forgets how to do long division, then the next day remembers, then forgets again the day after, you might choose to do this page.  If you bring it back, I'll give you a sticker, but you don't have to do it if you're too busy."  I think I'll get at least 2 back, which is fine.  If you're interested, I have this Day of Math Review sheet available for purchase, currently for 49 cents, in my TPT store.   I plan to use it for Morning Work and maybe even if I need a sub; it should be useful through February.

10.  I let them know I'd be posting "12 days of Math Games" on our classroom blog!  Last week I researched games and wrote notes for a blog post for each one, and this week I've been posting one every day.  Hopefully they'll keep the kids from getting bored and help them review if the worksheet feels like too much of a chore!

What did you do to prepare your kids for Winter Break?

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