As the holidays come to a close, it is time to set our sights on the new year. One way to do this is to explore the meaning of New Year’s and how it plays a role in our society. Another exciting lesson is to teach kids about the Chinese New Year and help them revel in the fun of the Year of the Dragon. You can also use New Year's as an opportunity to help children set realistic goals for themselves that they can work towards as the year progresses.
I have always felt that after winter break is one of the hardest times for teaching because the weather is often bad and the kids (and I!) feel cooped up all day. The excitement of the holidays is over, and it feels like spring break will take forever to reach. However, infusing the traditions of the New Year celebration into the classroom will help the students (and you) stay on track.
Chinese New Year is always a lot of fun to teach students of any age about. Since the Chinese calendar is different than the calendar that we use here, it is fascinating to learn about. In addition, students enjoy studying the great traditions of the Chinese New Year and the cultural lessons surrounding it. There are some great resources available from Scholastic to help students understand this fantastic holiday. The Rookie Read-About Holidays book Chinese New Year by David F. Marx is a great book to read in any elementary classroom. It has wonderful and colorful pictures, explains the holiday, and even has an updated calendar.
One of my students' favorite things when studying the Chinese New Year is to research the animal that they are associated with by year of their birth. They love learning about the characteristics associated with that animal and have a great time looking up family members and friends as well. 123ChineseNewYear.com is a great resource for information. The site has a schedule of celebrations that will be taking place around the world and explains the Chinese zodiac. It also has craft suggestions, traditions, gifts, and great ideas for your classroom. I always love to give inexpensive gifts to my students that represent the New Year and to decorate my classroom with Chinese decorations to liven things up!
Most cultures look at the New Year as a time to be reborn or make new changes in our lives. Start discussing this with the article "New Year Celebrations Around the World." The article explores how different countries and cultures celebrate New Year's Day, and even gives the history behind the celebrations. You can use it as a segue into a discussion of goals. Help students to decide what they want to achieve and to set reasonable goals for themselves. Students may set goals that are too broad or difficult for them to achieve and become terribly frustrated. A great way to introduce this discussion is through the book Emily Arrow Promises to Do Better This Year by Patricia Reilly Giff. In the book, Emily is asked by her teacher to choose a New Year's resolution for herself, but she finds that her goal is unrealistic. Reading this with your class can help them understand the need to set realistic goals.
When helping your students set goals, keep the following things in mind:
1. Have the student set a behavioral goal, an academic goal, and a personal goal. By starting in small chunks, they will be more likely to feel that they can achieve their goals rather than simply feeling overwhelmed.
2. As they choose the goals, have them focus on which ones are more pressing. For instance, if they are having several behavioral issues, have them choose the one most in need of change, and save other issues for later. It is easier for them to first correct the one big behavior that affects them most. For instance, talking and disrupting class frequently is more pressing than the occasional loud talking in the cafeteria.
3. Be specific. A strong goal would be to turn in homework on time. A weaker version of the goal would be to get more organized. Getting more organized means a lot of things, but turning in homework on time is very specific and measurable.
4. Set up a reward that you both agree on. As adults, we set goals such as losing weight or exercising more. Both have rewards built in because they both make you feel better physically and emotionally if you achieve them. However, turning in homework on time is great for you and them, but to the child, it is not necessarily overly rewarding. Find a way to reward that behavior so that they will continue to see the benefit of accomplishing their goals.
5. Conference with them regularly on their goals to see how they are developing. It may be that they are having difficulty figuring out a system for achieving their goal or that they need a little guidance. They may need a deadline or some other kind of motivation to stay on track.
6. Once they achieve their goal, celebrate it, and then set a new one. This will help them keep focused and continue to progress in a positive manner.
The time after winter break can be extremely lackluster for performance and motivation. You will find that setting goals with your students will help a great deal with behavior management, motivation, and classroom management.
I would also suggest that you use this time to set expectations for yourself as well. I like to use this time to be sure that I am on track for state testing, for instance. During this time of year I start mapping out lists of what I need to teach before the tests. It helps me to keep my goals reasonable and attainable as well!
I hope that the rest of your winter break is wonderful and that you and your students come back in January well rested and excited to learn.