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I love, love, LOVE spring.
I especially love my back yard, a place where I love to spend Saturday mornings with a cup of hot coffee in hand, enjoying all of the beauty. (Most of my happiest moments involve coffee so I may have more of a problem than I’m willing to admit).
But, you know what is NOT amazing? My students in the spring.
It’s like they’ve swallowed slinkies and they’re suddenly injected with some kind of super-caffeine-charged hyper pills.
They seriously look like they’re vibrating most of the time.
They can’t sit still, they suddenly can’t concentrate on ANYTHING, and all of my usual tricks don’t work anymore.
I have actually looked at them and asked, “What is WRONG with you people?"
And then I remembered what I had learned in Japan.
I taught in Japan for a year, and there are three things that they do in their schools that I think we all can learn from – and when I started to apply these techniques in my classroom, they not only worked to help my kiddos get focused and stay engaged, but actually heightened their engagement until the end of the year.
So let’s get to it!
Here are three secrets that I learned from teaching in Japan (and 25 fun and easy ways) to help calm and focus your students when they too have spring fever:
Last year, one of my investors paid for me to attend the SxSW Conference where I met with the Gates Foundation about one of my programs (SO exciting!) and while I was there, I attended a competition about innovative models of education.
One company proposed a model of a school they had created and wanted to scale that was actually one large continuous loop of about a half-mile long – it looked kind of like a running track with a dotted line down the middle – and several times each day, the students ran or walked or jumped this entire loop several times, and it took them about 20 minutes to do it each time.
It was amazing… they even had climbing ropes where kids could go from one level to the next, and a slide – it was so cool – and the reasoning behind this model was based on new research that’s been done by Harvard Medical School in which they found that regular exercise actually changes the brain to improve memory and thinking skills.
Every student participates in school-wide morning exercise before they even start the day (often led by the principal, which is a pretty hilarious thought if you think of your own principal doing aerobics in a track suit and a striped sweat band front of the entire school - but I digress...)
The point is that we are FAR too sedentary in our lifestyles in North America, and kids (and us) just don’t get enough exercise these days, especially with SO MUCH technology in our lives.
Now, of course we don’t have access to one of those loop schools, and your principal probably isn’t going to lead a morning aerobics session, although that would be pretty funny to watch 😊 - but we can take a lesson from these examples.
Whenever my students get to that point of nearly vibrating, I’ve learned not to fight it.
So, what I started to do is whenever they started to get antsy, I would give them a brain break and get them up and moving.
Now, this can be as simple as what I would call a 2-minute dance party – my special person of the week gets to choose the music and then we often turn the lights off and just dance or walk or run on the spot, or do jumping jacks if they weren’t comfortable with dancing. The rule was that they just had to move. Or, you can use ANY of the following ideas -
The best part about this is that although, yes, it takes some time to do some exercise, once your students have had a chance to get up and move and get some of those wiggles out, they are able to concentrate so much better. It’s also really good for us to get up and move too, right?!
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Did you know that students in Japanese schools ALL help to keep the school clean?
Most schools in Japan don’t even have janitors or custodians.
Instead, students clean the classrooms themselves – they even clean the toilets!
(Oh my gosh – can you imagine the law suits we would be dealing with if we tried that here?)
It drives me crazy when I see teachers posting videos of them cleaning their classrooms during their Spring Break – if you spent some of YOUR holiday doing that this year, I hope this is the last year you do that.
Your students need to be part of taking care of the space they spend 8 hours in every day. In Japan, cleaning the classroom themselves helps students to learn respect for their own work and for the work of others.
They also take turns preparing, serving, and cleaning up from lunch for the other students in the school. Everybody pitches in and helps all of the time. It’s so cool.
Check out this video that shows how schools in Japan do this (you might want to share this with your students!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jv4oNvxCY5k)
I’m not sure if it was the way I was raised because my parents always expected me to do some cleaning around the house growing up, or if this was reinforced by my time in Japan, but I always had my students help to get our classroom ready for spring break and for summer break.
Now, I make this really fun by turning on some great music, setting a timer to let my students know how long they have to get their jobs done, and then, I let them know that I am offering a small class reward for a job well done (a game they love to play, a 5-minute chat break, or 10 minutes of free time):
Before we begin, I go through all of the jobs that I have my students do in my classroom for a deep clean, and I clearly model and explain my expectations for each job before setting them loose.
And that’s it! It not only feels really good to have such a clean, beautiful space before you leave for Spring Break, but your students will love coming back to their classroom knowing that it is a fresh and healthy environment – they really do take pride in keeping their space beautiful. And the best part is that you won’t have spent a minute of your precious holidays doing a job that really should be your entire class’s responsibility.
Let Your Students Earn What They Really Want
This one is my favorite.
What do kids want most in the whole world in the spring?
Time to go outside and enjoy the beautiful weather, right? So here is an idea that lets your students EARN what they want most.
Buy a big container of sidewalk chalk and put one space on your board for each letter in the words “Sidewalk Chalk.” (Like when you’re playing Hang Man)
Then, put magnetic letters to spell the words “Sidewalk Chalk” in a little box or bag, but don’t let your students see them.
The students don’t know what they’re working for, but they will figure it out soon enough.
Tell them that when they follow the rules and do their very best, the class will be able to earn one of the letters to spell their surprise.
Each time they earn a letter, take it out of the box or bag and put it where it would go in the word. It’s kind of like Wheel of Fortune but I don’t get to wear a fancy dress like Vanna White J
See if your students can figure it out…. And of course, once they’ve earned all of the letters to spell the words, they get to go outside and draw with the sidewalk chalk!
Other ideas your students can work for that feed into their Spring Fever state of mind include letting your students work towards other outdoor activities. In the Teacher Freebie for this episode, I’ve linked to some great outdoor activities developed by Jennifer Findley, including Taking a Sensory Walk, a Geometry Scavenger Hunt, Sidewalk Scoot, and Inference Riddles.
Now for a bonus tip that I loved to use in my own classroom but that I didn’t learn in Japan...
Every morning, I would start the day with a riddle that the kids would get to solve.
Starting in April or May, I gave every student a little half-scribbler that they labeled their “Joke Books,” and they got to decorate them with stickers and marker.
When they came in each morning, they would need to write the question that I had put on the board in their notebooks and then try to figure out what the riddle was.
So for example the question on the board might be:
“What is a cat’s favorite breakfast?”
Once everyone had written it down and we had a few tries at guessing the answer, I would write it down for them to copy into their joke books:
Yes, very cheesy, and they absolutely loved it. 😊
I hope that some of these ideas have gotten your imagination going for how you can help get your kiddos back on track when they are bouncing off the walls with Spring Fever!
Have a wonderful week, and I can’t wait to connect with you again soon!
Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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