Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ending with Little Things

The end of last week marked the end of our school year. I always have a hard time letting the year go. Don't get me wrong--I am overjoyed that summer vacation has arrived and am more than ready for relaxing and re-energizing. It's just that I am never ready to say goodbye to the kids, to put away all the traces of our learning, to let go of plans for things we ran out of time to do, and know that this particular learning community won't be together in this way again.

The kids know these things too. They are also excited about summer vacation--as 6-8 year olds, they are experts on the subject of summer vacation. But they are also sad to say goodbye, and some are nervous about a summer without the routines and people of school to count on.

So how do we close out the school year? In lots of little ways and a few big ones. The big ones are fun--the school-wide picnic, field day, and annual visit from the public library people. We also celebrate with things like a publishing party and a last day party. But I think it's the little things that really matter most in our classroom.

We indulge ourselves by using any read aloud time the last two weeks to reread our favorite books from the year. The kids dig through book baskets and desks, pulling out well-loved, well-worn favorites and stack them precariously on my chair in the meeting area. They settle more quickly than usual so we have time for more. I want the kids to know and remember these books and their authors so that they don't feel lost or overwhelmed when visiting libraries in the summer. I want them to know their book friends are waiting.

We make use of every pencil, box of extra crayons, and booklet or loose piece of paper. Everyone goes home with something to write on and something to write with. I send home books so they are sure to have something to read. Our grade level was lucky this year--we were able to free up funds to buy at least 1 book per month for every child. We talk about these books and where they keep their "libraries" at home. The kids ask for " 2 or 3 really, really big" ziploc bags to carry home their supplies so nothing gets lost.

We pull out writing notebooks and the file folders that hold the stacks of writing that leaked out of the too-small-for-a-whole-year folders. The room is quiet at first as they begin to sort through and read their work. The the sound swells as they begin to show their friends forgotten pieces or explain how they are going to organize the work to take it home. We talk together about what they learned and how they grew as writers. Then we talk about how writers make a place for their writing at home and plan to write, even when it's not a school day.

We look at the goals and charts posted on our walls and talk about what we've learned to do and how we've learned to think this year--as mathematicians, readers, writers, word studiers, and scientists. We remind ourselves that smart is about lots of hard work and thinking and trying something.  The kids remember the kind of learners they are now and think about the things they want to keep learning and studying. They make plans. Plans for where they'll keep flashcards and books, paper and crayons. Plans for what kind of books they hope to check out from the library and what things they want to look up on the computer. Plans for how they can keep learning even if the library and computers are beyond their reach when school is not in session.

We make lists. Lists of books and authors and math games and science topics and websites. Lists of unfinished writing projects and lists of things to know about first grade to give the kindergartners next door. We make lists of things we'll remember about this year and about each other. Lists of where we might see each other next year, even though we won't be all together again.

It's the little bits of talking that happen here and there across the day during the last couple weeks of school that matter. I take time too. I sit in the classroom and take time to think about each child individually. Sometimes my thoughts find their way into end-of-year progress reports or onto special certificates. This year I wrote a short poem for each child and we read it like a book on the last day. After each poem, we talked a little. Smiled and talked and remembered.

My students would tell you that they may be little, but they can still do important things and they are significant. I think that the little things we do do close out the school year are the same. Simple, little moments are the ones that helped most once we realized our time together  was growing shorter with each X on the classroom calendar. These seemed to be the ones that mattered most to us as a learning community--our school family--as we saw this year come to an end. Little things.


  1. It's always nice to hear about teachers who are not watching movies and cleaning up the room 24/7! (I sometimes felt as if I were the only one NOT doing those things in the final week of school.)

  2. This is the loveliest piece, Ruth. I enjoyed every single one of your little moments, as I imagine you and your students do. What a special time you and the class must have by returning to all the special moments of the year. It's like making a scrapbook in their minds. You have settled them into summer so beautifully, as in "I want them to know their book friends are waiting." Thank you for telling us about all the moments.