The cold wind persistently blowing makes being outdoors miserable. The gray skies cover up the sun for days at a time. Absences and coughs are as common as the dandelions in a springtime lawn. The enthusiasm of the first half of the school has worn off. Life in the classroom looks drab, dreary, and boring as the same routines plod along through each week and spring seems far away. The mid-winter blahs will affect us all if we are not watchful and take care to prevent them. Contrary to what you may think, keeping the blahs away does not need to take lots of extra energy and time at the expense of normal routine. There are many simple, small ways to keep life in our teaching and our classrooms.
Wake up, Teacher.
You are the thermostat of your classroom. If you are in a dreary mood, your students will be also. You are the first deterrent to keeping the blahs at bay. Do you still bring the same enthusiasm to the room that you did at the beginning of the year?
Take stock of your life. Are you getting enough sleep? Do you drink enough water? Are you getting fresh air and exercise? What are your eating habits? All of these can be difficult to maintain in a healthy balance during the cold winter months. However, if you feel well you don’t have to fake enthusiasm for the day. What about your spiritual and social life? Are they in the proper order?
Winter days have less sun shine and this has a differing affect on people. If you are a person who does not do well in the gray days of winter, be aware and be proactive. Take care of yourself—not selfishly, but so you can care for other people.
Wake up, Classroom.
Look around the classroom. Are your bulletin board displays old? Are the charts on the wall falling off? Is the art on the wall still from fall? Are the shelves dusty and cluttered? Are student’s desks messy and disarranged? Are the windows smudged and the lights dirty? Are those cobwebs in the corners? Take an hour to brighten up the classroom. Let the students help. Rearrange the classroom furniture if practical. Give the classroom a fresh look.
Classrooms often become stuffy and smelly, especially during the winter months. Burn a jar candle, warm wax melts, or use a diffuser to freshen the air. Open the windows at recess or after school if appropriate.
Wake up, Routines.
The school day ticks along as steadily as the clock. Our routines have become as comfortable as well-worn shoes. Making our routines work for us is important but if we don’t keep our eyes open, some of the routines become muddy ruts that we allow ourselves and our students to wallow in. Watch for those areas where the routine is no longer working for you but against you, and make adjustments.
An example: First grade has a page of daily math fact drills to complete. For the first part of the year, I used them as extra practice work for the students to do when their lessons were done. Lately, I’d noticed students taking a long time to complete their page, staring dreamily into space between writing each answer down. The page was becoming a drudgery and no one like them. Change was in order. Now, we start the class period with the drill page. They have five minutes to complete it. If we can do the paper in five minutes from Monday through Thursday, we will skip it on Friday. Suddenly they’ve found they can get the page done in good time and it’s no longer such a hard job.
Maybe you want to add a new routine to your day to add a little spice. Learn a new song and sing it every morning until the class knows it well. Work on a long narrative poem as a class, reciting parts of it at dismissal until you have it memorized. Add an extra ten-minute singing period after recess twice a week and sing songs in canon. Take five minutes each day to read a picture book (even older students enjoy a good picture book).
Wake up, Classes.
Teachers, here is where we can do the most to change the blahs into something interesting. It is easy to just routinely and methodically teach the lessons in our increasingly dog-eared books. Are we still teaching the lessons with as much interest and enthusiasm as we did when the term first started? What can you change? Is there a hands-on method to make learning fractions more interesting, or those predicates in grammar, or the vocabulary words in reading? Could you incorporate any games into your reviews?
Science and history lessons lend themselves to out-of-the-box ideas. Instead of completing a workbook page for a particular lesson; have students make a poster, or a diorama, or give an oral demonstration, or make a booklet, or… (you fill in the blank).
Hold “show and tell” about a particular lesson. Ask a student or students to bring something to class that fits into the lesson (such as the Civil War cannon ball that was found in the pre-war home of a student; or a slice of a tree trunk demonstrating the age rings).
Ask a guest speaker to come in and share about a topic you are learning. Invite a parent to share an art class or other extra-curricular activity.
Take a short break from the reading textbook and read a trade book instead. This takes extra planning as a teacher which can boost your interest and enthusiasm.
Wake up, Recesses.
Winter recesses can become more of an energy drain than an energy booster. Students are tired of the same few games you can play on a muddy playground in dreary weather. Maybe you are blessed with snow. Use it to your advantage! Have a creative snowman building contest (or simply a creative snowman display that greets the parents arriving to pick up their children). Introduce a new game or play the games that you’d forgotten about. If it’s too cold and dreary to play outside have a ping-pong, checker, or chess tournament during recess times.
Maintaining interest and enthusiasm for school during these winter months does not necessarily mean needing to do lots of special days and activities to celebrate things like 100 days, February Fun, Balloon Days, Game Day, etc. They have their place but if the teacher renews the life of the daily routines and classes, the students will not miss extra activities. It is often the simple things that bring the lasting results. May you find sunny days inside your classroom even if the sun is not shining outside!
CONTRIBUTOR: Carolyn Martin