Christmas time is here and the children’s faces are all a-glow with excitement. The shops have been full of trinkets and glitter for weeks and you’ve seen the lights and heard the first songs of the season on the radio. Before the panic sets in, here’s some advice to help you through the last few weeks of term.
- Plan ahead – this sounds obvious, but it is so easy to get caught up in the excitement that things can get overlooked. Look at the school calendar, and how this will impact your class and what happens there. Every school is different, but if you know that there are certain things that the school expects children to produce for the end of term, allow slots in your week to make sure they’re done in plenty of time and you’re not feeling under pressure to get them done at the last minute. Allow time to make: cards, calendars (the kind with calendar tabs on or the next year’s dates on), a small gift for a relative, decorations, and so on.
- Plan ahead (part 2) – the other part of planning is to keep a clear record of what is going on when. This time of year is busy with Winter performance rehearsals, trips to theatres and churches, etc. and whatever goes on is liable to change for whatever reason rapidly. Keep tabs on what’s happening and write everything down. Plan what has to be done to maintain your aims and objectives and get everything ready as much as you can ahead of time, as you might have to swap things around to fit the time you have.
- Be realistic – if you can see that the children would benefit from diverting from your plan, do so. Worthwhile and challenging work can be done, but sometimes the children will not settle to a quiet lesson on something like The Celts if they have been overstimulated by a singing lesson that went on longer than planned or a theatre trip. Have some work that is good, solid and educational that can use the children’s time profitably in those times when an alternative may have to be found from what you would normally do. The lovely people at twinkl.co.uk have great resources with Christmas themes for most subject areas and some of them are easily adaptable for this kind of activity or the ongoing set of tasks that can make good use of what time you have, as they test and stretch the children. It might a good idea to take a chance for mindfulness training and do some simple yoga stretches, colouring or meditation, while listening to gentle Christmassy music (see below for suggestions, or seek out the Piano Guys or Celtic Christmas for relaxing tunes).
- Don’t forget the power of a story. I spent a brilliant day today teaching through the medium of ‘The Tale of Jack Frost’ by David Melling – an engaging story about a little boy found in an enchanted forest – and covered English, Mathematics, Science and Art. Creative thought can captivate the children and get them involved in learning when they can all too easily be distracted by the joys of the season.
- If you know you are going to busy with special projects, such as making those cards and calendars I mentioned earlier, ensure that you have all the resources ready, even if you aren’t going to make them immediately. The stock cupboard is a treasure trove at the best of times, but this is the season of the Highly Prized Pritt Stick (other glue sticks are available), Hunt the Glitter Tin, and a version of Cluedo that involves who was last seen with the roll of shiny silver paper (was it Miss Green in the library with the paper trimmer or Mrs Scarlett in the ICT suite with the extra-large scissors?), so I always work out what I need and how much, take that and put the rest back ASAP. Trust me, it’s better that way.
- Christmas is a good time to involve the community in the school and the school in the community. The Christmas Fayre is an opportunity to invite people to the school and showcase the work the children have been doing, through the fantastic displays on the walls, the things they’ll have prepared for a stall or two or a short presentation by some of the older children for visitors. A Father Christmas, elves and Good Fairy granting wishes are appearing at a local school near me (I know, because I am one of them… I’m waving a wand btw). The school nativity or Winter performance is a chance to showcase the talent of the children to parents, families and guardians. Invite specially selected members of the community – the mayor, councillors, neighbouring school – to events is worth a thought too. When running these events, involve the children as much as possible. They should design the programme for the shows, and any posters, tickets, set and so on, even if adults take over at some point. It gives them a sense of ownership of what is going on around them, and a feeling that they are really a part of it all. If refreshments are going to be served, there’s no reason why some of the children can’t be involved in helping with that. Front of house work (taking tickets, handing out programmes, showing people to their seats) gives children responsibility and might give some of the children that are more reluctant to ‘perform’ on stage a task they’ll enjoy more. Having children help ‘backstage’ is good too, if you are lucky enough to have lights and sound to operate.
- Christmas is a magical time for children and it is lovely being in school with them. We can get stressed and harassed about all we need to do and everything that is going on, and the endless sound of Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Bread Toad Rain Beer (we had to work hard to get that one right one year) can make it seem all the worse. Give yourself a break. Breathe. Make sure you’ve got your plans straight. Get your alternatives ready, just in case. Have a box of fun activities to keep the children happy and busy – quick makes like wooden templates (artcuts at amazon.co.uk are brilliant and do great variety packs of Christmas shapes, see one example here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Piece-Wooden-Christmas-Decorations-Set/dp/B00NJH4R6E/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1511909516&sr=8-4&keywords=artcuts+christmas), stamps from the English Stamp Company (costly, but great quality, worth it in the long run – englishstamp.com) and good quality card. Have nice, calm Christmassy music ready, as however much we all love Slade, they don’t make for a quiet day. Look out for albums on Amazon prime if you can, as they’re free 😊 My favourites are by Harry Connick Jnr (Christmas with a gentle swing in the old fashioned sense and kid friendly), Aled Jones (traditional, but gentle), Seth McFarlane (yes, the one from Family Guy, but he has the pipes and he can croon a tune like the best of them and his album is cool man), Sarah McLachlan (a wonderful musician and a great voice), The Piano Guys (purely instrumental and brilliantly entertaining fun to listen to) and The Barenaked Ladies (not actually naked or ladies, and hugely fun – listen to for your entertainment, forget the children). The Christmas albums by the Glee cast aren’t bad either as they are clean lyrics wise and likely to be popular with children.
The most important thing to remember during this time of Advent is that we are in school for the children and that Christmas is a time of celebration and wonder. The greatest gift we can give the children in our care is our time and creating experiences they’ll never forget. Looking back on my childhood, I can remember almost every nativity play and even the smell of Christmas at my primary school lingers with me; the aroma of glue, glitter, paint and the costumes my siblings and countless other children wore before me. Now, it is our turn to create the memories that will stay with the next generation. Make them good ones. Merry Christmas to you all.