Whether your program is year-round or closes for the summer, the spring months are a perfect time of year to reevaluate classrooms, programs, and practices while having some fun with your families.
Making Smooth Transitions
Ending a school year or beginning a summer program, requires transitions and these transitions pose challenges, some of which are especially difficult for children. About two weeks before a transition will occur, begin to talk about the change, focusing particular attention on any aspect that directly affects the children. For example, will their classroom stay the same, will it be rearranged, will there be different children, different staff members, and different daily routines? If the classroom changes, will it have the same amenities, like bathrooms in the classrooms, low sinks, plenty of toys and games, etc? Children need to know these things ahead of time to promote a smooth and positive outlook towards the transition. The suggestions that follow will help you prepare children for transitions as you wind down your program for the year or begin a summer full of fun activities.
Spring is a good time of year to take note of anything that needs to be repaired in your classroom, especially if a session is ending and another one is starting soon. Consider which supplies need replenishing, determine whether any heavy-duty cleaning such as floor waxing or window cleaning needs to occur, or whether any rearranging might benefit the program. Once a list of supplies and chores has been made, make the arrangements to have the work completed before the next session begins.
If the program or curriculum is changing; for instance, transitioning from a school-year curriculum to a special summer program; determine when the stage will be set for the new program. Limit the amount of disruptions for the children by carefully planning when the changes will be made.
In addition, look at other aspects of your room that can be brightened up, enhanced, or changed such as the dramatic play area. For example, you can add a pretend window made of a small curtain or contact paper from the ceiling or on the wall, or create a whole new world in your summer classroom by hanging crepe paper and raffia from the ceiling to make great jungle vines. Try adding a few paper or stuffed animals to the vines for the children to play “I Spy.” Just remember to check the fire codes in your area before proceeding with materials on the ceiling.
While reevaluating your classroom environment and programs, take the opportunity to enhance and repair labeling as needed. For example, repair any cubby labels that are torn, but be aware that many children don’t like change. It’s often better to replace all cubby tags than to have one be different because there aren’t any more of the original tags.
If your program is ending its school year, think about how best to send all the children’s items home on the last day. Decorating a large brown grocery bag for their items is fun for the children and provides a sense of closure. Send home everything, from cubby tags and birthday labels to artwork, portfolios, and journals.
Parents and Families
Communicating with families is always important, but especially during any transition. Be certain parents know about any calendar changes by sending home and posting reminders in several different ways (on bulletin boards, on calendars, verbally, on take-home sheets, etc.).
Many programs also hold parent-teacher conferences at the end of the school year. If you choose to hold parent-teacher conferences, plan them carefully by providing plenty of meeting times convenient to your parents’ schedules. Try having some meetings early in the morning, some late in the afternoon, and some during lunch times and early evenings. If a face-to-face meeting isn’t workable, be willing and open to having a phone conference. For all meetings, provide clear expectations for the parents about arriving on time, how long to expect the conference to last and what they will receive (i.e., their child’s end-of-year assessment, portfolio, journal, etc.). Communicating ahead of time does a lot to reduce any miscommunication or disappointment from the parents.
If there are different requirements for families to know about for the summer program, announce them early and continue to send home reminders (e.g., if your summer hours are different from those during the school year, if a sack lunch is needed, if signatures are needed for field trips, etc.). Be certain all staff members understand what is needed from the parents and that they request information and supplies from parents in advance of any scheduled event. Many programs also provide a place for special announcements such as an easel in the entrance with a large written note, so parents can’t miss it as they walk by or special notes right at the sign in/out point for parents to see over and over again. Most parents want to know what is happening and are supportive of the program, they are simply in a hurry and thinking about other parts of their lives (dinner, errands, other children, work, etc.) so multiple reminders are very helpful.
Most Importantly, the Children
Besides recognizing the transition difficulties some children may have in ending a school year or beginning a new program, consider other ways to smooth the upcoming changes. These might include visiting their new classroom, spending time in the classroom, taking a tour and drawing about it afterwards, and involving the children in taking down and packing up their work.
Ending the School Year in Style
Consider having a special event or program to provide closure with parents, children, and staff. There are a lot of great ideas for events. Ask your colleagues, parents, and the children for their ideas before deciding. In addition, the following suggestions are offered:
- Plan an end of year barbeque or picnic. Have an evening under the stars with a potluck outdoors with blankets and pillows for children and parents to view the stars together. Provide binoculars, homemade telescopes, and copies of the major constellations for reference.
- Have an art or project show. Involve the children in decorating, preparing, and making various projects for their parents to view and enjoy. Provide refreshments planned and made by the children.
- Invite parents and family members to bring their favorite storybook or provide the books for them to read during a special week. Present the children with a book to take home with the program name on the inside cover.
Oftentimes, families want to remember staff with gifts and presents, instead try sending home a request that a book be donated to the classroom in the staff member’s name instead of individual gifts. Provide a list of books as suggestions. You can make arrangements with a local bookstore for special bookplates to be put inside the book in honor of a staff member or program. This type of gift provides a way for parents and families to recognize staff members, and provides the program with needed materials.
Angie Dorrell, M.A., is Director of Education for La Petite Academy, an early childhood education company with over 600 locations. She also serves as a NAEYC accreditation validator, former commissioner and editorial consultant. She is the proud mother of two young daughters. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.