I used to have a reoccurring nightmare a few days before school started. I’d walk into my classroom and instantly lose my ability to see. In my dream, I’d try to pretend everything was normal, but the students would soon discover that wasn’t the case, and all hell would break loose. I’m pretty sure those dreams were all about leading and my worries about whether or not I could, and while I never lost my eyesight in class, like all of us who work with children, I did need to find my way. The dreams have stopped, but the reminders linger. No matter where I help children learn, I need tools, and more often than not, these look like routines.
Two of the best classroom tools I used began the moment my students walked in the classroom and in the moments before they left. Our beginning and ending routines not only allowed students to transition, they allowed them to engage in their interests, check in with me individually, and gave me time to do the same. Teachers need transition time too!
Now at home, I begin my time with my children the same way I did with my students- we grab a good book. At the end of the day, we do too. Reading together gives my kids a place to land. When we’re done with a chapter or two, depending on the time of day, they are ready to either move on to the next piece of our day or head off to bed.
There are many ways to begin and end your time with children. Here are a few of my favorite ways.
Starting a class or morning the same way each day allows kids to settle in and transition. They know what to expect before they arrive, and there is something soothing about beginning time together with a simple activity or ritual.
There are many ways to create this time:
Maybe try a different activity each day or switch things up each season.
When I was teaching, I began each class with SSR (Silent Sustained Reading). My students chose the books they wanted to read, and (this is key,) I read too*. We spread out on the floor. Sometimes we went outside. Over and over again, year after year, kids told me it was one of the best parts of their day. I rarely had students lose control in my classroom. They liked being in class and after ten minutes when our timer went off, they were ready to learn. Starting each class in silence and being able to read books that interested them, helped them quiet whatever had happened in the hall or previous class, transition into English, pause, breathe, and re-focus.
The last couple years I taught, we used the Mind Up curriculum. After SSR, I used a chime to help us practice meditative breathing. This too proved to be a great way to start our class.
*A beginning routine is for everyone. If you are facilitating, you need transition time too. Don’t use this time to grade, do dishes, or check email. Allow yourself to center. Pick up a book, grab your journal, or enjoy an audio book with your kids.
It’s nice to go full circle. Just like having a beginning routine, having something that signals an end or close to a class or day is important too. In my writing circles, we pass a candle to begin and end. In my home, we begin and end each day by reading. There are many ways to end a day:
Ask kids the “most important question of the day” and make it something silly like, “What is the best ice cream flavor in the world?”
Play two truths and a lie
3 words list- Children write down three words that summarize something they’ve learned and explain why the words are relevant.
Draw- a picture related to something learned
Energy Check- Ask, how are you feeling right now?
One of my favorite ways to end my English classes was an Exit Slip. I’d pass out index cards and invite students to write about something specific we’d learned. This was also a time for them to ask questions they didn’t want to ask in class, now realized they had, or let me know how the class went for them. This tool helped me check in with each student, helped them reflect on their learning and time in our class, and again, ended our class quietly and calmly.
The times I didn’t have a beginning routine in my classroom and expected my students to launch right into the next topic without transition, never went well. It’s the same at home. If I want our family to have an ease to our day, we have to actually ease into it.
Creating routines takes a little time and it takes consistency. Go with simple. Choose one thing, not five. And choose something you know your kids will enjoy. Find books that hook them, let them write about anything they want to in their journals or listen to the same audio book over and over again if that is what gives them joy.
The goal of a beginning and ending routine is to not to teach a new skill or challenge a child. These routines should help children and facilitators transition, settle, and find a place of calm. Learning can’t happen when we’re feeling hyper, frazzled, or preoccupied.
A routine to begin and one to end is the bread of a learning sandwich. It keeps the good stuff, their learning, from becoming a mess on the floor. Offer your children a little time to begin and a little time to end each day. It will make all the difference.
I’d love to know how you begin and end your day with your children.