5 Ways to Keep Students (and Teachers) Learning Over Winter Break
One educator shares her best practices for staying connected and keeping her students learning while school is out.
By Camille Cavazos
With holidays, friends, travel, and a multitude of other distractions, keeping kids learning over school breaks can be challenging. Though the brain drain that happens over winter break may not be as severe as the dreaded “summer slide,” I still feel it’s better to do something than nothing at all during the holiday vacation. It’s important for kids to see that learning is a joy, and that it hardly ever comes to a complete stop. Here are some great ways for teachers to keep students learning before, during, and after the holidays.
1. Relate learning to the upcoming holiday.
During the weeks leading up to winter break, I try to do some holiday-themed lessons to capitalize on the excitement the kids feel about the break, and connect that excitement to their learning. In math class, students go through advertisements and create their own Christmas list. They estimate the cost of their Christmas list, practicing their number-rounding skills. After that, they find the actual total by adding decimals.
We will also find a Christmas recipe, read it, and discuss it. Then students write a procedural, expository piece on the recipe. We then make the recipe in class and enjoy it together. (It’s usually Christmas Chex mix).
2. Give fun assignments over break.
I am able to do fun, real-time assignments through my parent-teacher communication app, Bloomz. For example, I did a treasure hunt competition with the help of parents. The first 10 students to submit pictures of the three types of angles found at home or in public would receive free homework passes. It was a race to the finish, and since I required the pictures to be submitted through the app, it required parents to engage with their children’s learning at home. I also did a similar assignment where students had to find and post pictures of the different types of precipitation. The kids loved these, and so did the parents. Some even posted videos!
3. Keep in touch with your students in non-academic ways.
It’s important to me that my students know I care about them as whole people, so I make sure I connect with them in non-academic ways, too. I’m the faculty sponsor for our elementary running team, Ranger Runners. Over the Thanksgiving break, we even participated in a local run, the Turkey Trot.
My students also participate in other activities outside of school. I like to support them in and out of the classroom, so I make sure to attend those activities as well. Recently, six of my students had basketball games over the Thanksgiving break, so I made sure to go and cheer them on. Building great relationships with my students and parents is extremely important. If you capture their hearts, you capture their minds.
4. Keep up with your own learning.
As teachers, we can’t neglect our own learning over breaks, either. Whether this means reading, taking a class, attending a seminar, or comparing notes with colleagues, we should all be striving to make learning a regular part of our lives.
I’m actually working on my Doctorate in Educational Leadership, so I’m currently reading Robert’s Rules of Order for an upcoming assignment. I’m also always looking for different activities to tackle our hotspots for when we come back after the break.
5. Welcome students back.
To prep students for coming back to school after a break, I normally send a message through Bloomz saying something like, “I can’t wait to see you at school tomorrow. I’ve missed you!” I also post video links to objectives that I’ll be teaching during the upcoming week, so they can have a preview of what we’ll be learning.
I welcome them back with open arms and take a little time to reconnect with them and help them reconnect with each other. It’s important for them to know that I care, so we just take a little time to be together and enjoy stories about their break. I plan activities that are fun and engaging, have games, review previously taught materials, and have small group discussions. This subtly puts them back into our class routine with minimal stress.
A teacher’s job is constant, 24/7. I wouldn’t have it any other way. We’re always looking for bigger and better ways to engage our learners. I aspire to cultivate learning every day, so whether classes are in session or not, I am always looking for things to raise curiosity and hook my learners.
Camille Cavazos teaches 4th grade at Jane W. Long Elementary School in Harlingen, TX.