Saying Goodbye to this School Year
Updated: Jul 30
And what a year it has been! I am pretty sure that there is nothing I can say about the absurdity of 2020 that has not already been said. So, I will just go back to writing about what I can, namely, early childhood education.
Really, there are two blog posts to write here. The first, is ending the school year for young children, in general. How we talk about it; what information we can give them to help them know what comes next; how do we say goodbye?
And then there is June, 2020. When many of us haven't seen our students in person for several months. And, some of us can only guess or hope that we will begin non-virtual school again in September. And, what will school look like in the fall? Again, more guessing.
In 2020, I am more similar to a young 3 year old who has only been to school once or twice before. I do not have previous experiences to draw upon to know what to expect in the fall.
So, let's tackle a regular year first. Here is what we want kids to know.
School years end.
When the school year ends, there is something called summer. Children might go on trips, they might go to camp, they might stay home with a parent or caregiver.
When school starts again, they will be in a new classroom or a new school. They will have new teachers and some new friends.
They know how to do so many things that they could not do when they first started school!
School ending can be sad.
School ending can be exciting and happy.
You can feel happy and sad at the same time.
When we are in our classroom, as per non-pandemic procedure, in the last few weeks of school we begin to talk about the end. We don't dwell on it at first. But, we just introduce the idea. There is always a balance, I find, in giving children information so that they know what to expect. Too little information, and information given too late, may leave children feeling surprised and anxious when one of their routines suddenly disappears. On the other hand, three weeks in the life of a young child is loooong time. We don't want to create anxiety by inundating them with information about the upcoming end of the school year. We don't want them thinking only about saying goodbye, when there are so many days left to play, talk, read, and enjoy being together.
So we just begin to talk slowly, a little bit at a time:
We visit some of the older classrooms, and see what is similar and what is different.
We start to chat about the summer.
We discuss how big they have gotten, what they have learned, and how much they have grown.
As we get closer to the end, maybe about 9 days out, we make a paper chain with links to represent the number of days left of school. At the end of each day, we tear off one link of the chain. We tell them that when all the links are gone, we won't be coming to our classroom every day anymore.
In the last week of school, we start to wash toys and we put them away for the summer. We send home artwork that has been hanging on the wall. In the last day or two of school, there are fewer toys on the shelves, and the walls are emptier. We talk more about our plans for the summer. We have a party.
And, as with many things at school, we make books to help us talk about saying goodbye to each other and to our classroom.
Usually, we make a book for each child that we give as an end of year gift. In the future though, I would like to make one for our whole class that includes pictures of everyone, and that captures some of the personality of the group. I would like to laminate that version, read it to the class, and keep it on our bookshelf in the last 2 weeks of school. Each child can still receive their own copy, or even their own version of the book, as their end of year gift.
Oh, how meaningful it will be when their end of year book is one that they are already familiar with?!
With my templates, it is easy to create one version for the whole class, and then personalize a copy for each child.
That is what we did this year, the year of 2020.
Except this year, it felt like we had to say a little more about our school year. Because it was not like any other before it. It was, in fact, A Different Kind of School Year.
This end of year book, still contains photos of all the children and their year together. But it also tells the story of the new rules that we had to follow to keep everyone healthy. The story of how school was closed, and the new way that we went to school.
And like other years, this book helped us explain how we would soon say goodbye, and that the next time they go to school, there will be some new teachers and some new friends.
That much I know to be true.
We read this book, shared on my screen, when there were just about 9 days left of school. We read it a few times to help children process the information inside, and to give them more opportunities to say anything they were thinking or feeling. And the rest of the time, we sang, played, and talked together (on Zoom). Just as we always had done.