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Countdowns. As we’re approaching the middle of June, there’s no doubt about it that year-end countdowns will start soon. The warmer weather doesn’t help with this. I often say that the weather puts children into “summer mode,” and maybe it does the same for adults. But countdowns have always made me feel stressed. I’ve never done them, and even just writing about them is making a knot form in my stomach that I can’t seem to suppress. 

  • Maybe it’s because of how much I enjoy our classroom and our time at school, and I don’t want this time to end quite yet.
  • Maybe it’s because I realize how much there is to do before the end of the year — especially paperwork-wise, which tends to cause me additional stress — and I still have a lot left on the list.
  • Maybe it’s because I like routine, and routines change in the summer.

While I may not be ready to count down the days or weeks of school left, the thought that it’s ending soon enough is still on my mind. Recently though, I realized that I’m not the only one who is thinking this way.

Back in April, the Kindergarten class next door to us presented at an assembly about saving the earth. This class was inspired by the Plastic Planet video, and the students had taken a particular interest in saying “no” to plastic straws that cannot be recycled. They inspired us to also reconsider our own use of plastic straws. We encouraged children to bring their own reusable straws to school, which many have done. That said, we still have some straws left in our cupboard that we already purchased, and when we were dealing with numerous milk spills in the classroom due to a lack of straws, we decided to put out some of these plastic straws to help reduce the spills. As I was filling up the container with them last week, a child said to me, “We won’t need that many straws, Miss Dunsiger. I’ll be leaving soon.” Really? Where was he going? I asked and he replied, “I’ll be off to Grade 1. The year is almost over.” Not quite … I reassured him that we still have time left in Kindergarten, and continued to fill the container with straws. 

I didn’t think much more about this until later in the week, when my teaching partner, Paula, was doing a “thumbs up and thumbs down” activity during our morning meeting time. She often encourages students to share some of their thinking. Paula noticed that this child had a “thumbs down.” Why? She asked him, and he replied, “Because school is almost over, and I’m sad that I won’t see any of my JK friends next year since I’ll be in Grade 1.” Wow! In our class, we don’t even mention that school is coming to an end, but for this child, just thinking about it ending was causing him stress. He’s also one of the students that can vocalize this stress and work through it with us. Imagine the children that can’t. What kinds of behaviours might we see in these children? 

I think back to all of the times that I’ve heard teachers mention things like:

  • “My students are having a hard time focusing.”
  • “[Name] is crying more than usual.”
  • “There always seems to be so many fights at this time of the year.”
  • “Children seem to be tattle-taling on each other a lot more often.”
  • “Temper tantrums are at an all-time high right now!”

Just like other educators, I used to think that students just want summer vacation as much as we do. The nice weather is making them think that school is almost over. Maybe they’re just ready for the next grade, and we just have to get through the rest of the year to make this happen. 

But what if there’s another reason for this behaviour? Thinking about the comments that our students have made recently makes me think that maybe this misbehaviour is just the stress behaviour that comes with summer vacation and the unknown of a new school year to follow. As much as children might be telling us that they want this year to come to an end, maybe instead they’re actually sharing that they really want a predictable routine to continue and the uncertainty to go away. How, then, can we support these children? Self-Reg may be even more important now than before. Here are some ways we’ve been trying to support our students:

  • Remember that sticking with a schedule matters.
  • Provide some more sensory options (e.g., sand or water play OR plasticine or play dough use) that may be calming for the children that need it.
  • Consider how students self-regulate (i.e., what is calming for them?), and ensuring that these options are always readily available. 
  • Become even more aware of our stress levels and tone. Are we using a quieter voice? Are we giving enough time to complete tasks? Are we taking our own breaks, to ensure that when we are with the class, we are even more calm and patient than usual?

We may not be able to avoid year-end stressors, but can we reduce the impact through our own actions and our understanding and empathy for the children in front of us? I think we can. What about you?