Special days. I’ve never been a fan of them. Some people may think that this makes me a Holiday Humbug or a Grown-Up Grinch (I do love alliteration), and I’m probably a bit of both. I think though that it took a closer look at the Kindergarten Program Document for me to understand why I dislike them so much: when we’re planning these special days, are we following the lead of the child or our own lead? How do these days align with the thinking and learning happening in the classroom, and how might they further extend this learning?
While my teaching partner, Paula, and I share many similar thoughts around special days, this school year is also very different than past ones. We are all in our third month of teaching and learning at home, and there’s something to be said for developing class and school communities. One of the harder things about synchronous learning is classroom management. You no longer have the same proximity to students. A look, a gentle touch on the shoulder, and/or even a few different participation options (e.g., participating from a chair at the side or a space over in the corner) are more challenging — and sometimes even, impossible — to coordinate in an online forum. While both Paula and I have worked hard at further developing relationships with kids in our Distance Learning Classroom — knowing that relationships are at the heart of classroom management — even building these connections is different online. Paula and I realize that special days are often more dysregulating for students, as they vary with the routine that the kids know. We’re now caught in that tug-of-war between desiring to raise class and school spirit and wanting to support a degree of normal in a sea of abnormal.
Even though we offer various asynchronous learning opportunities for kids, our daily synchronous online classroom has provided numerous teaching and learning opportunities for our students since April 6th. Now then, we’re faced with a dilemma, especially as we enter the last month of school. While warmer weather, multiple months at home, and the summer looming, makes a decrease in attendance a distinct possibility, Paula and I want to try to end the school year on a high note. We wondered if considering a few special days might help. Along with this consideration though, are some other important ones.
Our Privacy Officer has published some important memos for educators and families, especially when it comes to synchronous learning. We’ve been reading and thinking about these points, and kept returning to this one on Personal Privacy.
If we want children to think about where they’re learning and what others are viewing, then I think we also have to contemplate clothing choice. Learning is now more on display for others than ever before, so what we’re wearing, where we’re sitting, and how we’re behaving are largely wrapped up in learning environment considerations for both adults and kids. Pajama Days often happened in school classrooms, but are they the best choice for our online classroom?
Know more, do better. This phrase is one that I’ve contemplated a lot recently. While I might never have been gung-ho on special days, I will admit — unfortunately so — that I never really considered the message that we’re sending to kids and families when choosing certain special days. Mrs. Ford, a teacher that I communicate with on Twitter, had me rethinking things. She questioned the use of “Crazy Hair/Crazy Hat Day,” Her tweet later made me think about these two fantastic books that I read recently.
There are a lot of important considerations here that link to bigger topics, including anti-black racism, self-esteem, bullying, and body image. If Paula and I are considering a special day, we want to be cognizant about what messages we’re sending to families based on our decisions.
As I mentioned earlier in the post, special days can be very dysregulating. There’s a reason that we’ve kept the same schedule every day since April 6th. Even in our school classroom, our schedule was always consistent. The routine provided a sense of calm for us and for kids. It was the predictability that we all needed. Even on special days that we couldn’t avoid, like Valentine’s Day for example, we still tried to insert the special within a bubble of normal. This allowed us to support kids in adjusting to something new. If we are going to embrace a special day, we want to do so in a way that we don’t dysregulate our students and increase stress for our families.
What is possible then? I love this list of ideas that Mrs. Ford shared on Twitter.
The open-endedness of many of these options also means that they can connect with classroom learning, be embedded within regular classroom routines (even online classrooms), and provide positive experiences for both students and families. While we haven’t tried these special days yet, we have tried a few of our own.
Our Cooking Show Day
Our first Cooking Show was on Thursday morning.
We loved that this special day could include learning opportunities throughout the week (discussed towards the end of this linked class blog post), and even led later to the creation of a Class Recipe Book. Then the learning opportunities could continue past the date of the Cooking Show.
Our Class Cooking Show
We’ve made a small tweak for this upcoming week, and are connecting cooking with reflection, relationships, and consideration for others.
Fun Fitness Fridays
A special thank you to our amazing Phys-Ed teacher, Mrs. Kott, for making this special day possible. Every Friday, she joins us in our online classroom for a little phys-ed from home. Not only do her 15-20 minutes fitness classes get everyone moving together, but they also,
- involve families and siblings, and the connection that comes from having everyone moving together,
- integrate language skills (from letter-sounds to new vocabulary) and math skills (including counting) with physical activity,
- and allow for the development of listening comprehension (with an invitation to move freely based on the oral descriptions that she shares).
Fun Fitness Fridays With Mrs. Kott
These two special days have been so well-received, that we continue to build on them week after week. I also wonder if merging “the special” with “the routine” helps support Self-Reg for both parents and kids.
This week, we also have a new special day option thanks to Paula.
A different learning space for our daily online classroom along with a slightly different conversation might also help with setting-up our learning for the week. Broadcasting from a local park could also inspire kids and families to later on explore this outdoor space together.
As I consider this final special day addition, I’m reminded of the fact that even a small change can make things special for kids, and revive an interest in learning, sharing, and engaging together. What have special days looked like in your Distance Learning classrooms and schools? How might some of these same considerations apply when we head back to school? Hopefully educators, administrators, and family members can chime in with their opinions, as we strive to create learning environments that work for everyone. Here’s to another great week of learning!