Hi again, it’s Jessi from Cooties and Cuties, and I’m so excited to be back sharing ideas for the New Year!
The New Year is such an exciting time, but the first day back to school after winter break is never anyone’s favorite. We’re all exhausted from holiday celebrations, stuck in a sugar coma from too many Christmas cookies, and nowhere near ready to get back into the swing of things. This is why we need to start the year with a BANG… literally!
Countdown of Challenges:
A challenge countdown is my favorite way to start the New Year. The kids are just as tired as we are, but starting with a day full of fun and excitement will reenergize them and get their brains working in tip-top condition again. And, with a small amount of prep beforehand, it can be a really fun and easy day for you, too!
Step 1: Design 10 challenges for your students to solve throughout the day. The key word here is challenge. Activities should be rigorous and engaging, require teamwork and review the most important topics you covered in the first semester. The purpose is to get your students’ minds back into school-mode, so plan them carefully. I like to plan my challenges to cover all subject areas… a couple challenges each for math, reading, writing and STEM, but you can also focus on one subject area and dig in a little deeper.
Caption: To help your day run smoothly, prepare 10 challenge bags ahead of time by filling them with everything the students need to complete each challenge. Count backwards like the New Year’s clock, starting at ten and ending at one, and plan your challenges so they increase in intensity. The last challenge should be the toughest!
Step 2: Transform your classroom into a New Year’s party to set the stage for the day! It doesn’t have to be elaborate or time-consuming, and it will instantly excite your kids as they walk in the door. Try some of the following:
- Hang balloons and a New Year’s banner.
- Create a photo booth (Maybe it’s one of your challenges – “Create a photo representation of the fraction ¼.”).
- Add in a few sparkly touches – glitter, confetti, twinkling lights, the whole bit.
- Greet your students with party hats and noise makers, shouting, “HAPPY NEW YEAR!” They might think you’re crazy, but you’ll have their attention.
Step 3: As your students settle in for the day, explain that you’re going to send them on The New Year’s Countdown of Challenges to review topics learned in the first semester, and, if they make it through all 10 challenges, they’ll earn (fill in the blank). I like to reward my students by letting them stand on tables and shout, “HAPPY NEW YEAR!” while popping balloons filled with confetti and a Hershey’s Kiss, but they will love anything you plan.
When your students have finished the challenges, three things will happen:
- Your students will feel a huge sense of accomplishment; they just survived a day full of challenges, after all, and they will be on top of the world.
- YOU will feel a huge sense of relief because you’ve just reviewed the most important information from the first semester, and now you can move on with the rest of your curriculum.
- Your class will be alive with enthusiasm and actually EXCITED that school has started again. Happiness all around!
The challenge countdown is an exciting way to start the New Year, but the New Year is also a great time to reflect on the past year and set goals for the year to come.
Adults naturally reflect as the New Year approaches, so I like to bring this tradition into the classroom, too. As the highlight of my challenges, I ask students to compete a New Year craftivity that includes a reflection on the past year as well as goal-setting for the new year to come. This activity is one of the most important challenges because it helps students refocus on their academic goals after a 2-week brain break.
The first part of the craftivity is a fun reflection on 2016, something that will help students remember the best moments of the past year. The next three pages help students set goals for 2017.
While students are filling in their reflection sheets, I take pictures of each student and quickly print them out so they can finish the craft. When they’re done, they cut out their pictures and decorate their hats, and voila! Cuteness overload!
And there you have it, one awesome New Year’s celebration, a class full of happy kids and a teacher who can sleep at night knowing she tricked her kids into a day of rigorous review! The first day back after winter break is no longer a day we have to dread. Instead, with a little effort, it can become a day we all look forward to.
WOW!!!! You guys, aren’t these the BEST ideas? Jessi has some creative skills! I am sure her kids LOVE being in her classroom! Thanks again Jessi for sharing your talent with us!
Be sure to check out Jessi’s Instagram account HERE for even more creative ideas!