I remember telling my principal once about a “party” we had in class. At the end of the day, after all of the children packed up and were ready for home, we put out the food on the eating table. Children gathered around the small table, chatting, munching, selecting new things to try, and connecting with different students and with us. The party was probably only 15 minutes long. It was the last thing that the students did before they went home, and while the rest of our day was fairly routine, this excitement was what they remembered. I got a number of emails that night thanking us for the “great party” and “wonderful memories.” This was a good reminder for me that things don’t need to be grand to be memorable.
I thought about this moment again yesterday. Valentine’s Day. As I’ve blogged about before, I’m not a fan of big celebrations or experiences that mess with regular routines. I think that I need consistency as much as our young learners. The current reality in Ontario education means that our schedule has been off lately, and for the week of Valentine’s Day, we were on a one-day teaching/one-day walkout routine. This made Valentine’s Day a little different than normal. When my teaching partner, Paula, and I saw our kids on Monday, we knew that they were craving routine as much as us. The note that we shared with parents a week earlier made us feel even more confident in our decision to follow the lead of the child when it came to this holiday.
We were not cancelling Valentine’s Day, but we also tried to be cognizant of what our kids needed and respond to that. When yesterday arrived though, I thought that the gods were trying to warn me to turn around and stay in bed. My day began with …
- dropping my watch in the toilet,
- having my little dog try to make friends with the most enormous of skunks wandering on my driveway,
- picking the wrong lid for my coffee cup and spilling coffee all over myself,
- and parking in my least favourite spot in order to avoid opening my door anywhere near my principal‘s car. 🙂 (Being in my head each morning when I park is a fun place to be! 🙂 )
It was then minutes before the children arrived that I saw the weather forecast, and realized that with a -23 windchill, it was too cold to go outside. Ahh!! Our first indoor day all year, after an on/off routine all week, and on Valentine’s Day. Maybe staying home would have been the better choice! 🙂
Thank goodness for Paula and her “we’ve got this” words of wisdom! We did have it! As we have for the past few years, we found the smallest area in the far back corner of our room to set-up the Valentine’s Day bags. Instead of turning the distribution into an event, this became just one of the provocations for the day.
By also introducing this option in the middle of our meeting time, it didn’t become a focal point to start the day. The play was calm. Kids were settled. I couldn’t get over how wonderfully everything began, and on an indoor Valentine’s Day.
Students then slowly made their way into the Valentine’s Day space. A few children spent more time in here than others. Some wanted to help their friends sort cards. Some children were craving the excitement that comes from holiday celebrations, while others, were craving the normal that comes from a schedule that they know.
We differentiate everything else in our day … why not valentines? It’s like the rule that I used to have in the past: do not add names to the valentines. Sign the cards with your name, but do not include friends’ names. The stress of sorting cards with names used to be too much for me, but that’s because I was the one supporting the sorting. I was also trying to manage every child in a circle waiting for the valentine to land in his/her bag. Why though? If we minimize full group activities on any other day of the year, why do special days need to include more of them? I think that I wanted control over this day in the past, and now, thanks to Paula, I feel less of a need for this control. Years ago, just looking at the bags all over the floor, out of order, and spread out in such a small space, would have stressed me out. Just because this organizational system doesn’t work for me, does it mean that it doesn’t work for kids? Paula shared this question with me yesterday, and I think that it’s a good one to consider.
Yes, there were probably a few mix-ups along the way, but every child went home happy and with a huge bag of valentines to enjoy. This is the memory that they left with as they left yesterday, and just like with the small party around the eating table, the celebration didn’t need to be big to be meaningful. In the end, I think that all children got what they needed from the day, and a small space in the back corner of the room, still created a party feel without an actual party. How do you balance special days and routines, and what impact does this approach have on kids? Thankfully the toilet might have sunk the watch, but not the day! This was definitely a Valentine’s Day celebration that I could get behind.
We did something different this year, following one of our lingering projects… our Kindness Project that began in September as one of our C’s…CARING. We are trying to practice being ‘Captains of the ‘C’s’ (trying to incorporate my version of the 21st Century learning skills.) While Caring isn’t an official ‘C’ it is one that developed from our grade 1 inquiry into investigating ‘Who Are We?’. We have been talking about who needs kindness and caring above and beyond the normal kindness we show everyday and above and beyond those in our classroom. So we decided to forgo the abundance of Valentine giving (also talking about saving $ for parents, and reducing the buying of paper and plastic products for the environment) and focus on creating 1 very special valentine for 1 special person. We explored the negative space idea in art as the front of our valentine, chose an authentic audience and purpose and wrote a heart felt message in a rough draft. We used our new editing pens to improve our written messages and then tried our hand at a good copy. The kids were so excited to create their own valentine for a special someone. They had reasoned out why someone needed a ‘lift’ ( from someone who had a bad day, someone who doesn’t get many cards, someone who worked very hard, to someone that had been the recipient of some unfriendly actions at recess.) a few kids did bring in some valentines that they had already bought and delivered and the kids did get excited about these, but they left very excited to deliver their very special valentine to the very special person. They didn’t seem to miss a traditional celebration at all. I did enjoy how it morphed into chats about environment, giving moreso than receiving, saving money, art techniques and the writing process. I certainly didn’t set out with all of this planned and in mind…. it just came about from a small idea and conversations in class. A break from tradition was welcomed and enjoyed by all!
Thanks for sharing what you did, Joanne! A very intriguing idea. Were these valentine recipients others kids in the school, kids in the classroom, adults, or a combination of everyone? I would love to hear more. I’m also intrigued by your focus on caring. Have you noticed a difference in your students’ regular interactions with kids based on this new focus of yours? I’m always curious about impact and would love to find out more.
Thanks again for sharing your special Valentine’s Day! It sounds like it was a huge success.
I was relived to receive the letter regarding Valentine’s Day. There is so much to remember with both children in different learning settings right now, I was happy that I could mention it to A and take his lead. (We had also just spent time writing thank you cards for family from Christmas and his birthday. ) Last year was very stressful trying to convince him to write out 27 valentine cards , this year, he just wanted to write two. This also meant he could write the whole card and not just his name. Thank you for being mindful about the class’s approach to this day.
Thanks Rebecca for your comment! I really appreciate the parent perspective, and how you shared your son’s feelings around this day. It was great that he could do what felt comfortable for him, without feeling the added pressure to create valentines for everyone. Paula and I noticed that we actually had a number of children that didn’t bring in any cards this year. Some made a few at school for special friends, and some preferred to spend the day doing what they love to do: from building to creating to writing. It was awesome to see how those that wanted to distribute valentines could, and those that didn’t, could choose other options. This whole experience makes me wonder how much children actually love Valentine’s Day or how much they’re just accustomed to bringing in cards or treats because that’s the thing to do. I think that our learning from this year will follow with us for years to come.
The emphasis is on Caring was actually spurred on by our work last year with our grade 5 buddies. I had started out the year with the slogan ‘smiles are contagious’ and in my first letter to the kids in August, I asked that a smile is all they needed to bring on the first day of school. We sang a song about smiles being contagious and performed for our buddies and our year long Kindness project and inquiry began. This year started with smiles again but my ‘team’ really had some ‘getting along challenges. I have to say that the talk about caring is developing nicely and kids are pointing out when someone is displaying caring and kindness. As we talk about the ‘Captain of the C’s’ (our 21st century skills (tying these in with the learning skills)) Caring also morphed into other ‘C’s’ that were either hinted at by me or suggested completely by the kids… Character, Contributing and Compliments. We still have more practice, noticing, patience and tolerance to go. Recently we investigated logos (as part of media) and decided to make a logo for our classroom as we plan and carry out ideas for our kindness project each week. So our spreading kindness beyond our 4 walls with the special valentine we created is meant to be the beginning of this process. Our big year long goal for our science and social studies inquiries is to make a difference. Hoping this will be a connection that the kids develop too so we can tie lots of ideas together.
And in response to the question of the audience for the special valentines…. the kids chose and reasoned but were encouraged to move beyond the walls of our room. One student who greatly struggles to empathize with others, tends to create some tricky situations and often appears to think of himself first, blew me away and suggested writing to another member of our class who struggles greatly with social cues, personal problem solving and reverts to tears several times a day. He said in his letter ‘ I’m so sorry you had a bad day today.’ It was wonderful to see him recognize someone else’s struggles. 🥰 melted my heart!!!
Thanks Joanne for sharing your story and how this Caring Project evolved. I love the anecdote of the child at the end of your comment. How wonderful that he could recognize these feelings in others. I would be curious to know how this focus on caring changes as the students move up in the greats. Does it impact on their interactions with others? Thanks for giving me more to think about!