This is the time of year, the week before Winter Break, when both students and teachers are eagerly anticipating those imagined languid days of sleeping in, staying up late and having no other agenda than doing absolutely nothing, or everything, according to one’s choosing. Too often, however, this imagined utopia of free time becomes fraught with other obligations, schedules, and demands on one’s time, so much so, that the students and teachers return from break feeling less than rested and renewed. In fact, many students and teachers return from break more exhausted and frazzled than when break started.

But not to worry; there are many concrete strategies for not only surviving winter break but for returning to school refreshed and recharged, and with an eagerness to learn.

Five survival tips for teachers

Dr. Stephanie Knight, former seventh- and eight-grade English language arts teacher, and current adjunct professor at Grand Canyon University, suggests five ways teachers can reduce the stress of returning at the end of the break

  1. Taking the week before break to finish and finalize current tasks and to plan lessons for the weeks after break before leaving for break.
  2. When break starts, teachers should close the door and leave it there. “Recreation’s
    purpose is to ‘recreate’ making you fresh for the new year.” She says, “You’ll be much calmer and more effective if you have given your work brain a rest.”
  3. Teachers should trade news for music. In other words, teachers should try to unplug from keeping up with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, talk radio, cable news, or news blogs. Instead, she advises teachers to listen to some of their favorite old tunes or find a venue to listen to some live music. “There is nothing like watching the beauty of live musical instruments being played,” she says. It will awaken your senses, and it may freshen your outlook to tackle your daily tasks.
  4. Reading a good book or two (we all know we have some waiting for us on our
    bookshelves), is another way to reduce stress, sharpen mental acuity, and knowledge. Indulge in the opportunity to read.
  5. Finally, when it comes to sleep, it’s important for teachers to stick to and maintain their sleep routine. Although it may be tempting to sleep in on occasion, it is better to stick to your normal sleep routine. If you deviate far from your sleep schedule, you’ll have a difficult time adjusting when school starts back up.

If teachers follow these five wise suggestions, they will, no doubt, return to the classroom recharged and raring to plunge into the challenges of the new year.

Survival Tips for Students

For students, Winter Break comes with its own challenges.  Like teachers, students are encouraged to stick with normal sleep routines and to furthermore maintain a healthy diet despite the occasional lapse of sweets and high-fat foods that they will invariably indulge in over the holidays. Beyond enjoying time with family and friends, Winter Break is a good time for learning as well, but not in the traditional sense of the word. 

Jason Koebler, a contributing writer for U. S. News, suggests Winter Break is a good chance for students to have real world experiences.  Winter Break is a great time for students to do independent research, take an educational trip, or volunteer in the community. 

Yvette Jackson, a CEO of the National Urban Alliance, says that “although students don’t lose as much math and reading knowledge over Winter Break as they do Summer break, giving students a fun project to work on over break is a good way to keep them interested in what they’re studying.”

New Morning School’s Museum Project gets into full swing in January.  What better way to give students a head start and to rev up their excitement for their project than to encourage a deep dive into their subjects through reading and the exploration of resources related to their topic of interest? 

Jackson also says parents can take advantage of the free time. Parents can take their children to the public library or even venture into a university library.  Think about educational, fun places near your home, such as a museum, zoo, or factory. It’s even better if you can connect the experience with what your child is studying in school, she says. “Talk with your child about places you can go that will allow them to reflect on what they’re learning.”

If money is tight or your schedule doesn’t permit a trip, Jackson recommends trying an electronic field trip. The National Parks FoundationBall State University and the Smithsonian Institute all offer virtual field trips that give students a close-up view of popular destinations around the United States and the world.  Whether you take your child somewhere or they take a virtual field trip, make sure you talk with your child during or after the trip. “The experience means nothing for a child unless the child analyzes what they’ve been looking at,” says Jackson.

While helping your kids understand the larger significance of their break experiences, parents might also consider encouraging them to give back. Food pantries and soup kitchens often have plenty of volunteers during the holidays, but many could always use an extra hand. The United Way and VolunteerMatch have extensive databases of locations looking for holiday help.

“The holidays are a time of year when we come together as a community,” a recent United Way holiday publication notes. “We make the extra effort to look for the things that bring us together and unite us,” adds Jackson.

Happy New Year

When students and teachers return, it will be a brand-new year.  Instead of feeling overwhelmed to create an obligatory list of New Year’s Resolutions, both students and teachers might be encouraged to think of one personal thing they’ll change or refine in the new year.  For teachers, maybe it’s a new classroom management strategy or working on a character trait like being more grateful or more patient.  For students, it might be to focus on being better organized or to be kinder and more considerate of their fellow students. 

Says Knight: “If you can limit it to one thing, you’re more likely to be successful. Write it down in your journal, tell one accountability partner, and make it happen.” 

In the end, it’s important for both teachers and students to make the most of their time off so that they’re sure to come back, refreshed, revitalized, and ready for a new year.

Resources:

Six Tips to Make the Most of Your Winter Break

Additional suggestions:

Linda Hyde is a middle school language arts and social studies teacher with New Morning School in Plymouth, MI. She can be reached at linda@newmorningschool.com