School's out for summer

Balmy June days call for shorts, T-shirts and celebrating a year's worth of learning. We asked savvy teachers and parents for fun ways to wrap up the school year with class

School’s out rituals

A year of hard work deserves a celebration!

Family feasts Jean Mills bakes a cake with foil-wrapped coins hidden inside. And though her two kids are now in high school and university, the tradition continues. Other families fire up the barbecue or pick up pizza or Chinese food.

Way-to-go gifts Some parents like to give a high-five with a present. Amy Spurway gives her twin girls, seven, cash for a shopping spree. Anything’s fair game as long as it fits their budget, she says. Charmaine Zankowicz lets her boys shop “for hours” for fishing lures at an outdoor adventure store. After report-card opening, Amber Strom gives her two sons (kindergarten and grade three) a book, DVD or game. “It’s never grade dependent.”

The great escape Teresa Pitman (a Today’s Parent columnist) often drove her four lucky kids to Disney World the day after school ended. Zankowicz plans day trips with mega kid appeal. Enlisting a teenager for crowd control, she took her three kids to Toronto’s Ontario Place. “They need to keep busy the first few days when school lets out to avoid post-school letdown.”

Perfect parties On the day after school ends, Anabela Neves and her daughter, Marina, seven, attend an all-grades family picnic hosted by their Caledon, Ont., school. As kids enjoy face painting, a bouncy castle, snow cones, pony rides and a magic show, parents supervise and mingle. “It’s a great chance to say goodbye and wish everyone a great summer,” says Neves.

For home-based get-togethers, some brave souls invite the entire class and teacher to a pool party or barbecue. Other big hits are sleepovers (some in backyard tents), bonfires, and water or theme park trips with class buddies.

Classroom confidential

What’s happening those last few weeks?

Until the last day, Michael Strom’s students present projects and review curriculum for provincial exams held in June. “If kids are engaged in meaningful activities, I spend less time managing behaviours,” he says. To liven up math class, Rose Bright teaches Sudoku puzzles — a skill kids can enjoy all summer.

Other teachers plan trips that complement the curriculum. Karen Kirkconnell’s students get immersed in pond studies at a nearby nature centre.

To cope with steamy classrooms, teachers often hold gym, art and discussions under the trees. Bright sets up beach blankets and umbrellas outside for reading. She also organizes a class reading swap, where kids bring in old magazines, books and comics.

When Kirkconnell’s students graduate to middle school, they each leave behind a legacy project — a picture symbolizing their feelings and school memories. Kirkconnell also gives each student a musical CD slideshow of school year highlights.

In September, each of Michael Strom’s students draws a self-portrait and records height, best friends and other fun facts, and seals it all in a time capsule. “On the last day of school, we open it up and have a good laugh about how we’ve changed,” he says.

Keep or toss?

How do you handle a year’s worth of school projects and masterpieces? Neves places her daughter’s work inside a giant paper folder. At year’s end, she stores much of it in large plastic bins in the basement. As well, Neves scans art for her daughter’s scrapbook and online blog that is accessible only to friends and family members.

Kirkconnell stores a few significant pieces of her students’ work each year. Their school journals always make the cut, since they capture the kids’ thoughts and feelings. To deal with unwieldy solar system models or ancient structures, Kirkconnell snaps photos and adds them to the treasure box.

Many time-strapped parents use the method described by Kim MacKay-Hoogkamp. In June, she selects a few samples for each of her three kids with the hope of making a scrapbook. “But currently it’s all stuffed in a drawer.” Welcome to the club!

Thanking terrific teachers

Teacher Carey Gallagher describes her favourite gift: a small box with 23 pieces of paper. Each student wrote what they remembered most about her and the class. “The responses were very insightful to downright hilarious. I’ll cherish it my whole career.” All our experts say they love personal notes from students and parents. But gift giving is unnecessary, they stress. If you’re still keen to show appreciation, try their suggestions:

• coffee shop gift certificates
• classroom, music or library supplies: books, stickers, or gift cards for teaching supply stores
• tea, coffee, chocolates
• personal handmade gifts: decorated flowerpots, garden ornaments, photos
• donation to a charity, especially if there’s a connection to a student at the school
• class scrapbook or photo album made by students and parents working together

Keeping up with learning

Afraid your kids’ academics will slide during summer? “Relax,” says Kirkconnell. “Most people practise skills without even thinking about it. Read together, count frogs at the pond, find patterns around you, visit the library. The main thing is that practice needs to feel like fun and not work.” Try these easy ideas:

• Read for pleasure every day. Books, websites, comics, sports stats and graphic novels all count.
• Try online math games and strategic games like cribbage or chess.
• Get your kids in the kitchen. Cook and bake to improve reading, measuring and fractions.
• Write letters or emails to distant relatives.
• Set up a lemonade stand.
• Let your kids price and sell their stuff at a yard sale.
• Read a book as a family.
• Make a week’s menu together and circle the best deals on food store flyers. Estimate the cost of groceries, shop together and see how your total compares.
• Have your kids research their ideal vacation. (You don’t have to take the trip!) Look online and visit travel bureaus to get brochures and maps.

Our Experts

Teachers

Rose Bright, elementary teacher, Quesnel, BC

Carey Gallagher, English teacher and middle school director, Breslau, Ont.

Karen Kirkconnell, kindergarten and elementary teacher, Guelph, Ont.

Kim MacKay-Hoogkamp, resource teacher and librarian, Guelph, Ont.

Michael Strom, grade six teacher, Calgary

Parents

Jean Mills, Guelph, Ont.
Anabela Neves, Caledon, Ont.
Teresa Pitman, Guelph, Ont.
Amy Spurway, Halifax
Amber Strom, Calgary
Charmaine Zankowicz, Oakville, Ont.

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