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Keeping Our School Year Simple: Cutting Out the Non-Essentials

As Play-Based Preschool Teachers, we often find ourselves juggling multiple responsibilities and trying to create engaging and play-filled experiences for our little learners. However, while trying to provide the best education possible, we can end up getting overwhelmed and stretched too thin.

That’s why, year after year, I find myself ditching some of those ‘but we always do it’ activities and focusing on what truly matters. Because the truth is, if we don’t change something in the way we are doing our jobs – burn out is going to happen. The demands and expectations never go down, but what we put on ourselves can.

So… my teaching partner and I have been keeping the school year simple. How? Here are some ways that we are cutting back on the stress…

I. Reconsidering Big Holiday Class Parties
One of the first non-essentials we considered was eliminating big holiday class parties. While they may seem fun and festive, these events often require a significant amount of planning, preparation, and classroom disruption. If you have ever had ‘party days’ you know that children loose their little minds. It’s not a fun day for us teachers when all we are doing is managing craziness. Plus, we used to invite parents to come to the party – making the chaos increase that much more. So, now we do all of our ‘party stuff’ during the class day. We spread it out throughout the day and we let parents know that while parties are fun for lots of adults, it’s hard for many of our young children to cope with hype, amount of people that traditional parties bring. While we still do a couple of ‘parties’, we keep them simple by stilling doing some fun things we don’t normally do – but we do them within our normal schedule… which has helped to level out the crazy.

II. Simplifying Student Gifts
Another area where we have simplify is student gifts. In the community we teach in, most of our children get to experience gifts at the Holidays, Egg Hunts at Easter and tons of Trunk or Treats at Halloween. So, we’ve ditched the elaborate gift-giving and the goodie bags. It was too stressful, too expensive and who knows where those trinkets ended up… This one was a hard one for me to come to grips with. I love giving gifts to the little people. But, the truth of the matter was that the time, money and stress we spent on finding, purchasing and packaging these gifts, wasn’t worth it. So, now instead we only give one gift at the Holidays and the children help make it. It’s a snow-globe style ornament with the kids picture inside and we know that families will find a place for it on the tree for year to come.

III. Rethinking Seasonal Decor
Truth be told, I gave this one up many years ago… but it’s worth mentioning. While seasonal decor may add visual appeal to our classrooms, it is worth questioning whether it truly enhances the learning experience for our students. This one was easy for me to let go of because I hate doing bulletin boards. But, rather than spending precious time decorating every corner of our classrooms with seasonal items, the real priority should be in creating an environment that is conducive to play and exploration. I know that my time can be much better spent on finding and creating materials and opportunities for learning through play in my classroom.

IV. Eliminating Themed ‘Days’
You know those activities that a co-worker deems as ‘but we’ve always done it’ activities? Yeah, I think those activities should be challenged as well. A co-worker used to always do a Pirates and Princesses day during Valentine’s Day where children dressed up as either a pirate or princess and we went of a scavenger hunt for a treasure box full of goodies… and I participated a few times. But, now I ask myself why… why just pirates and princesses? Why did we ask parents to procure or make such costumes? Why were we inviting the potential issue of a child not having a costume into our day? And most importantly, what were we learning about that supported this elaborate of a themed day?

As Play-Based Preschool Teachers, our main focus should always be on the needs and interests of our students. And with that… isn’t it essential to evaluate whether certain activities or events truly align with their developmental stage and learning objectives? By eliminating non-child-centered activities, we can create more time and space for meaningful experiences – plus it saves us a LOT of stress, time and money!

V. Holiday Programs

As much as parents love to see their little ones all dolled up on a stage, singing a cute song… this is one I have to challenge. Luckily, the center I am at only does ONE program – and it’s when they graduate. We know this is a special time for parents and it signifies the ending of the preschool era. But, it’s the only one we do. Sure, we have families ask if we do Holiday Programs or Spring Programs and the answer is no. And here is where I feel like we should be advocating for children. While families think it’s adorable and they now have pictures to share with everyone… what do kids want? I think it’s safe to say, based on the little amount of prep we do for our Graduation program, that children would rather be playing and interacting with peers than practicing those dang program songs. I think it’s also safe to say that not all children like performing in front of a ton of people and it can be anxiety inducing. Plus, it takes a lot of extra time, money and 100% induces more stress. So, why do we do this to ourselves and our children more than we actually have to?!

By cutting out non-essential activities and focusing on what truly matters in our Play-Based Preschool classrooms, we can save time, reduce stress, and create a more meaningful learning experience for our students. And let’s be real – fighting teacher burn-out isn’t easy. So, cutting out some of these non-essentials can be the difference between loving and loathing your day in the classroom.

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