Written by Casey Jeffers, Owner of Fair Winds Teaching & MSEA Second Grade Teacher
The hustle and bustle of the end of the school year is like no other. It comes so quickly; in March I think about all the awesome things I still want to accomplish for the school year. I think I have all the time in the world. Then in the flash of an eye, May is here and I am running around thinking I have no idea how I will be able to fit it all in.
My to-do list grows as the weeks shorten and for me, it’s very bittersweet. I want to be excited about summer and the things I can accomplish during my time off, but I also recognize that most of my students rely on their school home for a sense of security and aren’t very excited for summer to come. I try to calm their fears by letting them know it’s okay to be nervous and excited about summer all at the same time.
This is where I kick into gear! I want to give my students resources to make their summer as enjoyable as possible. Each year I try to think about the students in my class and what they enjoyed. This year my students were OBSESSED with my V.I.P. chair (which they could earn with completed work and outstanding behavior).
One of the highlights of this special seat was the access to limited edition school supplies. The multi-colored changing pen was by far the most popular. They thought it was cooler than sliced bread and this year’s class was full of artists! I knew this was the first thing I needed to buy them to kick off their summer at home. I knew I was sending home their leftover notebooks and sketchbooks so I knew this pen would make a great gift!
Next up, the most popular thing in my room has been the morning STEAM bins! They couldn’t get enough of the building with these materials each morning. If you want to learn more about setting up your own Starting with STEAM bins, check out this blog post I did for California Casualty last summer. They engage your learners and allow them to be super creative. Most of them love the hashtag building blocks I got from Target the most! So when I saw them in little $1 personal tubes, I knew I needed to set them up with a little STEAM station at their houses.
I grabbed 4 x 6 plastic photo boxes, a mini play-doh, a pack of 8 fun glitter crayons, and hashtag building blocks and got to work. The mini play-doh fits perfectly into the plastic bin to close shut. I made these little labels to add a building challenge for them to complete. I told them my email address to take pictures of their creations and send them to me over the summer.
These personal-sized bins also make for a great stress reliever. My students know a lot of peace corner strategies and this is a great way to allow them a break if they are feeling blue.
My students have been very careful about washing their hands all year long and also love any type of yummy-smelling hand sanitizer! Berries, cookies, flowers, linen, and even fresh-cut grass! The kids would bring in the new smells they would find and use them all day long. You can never be too safe and clean. I found some yummy smelling mini kid-safe hand sanitizers that completed our end-of-the-year gifts.
Watching their excitement opening all three little gifts with their tags was sooo much fun! They knew I got things I knew they loved.
Each year it’s important to pick out gifts that reflect what they loved through the school year, it’s fun to stay current and trendy.
In years past, I have had students that were really into a certain read-aloud at school so I would see if it came available through Scholastic books at a discounted or class bundles rate. Then you can add this FREE summer bookmark and challenge your students to finish this Summer Reading Bingo challenge.
Other fun (out-of-the-box) gift ideas:
- Local Coupon – Find a local fun kid-safe activity like an ice cream shop, bouncy house, arcade, theme park, painting class, etc., and ask their business if they have any coupons or would be willing to donate certificates for a free session. I always make sure it’s within walking distance or accessible by the local bus so I know my students and their families would be able to access the location.
- Summer Meetup – Send out an email/letter to families telling them that you will be doing a summer meet-up at a fun kid movie that is playing at the theaters or a local outdoor movie, or pick a local (close to the school) park to have the kids play at. Anyone that comes, I treat some popcorn or icy pops. I make sure I wait until about mid-summer so the kids get to see their classmates and catch up.
- Virtual Yearbook – If you didn’t have time before school ended to do anything, you still have time! If you are a teacher that takes pictures throughout the school year, you can create a virtual yearbook and email out the finished product to your families. It is something they will cherish for a long time. See an example and grab it here. If you weren’t able to take any pictures this school year, bookmark this to think about next year! It is so fun to start at the beginning of the year and add to it slowly as events happen.
- Class Gift – My last favorite idea for end-of-the-year gifts is a class gift for your room to share for years to come. If you don’t like the idea of spending money on smaller items for your students that you don’t think they will love for the long haul, think about spending the same amount of money on a class gift.
You can save $3 per kid (upwards of $75) on smaller stuff and spend less on some good-quality classroom materials. I have done class sets of clipboards, new reading group bags, indoor recess board games, a collection of books, and much more.
Then I created a little golden paper plaque label to place on the item and show the classes years after them that this classroom material is donated in their name. The book boxes of their favorite books with the plaque are so adorable. They are proud and tell the students below them that this is a gift to them.
I make sure I show them that the indoor recess games they play with were donated by kids that are now in 8th grade, they get so excited. As teachers, we spend so much in our classroom, this is a great way to make gifts meaningful and useful for years to come.
Whatever you decide to do for your students, they know they are loved and that they were in good hands this school year. Thank you for doing everything you can to keep them safe and happy. You are an incredible educator!
Casey Jeffers is a second-grade teacher at Butterfly Ridge Elementary in Frederick County, Maryland. She was recently recognized as the national winner of the NEA Foundation’s 2021 Teaching in Excellence Award. Casey is the proud owner of the Education Resource Blog, Fair Winds Teaching, and loves to connect with her education community through her TeacherPayTeacher’s business.