Think about some classrooms you've seen during major holidays (perhaps your own?). Talk about distractions – pumpkins, garlands, blinking lights, snowflakes – the list goes on and on. To some kids it's a distraction from learning and to other kids, especially those with an ADD or ADHD diagnosis, it's a major disruption.
Holiday distractions derail learning
If you had ADD or ADHD, how difficult would it be for you to focus on math if there were bats hanging in the corner during Halloween, or wrapped packages under a tree during Christmas? I’d be tempted to start unwrapping packages, even if I knew they were empty!
There's a fine line between creating a classroom that is welcoming and comfortable to children, and creating a gigantic collection of visual distractions that change with the seasons. The key here is to:
- Keep a lot of it out of your room
- If it's in your room, keep it simple
- Keep it away from your main instructional focus area
Let's take them one at a time.
Decorate the hallway or doorway
During the fall, I often work with my students on a unit about bats (tied into a unit on reading informational texts). We end up with some pretty cute bats, but they are not allowed to roost in our classroom. They go out in the hallway so the kids can still see them — but not while they're trying to master math skills.
You get the picture. Kids get the satisfaction of creation and the pride of showing off those creations, as well as a touch of holiday excitement to keep school interesting… but they don't have to see the bats/snowmen/hearts, etc. all day long to get these benefits.
Don’t intentionally increase your holiday stress levels by creating mini classroom management nightmares!
Simplify what’s in your room to make it special
Focusing on hallway or door decorations doesn't mean that we put nothing in our rooms – we just keep it minimal but interesting – and we keep items out of our main instructional focal point.
For example, during the winter holiday, we'll often work on a unit about the science of snow. We end up creating some scientifically correct snowflakes. I put a few of these on the windows where they are not in the direct line of sight of the children who are trying to attend to one of my lessons.
Other snowflakes we glue to a challenging math problem and put in the hallway.
Here's another example of a simple item that provides lots of atmosphere without taking up a lot of space:
I turn this small cardboard fireplace into a back-corner temporary reading area. It adds a little bit of winter feeling to the classroom plus motivates the kids for reading. It's a holiday decoration, but the kids have their backs to it while learning is occurring.
Their faces just light up when they walk into my room and see this. The “fire” is just a few branches wired together with some tissue paper. Simple.
Keep the focus on learning
It can be hard to strike the right balance. If you are new to the teaching game, my biggest recommendation is to start with less and only add more in very small quantities… then watch your kids for their reactions. If attention starts to fall off, rethink your holiday decoration plan.