5 Ways to Create a Fresh Start in January

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January is typically filled with reteaching routines to students after winter break, so why not give them the refresh they may need? Take the New Year as an opportunity to add activities to your elementary classroom.

It’s this time of year when you begin to see the gaps in your classroom management and routines. Take this time to add meaningful activities into your daily classroom routine to promote motivation, focus, reflection, mindfulness, and organization. Once things like this become routine, the more natural they will become for your students.

1. set goals for the rest of the school year.

Elementary student new year noisemaker goal setting craft for January.

My absolute favorite January activity was introducing my students to the idea of New Year Resolutions and why people set them. I loved emphasizing that it was never too late to set your mind towards a goal.

I had students set three goals and set the expectation that at least two were school-related (they always became excited to set more personal goals related to sports, hobbies, or family.) I also made them into a noisemaker craft to help students get excited and give them an opportunity to express themselves. Displaying a meaningful craft on a bulletin board helps remind students of their goals and help spark conversations when visitors come into our classroom. Students are always so proud and show ownership over their goals.

2. Give your students the chance to practice self-reflection throughout the day.

So often, we wait until the end of the quarter, conference time, or a holiday to give students concrete times to reflect on their progress and set goals. Why not do this daily? While it’s important to set long-term goals, it’s also essential to set smaller, bite-sized goals to help students experience success and regular motivation.

About mid-year last school year, I noticed my students’ motivation and focus dropping. Their behaviors became careless on a regular basis. I created a reflection sheet that helped them set goals at the beginning of the day, check in with themselves mid-day, and make a plan to keep themselves moving forward. After implementing this, I noticed students were more focused and held themselves accountable without the constant reminders from me. They brought these sheets home at the end of each day and showed their families.

3. Insert mindfulness into your daily classroom routine.

In Week 10 of my book The Self-Care Plan for Teachers, I write about the benefits of mindfulness. Mindfulness improves working memory and attention while reducing feelings of anxiety and stress. It’s a no brainer that mindfulness brings much-needed benefits to our students.

Digital gratitude journal on elementary classroom laptop to help practice mindfulness and promote social-emotional learning in the New Year.

Some of my favorite ways to bring mindfulness into the classroom include:

  • Doing regular brain breaks (at least twice each day) that focus on visualization or environmental awareness.
  • Completing a five-minute daily journal entry. My students used a digital gratitude journal.
  • Incorporating movement-based breaks. Videos that include yoga or specific exercises allow students to focus their energy and mind on the movement in the moment.
  • Reading a book to students daily. Reading to students allows them to focus in on the story using only one sense.
  • Asking questions during a daily class meeting that allow students to think about the positive aspects of their lives.

4. create a five-minute social-emotional learning routine.

While the mindfulness practices focus on self, it’s important to include those tricky social situations too. Holding morning meetings is my favorite way to seamlessly insert this time into our schedule.

Some of my favorite ways to bring social-emotional learning into the classroom include:

Social situations task cards for upper elementary morning or class meetings to promote social-emotional learning in the classroom.
  • Discuss a tricky age-appropriate social dilemma after recess or during a class meeting. I used these social situation cards. Students turn-and-talk to a partner then share out if they choose.
  • Play a daily game or activity that promotes relating to others’ interests and lives or practice communication and teamwork skills. Some of my favorites are mentioned in this blog post.
  • Keep a jar or box in your classroom where students can write down sticky social situations (usually those not-so-fun recess incidents.) In most situations, students like when the entire class is able to discuss the situation.
  • Take one day each week out of your normal chapter book read aloud routine to read a picture book that covers an SEL-related skill. Students are never too old for a good picture book!

5. revamp your classroom organization.

I sometimes feel like the black sheep of the teacher community when I look at all of the beautifully organized classrooms on Instagram. I struggle with physical organization, so it takes a lot of effort to help students stay organized as well.

This is the perfect time of year to give your classroom a mid-year refresh. Here are some ideas to help you reexamine your classroom organization.

Clean and bright teacher desk in an elementary classroom to promote organization.
  • Add labels to areas that don’t have them. This helps signal to both you and your students that all items have a set home base. These were my go-to printable labels that come in various sizes.
  • Assign organization-specific jobs to students who excel in this area. Some of these classroom jobs could include cubby cops, classroom custodian, librarian, material coordinator, and more.
  • Make cleaning up fun! I had a mystery item during dismissal at the end of each school day. If a student found the mystery piece of trash or misplaced item and put it back where it is supposed to go, they received five Class Dojo points. Dirtiest Clorox wipe is also a fun “game” to motivate students to pitch in.
  • Use a timer or song to clean up. Play a song at the end of each day and have students clean as much as they can. You can also use this concept for yourself. Set a timer for as little as 5 minutes at the end of each day and tidy up your teacher areas. You will leave and come in with a more sound mind with a tidy space.

I hope these five ideas help make the rest of your school year a bit more focused and intentional for both you and your students. Can you think of any other ideas to add to this list that are must-dos for you?

Blog about elementary ideas for new year in January.
Blog about activities and routines for third and fourth grade new year in January.

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