Our kiddos often seem to get "wired" this time of year, so wound up with excitement and anticipation that it's hard for them to slow down, calm down, wind down, find their focus. If you are nodding your head, and thinking of a couple (or more) children who are really struggling with this, then this post is for you!
Sing together. Sure, you'll start out with the super exciting holiday songs the kiddos want, but there are only so many times you can sing Over the River and Through the Woods, Frosty the Snowman, or the Dreidle Song. When the kiddos run out of holiday songs, or you run out of energy, it's time to tame the wildness in our children by singing something calmer and soothing. If your students are young enough, try some nursery rhymes - it's difficult to bounce off the walls while singing Twinkle Twinkle! The slower cadence of the music will help the children slow down too.
Are your kids too old for nursery rhymes? How about songs made into books, such as When You Wish Upon A Star, Puff the Magic Dragon, Love Me Tender, or A You're Adorable? (No, I'm not affiliated, just sharing links in case you are interested.) Don't know the tune, or feel comfortable leading the song? Try books on CD or look on Youtube.com!
Another lovely way to harness the power of music as you calm your kiddos is to play gentle music as they paint, or do an art project. I love Eric Carle's I See A Song. Most of the pages have no words, only pictures, and the book on tape (yeah, I'm old) is a great accompaniment to an art project. There doesn't have to be a predetermined outcome for the painting/drawing either, this is great as an open ended activity, the part you are planning and working for is the calm that naturally comes with the art and music.
For many years I had a fish tank in my classroom, and still later someone gave me a plastic tank with plastic fish. When it was turned on a light came on and a motor swirled the water, so the fish "swam" in the tank. Both the real and the pretend tank were great for calming my class. I would turn on the light in the tank, have the children sit quietly where they could see it, and then turned off the classroom lights for 5 minutes. We would just sit and watch the fish, and breathe. Added bonus - I got to just breathe too!
Another suggestion is to read either Chipmunk Song or The Snail's Spell, both by Joanne Ryder and illustrated by Lynne Cherry. In both books, the author has the children pretend to transform into the animal in the title, and she gently takes them through what it might be like to be that creature. I always have my kiddos spread out on the rug, because they'll need space as they act out the story, and I set ground rules before we begin: they have to stay on the floor (no standing up), be careful not to hurt each other, and to be quiet so they can all hear the story. Every group of kiddos I've ever done this with has ended the stories feeling much calmer than they began them!
My final suggestion sounds counter-intuitive at first: take them outside for some unstructured play time. Yes, they'll probably run hard and play hard - that is, after all, what children are wired to do! While at first they'll appear to be even more excited and energized, the great news is that by releasing that energy, they'll actually be much more likely to be able to contain themselves and to focus on your lessons afterwards. The boys in the photo above are both high energy kiddos - but after letting off steam, they found a few quiet moments to just gaze at the creek.
I know there must be many, many other ways of helping kiddos calm down, and I suspect we are all going to need a few ideas over the coming months. I'd really love to know what works for you - share your thoughts in the comments below.