It’s August, the symbol that the long days and rays of summer are coming to a close. I’ve always loved it when back to school supplies show up in the aisles, new class lists have been formed and that sweet scent of campfire floats its way into the classroom. Did that last one throw you for a loop? In previous posts, you might have noticed that in my classroom, s'mores and campfires are pretty essential. As we ease back into back-to-school season, I want to share about how my classroom setup creates a powerful community and how it keeps our learning on fire all year long.
The key to my classroom management style is relationships. Trauma-based practices highlight the importance of developing those relationships and a community within your classroom. When students have this safety –this community— they are more equipped to learn. One of my favorite ways to start off the relationship building is to provide a shared experience for my students. They are all part of Camp Reykdal!
Marshmallows and Chocolate
Our year starts with s’mores. I greet them by name on the back-to-school night, with their desk ready to go and a chocolatey, well-prepared s’more. It’s one of the ways that instantly show them what our year will be like. Organized, fun and pretty sweet! I do this for two reasons, 1) To show them that I’m invested in them and can’t wait to learn about them and 2) To give them the s’more experience if they haven’t had one before. A critical part of building our classroom community around a theme is making sure it doesn’t exclude anyone if they don’t already have background knowledge about camping. As said by Kenneth Ginsburg in “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds” “As we strive to create the optimal developmental milieu for children, it remains imperative that play be included along with academic and social-enrichment opportunities and that safe environments be made available to all children”.
On the first day of school, we gather around our campfire and set our goals for the year. We come back to this space every day. We use this spot to talk about what’s going well, where we can improve and just listen and learn. The reason I have chosen this spot to be our campfire is that in life, campfires are full of bonding and light. My fondest memories are from around the campfire. All good classrooms need a shared learning space. A place that represents the community you are working so hard to build! All of our learning in Camp Reykdal, and around the campfire, is deeply rooted in the sixth standard of Washington States SEL. Students are actively engaging in our community, building these skills to make them able to do so throughout the rest of their education and their life.
Another must do for starting our year is to begin reading on Day 1. You might remember from my previous blog post, that I love creating a culture of reading in my classroom. Growing readers starts on day 1. At our back to school night, students vote from a choice of 3 books, which book they want to be our first class read aloud. We read this book together to start our discussion on what reading looks like in our classroom and why it’s important. This is great because it gives us purpose, builds our community around reading and also models fluency for my students as I read aloud. Not only am I beginning our reading instruction with purpose and addressing a few standards on our very first day, but I’m also allowing them to read of their own choice, which sets a positive tone for our year of reading love and enthusiasm.
Incorporating It In All Areas
In our school, we work hard in a PBIS model to recognize students for their positive behavior. We work hard as a class to earn 5 pieces of a s’more. Each piece of the s’more is an opportunity for them to work hard and be recognized for their actions. We talk often about how s’mores wouldn’t be s’mores without all of the parts. A graham cracker without the other pieces is just a graham cracker or a piece of chocolate. They work hard to use this as motivation to build their teamwork, keep our classroom running smoothly and I have to say, it works! Students take so much pride in their combined efforts and love sharing it with other adults in our building.
A component that I try to be cognizant of when creating our learning space, is to make sure that what I’m doing isn’t going to visually overload students. Too many colors or too many things on the wall can actually have a negative impact on learning. When done correctly, a classroom can be like the third teacher. I chose camping because nature is inherently calming. The calm greens, woody accents and positive yellow help me create a cozy space that’s welcoming without being overwhelming. My students take pride in our learning materials, often helping clean up bins or sweeping off pillows. It shows a clear message that this is our space and we’ll work together to keep it running smoothly.
When we infuse our learning with hiking, smores, campfires and all the little ways my campers come up with we are having fun. It’s the best dupe, students are engaged with learning through play, and they don’t even realize it. Camp Reykdal is something special. The sliced wood reading pillows are where we grow non-readers into voracious consumers of books. The compass is where we map our learning, reflect on our growth and become second-grade leaders. Each small part of our experience is engaging, consistent and always a safe space. Our camping chair is where we learn to navigate our emotions, calm down and get ready to learn.
At the end of our year, we end with smores. We pack up camp and pour our well-used supplies into our sacks. We share our memories and cry a few tears. Then, we eat s’mores. We gather around the campfire one last time and share our favorite part of the year. Most of the responses include s’mores, morning greetings, friendships or camp activities.
Providing my students with our shared camping adventure creates a culture of respect and community that every educator should have the opportunity to experience. I know that students will remember the bright campfire each morning, s'mores, and Camp Reykdal. While the theme doesn’t make the experience, it’s a big part of ours.
If you are interested in seeing a deeper look into my classroom set up for the new school year, join me as I takeover @ReadyWashington’s Instagram account and share my day on August 21, 2019.
Have you ever used a theme in your school or classroom? Is there one you’ve been eager to try? Share your experiences with me below.
- back to school
- classroom community
- Classroom Culture
- classroom setup