Warm Welcomes for Back-to-School
Incorporating playful learning activities into school and out-of-school time lessons can support students' well-being
The new year offers a perfect opportunity to revisit our classroom and community practices to ensure we are creating healthy and welcoming environments for all students. As we return from the holiday break, it’s important to remember that not all children experienced a picture-perfect holiday; for some, this break may have been a time of stress, food insecurity, and instability. By welcoming children back to a positive environment where they feel safe, supported, and included, our classrooms and afterschool programs can better support children's holistic well-being.
5 playful learning activities that support healthy and welcoming environments:
1. Start a Classroom Circle
A classroom circle is a restorative practice that builds community and fosters authentic dialogue. Use your first days back from winter break to establish daily circles as a norm. Integrate hands-on activities like making simple bean shekeres (page 11) to introduce the concept of a talking piece. Pair students for an outdoor reflection walk to collect small items like stones, sticks, and shells that can be used for focus and awareness during circle time.
2. Reflect outdoors in nature
Gather art supplies and encourage children to create personal nature journals (page 19). Form pairs for a quiet outdoor nature walk to observe and reflect. Use the journals and reflection walk exercise throughout the year when students need to process challenging events or for a quick energizer.
3. Create an indoor garden
Growing an indoor edible garden is a great way to teach children patience and observation. Start by showing the short video, The Incredible Power of Yet and discussing what it means for the year ahead. Work together to plant an indoor herb or flower garden that students can watch grow (and even taste test) throughout the year.
4. Champion inclusive physical activity
Create an indoor fitness circuit with free printable posters from the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability. Ask students to make their own designs or decorate the printable ones – don’t forget to use the math cards for a STEM twist! Hang the posters and stay active, together!
Try simple energizers like beachball games. All you need is a beach ball. It’s lightweight, colorful and everyone can play. Or, form small teams and create cardboard snowboards to use with inexpensive orange cones for a fun adaptive indoor snowboarding. As you pick teams, make sure no one is picked last with these simple strategies.
5. Design a "Calm Down Corner"
The New Year can be stressful. Start your first week back by creating a calm down corner where students can go if they're feeling stressed or just need a break. Go DIY by making calming lavender “moon sand” with 4 cups flour, ½ cup vegetable oil and lavender essential oil. Draw and paint your own inspirational posters with prompts for breathing exercises, like five-count-breath.