During this week, students in Kindergarten and 1st grade at my daughter’s school participate in a special, off campus trip that is unique to their grade level. These trips provide experiential learning opportunities for students tied to the school’s core curriculum. As the students get older, these milestone trips increase in complexity (and days away from home), challenging students in different ways. The classroom teacher reminded us, parents, how this was a special moment for students to experience by themselves. So, I will have to (patiently) wait until she gets home to find out how everything went!
These type of milestone activities are important for children and youth; they mark the end of the academic year with a meaningful experience and offer students an opportunity to use many of the skills they learned during the year. What a great chance for students to practice their social and emotional skills in a new environment! Researchers have found that field trips effectively support student learning and increase student interest and motivation. Unfortunately, financial limitations force schools to make difficult decisions about how to allocate scarce resources and, in many cases, field trips are not prioritized. If that’s the case in your school, don’t worry! There are other things that you can do to create milestone experiences for students, to celebrate their growth and close the school year on a high note.
Creating milestone experiences
A milestone is a significant event in people’s lives, and often marks the start of a new chapter. These meaningful events help us grow or change who we are as a person in some significant way. In the school context, milestone experiences should have these ingredients:
- Engage the whole child. It should be an opportunity for students to use, share and celebrate their unique talents, especially those that they may not use in the classroom. A milestone experience should also provide a space for students to integrate and apply what they know in unique ways.
- Challenge students. The experience should help students move out of their comfort zone, into the stretch zone. Educators can create a safe space that gently pushes students to go beyond comfort and conformity, so meaningful learning can happen.
- Build community. Milestone experiences should offer students an opportunity to connect with their peers and teachers at a deeper level. Remember when we discussed the importance of emotions in learning? Optimal learning integrates feeling and thinking.
Are you getting excited to create milestones experiences for your students? Great! These are a few examples that can be done without leaving school.
- Organize an “awards ceremony” where every student is honored for something positive, both academic and non-academic. Students can recognize and celebrate their own work and accomplishments, and that of others. This event will help students close the year with a sense of accomplishment and a positive perspective on everything that they were able to do as a learning community. Include families and other educators in this event!
- Community service project. Have students identify a need in the community or the school, then plan and support students to execute the project. School-wide yard sale, painting a mural or gardening, there are so many ways for students to contribute their talents and knowledge outside the classroom!
- Student/Teacher unconference. Teachers and students could plan short lessons on things they are interested in outside of school (music, art, dance, woodwork, crafts). Then, create a schedule with all the sessions. Students and teachers, maybe even families, can sign up for those sessions that they are interested in.
Milestone experiences are a meaningful way to mark the end of the school year, gently pushing students outside of their comfort zone and celebrating the learning community educators create with their students. They will also create special memories that you can cherish as you close the year, and start enjoying your well-deserved break!