Fighting the Fatigue: How to Keep Everyone Awake in the Classroom This Winter
“They’re so tired - aren’t they?!” The words that seem to be leaving every parent’s lips at the school gates at the moment.
We assume, of course, that they’re talking about their children - although one glance at any teacher’s schedule at this time of year would suggest that the exhaustion may be a bit more far-reaching!
The run up to the Christmas holidays is a hectic time for everyone and by the time the holidays arrive, the children are ready to flop.
They’ve got school plays, concerts, drama and dance club shows (and the endless rehearsals that go with them), school fairs, cake sales, class parties, weekend social events, trips to the theatre, trips to see the lights, trips to the markets, popping in to visit Santa (usually a few times and in various forms), carolling, throwing mince pies and pound coins everywhere - and don’t forget to do your homework and hand it in on time along with the festive quiz/design a festive jumper competition - never to be confused with actually wearing a festive jumper on the wrong day - oh the shame. And that’s just the kids!
It’s a long half-term and the effects roll on through January and February. Yes, they love it (no scrooges here!) but it is hard work!
Little wonder then, when they still have to get on with the daily business of lessons, if they start zoning-out at their desks, struggling to concentrate and reacting emotionally to pretty much everything. We’ll say it again - and that’s just the kids!
At Pentagon, we’re always regaling the benefits of outdoor learning and with good reason. If your class is suffering from seasonal blues and struggling to switch on to learning, you can’t beat a short sharp spell in the fresh air to help get them, and yourself, through.
So with that in mind, here are some suggestions for using your outdoor playground to wake up, regain focus and find a balance amongst the baubles.
It doesn’t have to be a long outdoor session and nor does it have to be too strenuous at this time of year - nobody really wants to spend hours upon end in the freezing cold leaping around to warm up – you could run the risk of feeling worse.
What’s important is to try to get some natural daylight and exercise every day to boost those Vitamin D levels, awaken the senses and blow away the cobwebs.
It helps children to focus better when they’re back in the classroom and it helps them to stay healthy and support their immune systems, which is crucial at this time of year when they’re more likely to get run down and susceptible to bugs.
Not only that, but fresh air and exercise has always been well known for helping children and adults alike to get a good night’s sleep - and goodness is that needed at the moment!
1. Do a Daily Mile
The Daily Mile initiative is such a great concept and even better at this time of year when it’s often cold and wet and hard to get motivated. The best thing about it is that it’s a fuss-free, easy-as-can-be way of getting outside for some fresh air and exercise.
The whole point is that children don’t need to get changed into PE kits, or waste time changing footwear. To stay warm they just need to put their coats on, go outside and do a lap or two of their Daily Mile Track for 15 minutes.
They can run, jog, or just enjoy a brisk walk if they’re too tired to run. Chat with friends, so long as they keep moving. They’ll come back inside with pink cheeks and ready to tackle their next learning task every time.
2. Whatever the Weather
Pretty much everyone who lives in the UK knows that you can’t let the wind and rain stop you or you’ll never get outside, but it’s often easier said than done. Never fear! That’s what Canopies and Outdoor Classrooms are for!
Use inclement weather to your advantage and create a sensory STEAM learning space in your shelter that comes to life during the winter months.
With the changes in temperature, it is the perfect place for kinaesthetic learning topics around the weather, seasons, water and ice properties and discovery around freezing point, evaporation, melting, condensation and so on.
You could set up a Weather Station with an outdoor thermometer and a water butt for collecting rainwater (or fill a Water Table). Allocate time for children to go outside every day to monitor, measure, observe and record their findings.
3. Refreshing Yoga
On a very simple level, standing outside and listening to the sound of the rain hitting the Timber Canopy roof can be both calming and stimulating. More and more schools are embracing mindful Yoga for exercise and promoting good mental health and incorporating it into their PE curriculum.
Outside, under the canopy, even and especially on a rainy day, is the perfect spot for morning Yoga exercises at this busy time of year.
4. Build a Den
The winter is an ideal season for den-building activities. There are usually plenty of natural resources up for grabs: dead, fallen leaves, twigs and branches all make great building materials. Use a solid base in the winter such as your Playhouse or Den-Making Posts to help keep the wind and rain out.
This is a great way for children to get creative outside, to have fun and switch off from everything else that is going on at the moment - but at the same time really practice their problem-solving and teamwork skills, which they can transfer and apply to other tasks in the classroom.
It’s good invigorating physical exercise too, lifting and moving materials, threading, weaving and tying knots, working both gross and fine motor skills.
During the winter, younger children can dress their dens with blankets, mats and cushions to make a cosy escape for outdoor reading and role-play games.
Present older children with a design challenge to make their den water tight. What materials could they use? How can they secure it? Test it out to see if the design is successful - what changes or adaptations could you make?
5. Wake-Up Gardens
Don’t let your natural spaces die a death this winter! Continue to enjoy gardening activities through the winter to get your class outside for some therapeutic exercise. It can result in some brilliant “home-grown” produce making for memorable STEAM learning experiences too.
There’s still plenty to do outside at this time of year to maintain your school garden spaces - and the prospect of waiting to see how their hard work will pay off in the spring is a wonderfully enticing way of engaging children - getting them enthused to go out and do a few “jobs” and take pride in their school environment.
Now is the perfect time to fill their Planters with spring bulbs - tulips, daffodils, crocus, snowdrops and hyacinth - that will turn their playground into a colourful, sensory delight when the winter is over. Broccoli, cabbage, leeks, spinach and parsnips can all be grown and picked over the winter months.
You can plan these activities together. Ask children to bring just a few bulbs or seeds in each if they can, so it doesn’t have to be costly. They can make their own labels and place them in the Planters, so they know what’s growing where.
Spend some time outside preparing the spaces, planting and maintaining the soil to keep the weeds at bay and laying frost protection blankets for Jack Frost to lie on, instead of the soil.
If there’s just one thing that you can do to get you through this winter - wrap up warm and go and enjoy some beautiful winter scenes in the great outdoors!
At Pentagon, we have been creating incredible playgrounds for schools and nurseries for over 20 years. Our Products can be designed and installed exactly to your requirements. If you’d like to arrange a free consultation, please don’t hesitate to Contact Us.