The end of school 'Whoosh Zone': Plan for how you'd like to look back

With the last day of school in sight, kids (and parents) start acting odd. Crankiness, restlessness, and nostalgia are all symptoms of the 'Whoosh Zone'. Prepare yourselves. 

Todd Nelson
The end of the school year — the Whoosh Zone — is about inhabiting the student's new level, the kindergartener's "first graderness." The students begin to feel out who they were, how they've changed, and who they can expect to be next year — and all of that manifests through self-portrait projects.

We’re in the Whoosh Zone.

It’s what I call the vertiginous final weeks of a school year when the number of exciting and challenging events seem to defy the laws of thermodynamics and Einsteinian physics as they relate to time, space, and motion. You wonder: How can all these things fit into the available space? In fact, it’s kind of onomatopoeic. You can feel and hear the whoosh these days in the sunny playground times, and in the studios and classrooms. Yes, we have begun the wonderful glide down to summer on extended wings. It will all fit. It always does.  

It fits better with forethought. Step back: What’s really going on here, as parents, teachers, and children hurtle (or glide) towards summer? Are we in unfoldment mode, or crisis management? Do we have the analog view of where we are on an emotional, curricular, and cultural continuum?

Every school celebrates closure and transition in different ways. We are closing the books on projects and various academic studies; perhaps regressing a bit in terms of some social-emotional learning, but also consolidating the gains in other areas. We are fully “inhabiting” our new level, be it “first graderness” or parent of "first graderness.” And even for the veteran teacher, each academic year culmination has its own unique flavor and texture. Or it should.

At my school, a wise kindergarten teacher is good about alerting parents to what they should expect. Annie sends an e-mail replete with coordinates of all kinds. She is talking to experienced parents — whose youngest child is coming through kindergarten — as well as initiates into the world of whoosh, going through it for the first time.

This week she wrote home the following:

“Here are a few things that you expect as the school year is drawing to a close...

  • Unusually whiny and complaining children
  • Problems between friends.
  • Total illiteracy-they don’t even know the alphabet now. They don’t understand math now either.
  • Complaints about teachers (we never help them) food,(we don’t feed them), and all special subjects (they never go to shop, science, art, music).
  • Your children will complain they never...get called on, have a turn, go first, play outside, get picked....
  • Severe bossiness, questioning, nail biting, tripping and skinned knees.
  • Trouble separating.
  • The occasional shove, push, hit, and they will be as surprised to see this happen as we are.
  • Trouble sleeping, late nights...

“All this is normal, and happens at the end of every school year in Kindergarten.  It is how the children cope with their anxiety about moving to first grade, perhaps at a new school, and the ending of kindergarten.  Had you had the chance to see the children with their buddy friends from our partner school this week, you would have been so proud, and had a chance to see them at their very best.”

Annie is putting parents into the right journalistic framework. Observe the story your kids are experiencing; know that it is their age appropriate version of events, and stand by as their experienced guide. Don’t mistake their experience for your own. She continues with a mini-consultation for parents.

“Now this is some of the behavior that you will notice about yourself:

  • Unusual tendency to complain about food, teachers, public school, private school,
  • Excessive nostalgia, the last singing assembly, the last woodshop class, the last recess game.
  • Concern about your children’s friends and their relationships
  • Anxiety about whether your child has learned enough to tackle first grade, wherever they go to school.  (Be assured, they have!)
  • Severe bossiness, a wish to micro-manage your child’s behavior, bedtime, reading, friendships, even more than is called for
  • Trouble separating
  • Tears, trouble sleeping, worries, especially in the middle of the night.”

I wish every parent and child had the experienced teacher, like Annie, backing them up, so that the Whoosh Zone does feel exhilarating. We want to be helping kids and families to feel in control — driving, not driven by the excitement of transitions and transfers of all kinds. It may be Kindergarten this year, but even long after life lived in the calendar of school is done, we face moments of heightened expectation and curious bumps and curves in the road. Our inner kindergartner may persist in our lives for quite a while … even when we become parents ourselves. The vantage point Annie provides, gaining a little altitude on what we’re feeling, helps us navigate. No matter what size shoes we wear, we’re working on balance, composure, and the temperament of maturity.

We can also slow it down a bit with something I call “anticipatory savoring” of events. “Think ahead to consider how you want to look back,” I used to tell my students, early in their final spring. “What kind of memories do you want to create for yourselves in the days and weeks ahead? Plan out those memories. Stock yourself with nice endings — before the fact.”  You can make your own list just by completing this line of thought: I’m looking forward to looking back on….what? And how do you wish to look back on it — with your kids?

Of course, beneath the surface of all the visible activities, there’s another, quieter adjustment taking place. Just when every child has grown into the shoe size of their current grade, and feels as if they fully inhabit, their current “gradeness,” the next grade, and bigger shoes, appears on the horizon. Small schools like ours, are good places to make beginnings and endings feel like smooth, whoosh-less transitions. And summer can be a good time to begin savoring next year.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Todd R. Nelson is head of school at The School in Rose Valley. 


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