Christmas Crazed

Teaching elementary school in the week before Christmas vacation is an eye opening experience.  Every year at this time, I am amazed by the parents who ask what their children will be missing if they are out for a couple of days to travel.

“What will you be covering in math?”, these good parents ask innocently.   “Will she get behind in history?”

These questions astound me, because they make me realize that unless you are here, face to face with a horde of Christmas Crazed children, you can’t imagine what goes on each day. You really can’t.

These. Kids. Are. Done.

They are cooked.

They are distracted, exhausted, excited, candy coated and all spun up.

Even when many of the children don’t celebrate Christmas itself, they are swept up in the general hysteria of preparing for winter vacations and various holidays. Trips to plan, gifts to wrap, dinners with Grandma to look forward to. Everywhere they look they see blinking lights, sparkling trees, presents, cookies, dancing elves and kids in Santa hats.  They can’t help it; there is simply no room in their brains for school work!

Sometimes we do try to sneak in some actual academic work during this week, but it is usually futile, and serves only to remind us that next year we will definitely be more reasonable in our expectations.

Yesterday I tried to lead my class of fifth graders in a review of division using factor pairs.  This is a simple concept that we mastered more than a month ago, but review is always a good idea with math, so I handed out a simple worksheet.  I sat down at my desk to do some correcting, assuming that the kids would be able to complete the work with little help.


Here is the actual conversation that occurred between me and one of my favorite little boys.

“Honey, do you know what to do?” (his paper was totally blank after five minutes.)


“Do you know what to do?”

“About what?”

“Uh, about how to find the factor pairs.”

“Oh, right!  Yes, I just have to think.”, he said, beginning to snap his fingers rapidly and repeat, “um, um,um, um”.

After about 20 seconds, I intervened.  “OK, well what are you thinking?”      “About what?”

I took a deep breath.  “You are trying to find factor pairs.  What are two factors for the number 24?”

The fingers began to snap again, the chair began to rock, and the chant started up, “um,um,um,um!”

“Stop.” I said firmly, putting my hand on his shoulder.  “Just tell me one number that is a factor of 24.”


At that point, I gave up, bringing the child into the hall for a private conversation.

“OK.  You know how to do this work, so what’s going on today?”

“Um.  I kind of can’t focus.”

(“Really?” I thought, but didn’t say out loud.) I put on my most patient and encouraging teacher smile and waited for the rest.

“See, um, I’m just kind of….excited? I tried to stay focused, but I keep thinking about our Christmas tree!  And my Grampa and my Uncle are coming for the whole weekend!”  His face lit up, his dark brown eyes sparkled and his whole body began to vibrate with energy.

We talked about the holidays for a minute or two, then I told him not to worry about the factor pairs.  They’ll still be around in January, when all of the craziness has come to an end.  We can get to them then.

So parents, don’t be surprised when you see very little homework this week.  Don’t worry about days missed for those trips to see friends and relatives.  Just relax, enjoy the time with your kids, and try to let the little things go.

We are all a little Christmas Crazed at the moment.  The factor pairs will just have to wait.


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