An End of the Year Gift That Rocks!

After 13 years of teaching, it's pretty difficult to come up with fresh ideas for an end of the year gift. I've done some really cute gifts that are certainly worth repeating, but I really love it when I can find a way to connect my gift to that specific year. I had a wonderful group of students this year. I feel like I say that every year, but I really loved every moment of teaching these kiddos. They were awesome in every way and they worked so hard to come so far. Anyway, one of the things that makes for a happy  classroom is the sound of laughter and the ability to be silly without getting out of hand (which can be such a delicate balance, but can successfully happen). Well, one of the reasons I love teaching fifth grade is because my students understand my jokes and sarcasm. Truth be told, I LOVE cheesy jokes, but I especially love puns, and there's a lot of cheesy jokes and puns mixed in with my instruction. My husband always tells me that I'm the funniest person I know and it's true - no one makes me laugh harder than me! For whatever reason, this year was the year of the puns - I had a new one popping into my head at least once a day and my students kind of became dependent on at least a daily pun. So...enter the end of the year gift.

I've wanted to try rock painting for so long. I've seen the The Kindness Rocks Project and always wanted to participate, but never got around to it. So, without a proper plan, I decided to go to my local rock yard and get some medium stones. When I told them that I was using them to make a gift for my students, they let me take 30 rocks, no charge!

So with rocks in my possession, I came home to look for some ideas via Google search. I'm not very artistic, so I needed something that would work for my heavy handed writing. I initially thought about doing words of kindness/praise, but then something so simple and punny came my way...why not just put their name with the word ROCKS underneath? It's personalized and it's "punny", which truly made this the perfect end of the year gift for my class!

Once I had a plan, I washed the rocks really well and then went to Michael's to load up on some different colors of spray paint. I bought matte and gloss, but in hindsight, I would've gone with just matte since I eventually sealed them with matte spray anyway. The lighter colors needed a couple of sprays, but for the most part, spray painting the rocks was a piece of cake!

Next, I purchased some acrylic paint markers. I bought one set from Michael's and the other set from Amazon (link for the Amazon - not affiliate: Acrylic Paint Markers). I sat outside on my deck for hours working on just writing __________ (name) ROCKS. I am not a fan of my own handwriting, so there were definitely some do-overs. I let the words dry overnight.

The following day, I began adding very simple designs (again, I am not artistic, so I went with things like polka dots and hearts) to the side with the words. I tried really hard to incorporate colors or designs that were a reflection of each student. For example, I had a student who loved NERF so I used NERF colors for his rock. In one case of design gone wrong, I pressed down too hard on one of the markers and created a dripping effect that I ended up loving so I did it all the way around the rock. I only did designs on one side (except the dripping one, which was unintentional), but you could easily decorate the whole rock, it would just take more time. Between the words and designs, I worked on these rocks for several days without doing a design on the opposite side.  Plus, the rock was already painted, so leaving one side blank still looked really nice. After the rocks were decorated, I sealed them with a clear acrylic matte spray. I did two coats on each side. Here's my final work:

From there, it was time to compose an end of the year poem that would connect to the rock. I wrote a poem a few years ago that gave me a good start, but I revised about 75% of it to make it more fitting for this year's class. It reads:

A Fantastic Fifth Grade Year

The time has come for summer break to begin.
“My year is complete!” you yell with a grin.
Our year together has been special and sweet.
Having you as my student has been quite a treat.
You learned math and reading, and oh so much more,
and laughed through the lessons that weren’t a big bore.
I read stories and left off at all the best parts,
to place a love of reading inside of your heart.
Sometimes I used puns and we laughed a whole lot,
but little did you know, it was part of my plot.
I wanted you to learn, to have fun, and to grow,
and you listened and learned, there’s so much you know!
Now your year is complete and it’s time to move on,
but your memories of this year will always be strong.
I have a final gift, that’s a bit of a pun.
So when you look back, you’ll remember our fun.
Like your gift, you’re unique, this is very true.
You’re strong on the inside, and quite special, too.
So there’s really just one thing that’s left to be said: 
You ROCK today, you ROCK tomorrow, and you ROCK the future ahead!

You can click on the image below to download a copy. Feel free to save it for future use or use it to inspire your own end of the year poem. I've included a version that just says "A Fantastic Year" as the title so that it can be used for multiple grade levels.

When I presented these gifts to my students, I explained that I worked hard on each individual rock and that I thought about each of them and our memories together as I designed each one. So, while their initial thought might be "I got a rock," (Peanuts reference from It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown) the rock was actually a representation of them and that is what made it so special. They absolutely loved them! I loved seeing their smiles as they held their rocks and felt special, knowing I'd created an original rock just for them. I hope that each time they look at their rock, they remember the special year we shared.

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