My colleague Keith and I have spent the past several finals weeks putting out toys, games, and coloring books for our students during finals week, and calling it Stressbusters. We spend about $20 each semester on toys from the dollar store and miscellaneous other stuff like poster-paper for coloring, sudoku books, and candy (though we spent far less this time around, as we’ve built up a collection of stuff, now), and spend an hour or two setting up and taking down. (See our poster from SUNYLA 2007 for more details.)
The rewards are unbelievable.
During the week of the semester when student tension runs high, the building is packed to the gills, and the number of visible and audible freak-outs skyrockets, it’s utterly charming to see students coloring in snowmen with crayons, building houses out of lincoln logs, playing with trucks in a sandbox, and miniputting. Watching them play checkers, do Sudoku with their friends, and play with a Barrel O’Monkeys is equally cool. And the best part is knowing that maybe, just maybe, that opportunity to take ten minutes to just chill out before they go back to studying prevented them from being one of the freaking-out students, the crying students, or the utterly depressed students. We put out “tell us what you think” sheets with markers attached, and the comments are uniformly positive (though last semester they asked for easier jigsaw puzzles, because it wasn’t stress relief if they were too hard… so we bought easier puzzles.).
Twenty dollars and a few hours to make our students’ worklife a little nicer at the hardest part of the semester? Totally worth it.