A red balloon bounced in the air above my head as I held on tightly to its string. We dodged white crepe myrtles, bicycles, scooters, skipping children, and dogs of all sizes on the school sidewalk. Once through the double red doors, we made our way up the century old steps, and into Room 204. Safe. I tied the balloon to the back of a chair and stood at the door, ready to greet my children one last time. The bell rang and in they came. There was delight in the red balloon and elation that it was the last day and, yet… there was a tinge of sadness, too. The year had been a good one. And while we all looked forward to summer, we knew that something special was ending. Good morning hugs lasted a little longer than usual.
We were ready for this. Throughout the year, we talked often about finishing well with our writing pieces. Lately we’d talked about how to finish this well, our year together. Once June came, we struggled for a metaphor for finishing well. We talked about how our third grade had been like a balloon that grew bigger and brighter with each experience. And we talked about our options: we could let the balloon pop or we could let the air fizzle out or we could tie the balloon tightly, and then, let it go. For our class there was only one choice. It meant not packing up too early. It meant teaching and learning right up to the end. It meant sticking to the routines and honoring the rituals that had been carefully built over time. Our challenge and our opportunity was this: to tie things up beautifully, to let go gracefully, and to finish well.
On that last morning of school, I took the children downstairs to the library to show a film. The balloon came with us. As we watched The Red Balloon, I asked them to notice. I asked them to notice which colors were used, and which colors weren’t. I asked them to notice the music, the angles, the facial expressions, and the silences. I asked them to notice if the music guided their predictions. Did it build suspense? Did it affect mood and feeling? When it was over I asked what the movie was really about. This was comfortable conversation for my third graders—this is the talk of readers and writers. It is a conversation that is built and sustained with time. Hands went up quickly. They said the movie was about loneliness. Bullying. Friendship. Staying strong. Letting go.
We untied the balloon and walked outside together. We walked to the middle of the playground and gathered around the red balloon. “Everyone hold on to the string.” They did.
“Are you ready?” I asked.
“No,” they said.
We laughed. It wasn’t supposed to go that way. I tried again.
“Hold tight… now let go.”
I watched their fingers unfurl. We let go with open hands and up went our red balloon. It went with our named joys, hopes, and gratitude. It didn’t pop. It didn’t fizzle. It didn’t get stuck. It floated beautifully, glided gracefully, and sailed towards something new. And Mrs. Campbell’s third graders finished well.