Happy holidays! With the jam-packed curriculum we all face every day, taking time to celebrate the holidays in the classroom can be challenging. However, in this season of giving, it is important that we do take time out to teach our students about the real meaning of the season. It’s also a great time to purposefully integrate curriculum requirements with holiday activities.
This post features ideas for creative holiday gifts, meaningful ways to help your students “give back,” awesome holiday resources on the Web, cool holiday activities I do in my own classroom, and a memorable way to ring in the New Year with your students. I have included some ideas from previous years' posts, but you will also find resources and ideas I have never shared before, innovative ideas from my Top Teaching colleagues, and links to useful online holiday resources.
1. Toys “R” Us Virtual Holiday Shopping Spree
I am always looking for ways to make the use of technology in my classroom both purposeful and engaging. This activity combines math and technology skills as students navigate the Toys "R" Us site to “shop” for gifts for their loved ones.
During the holidays, students are always excited about the presents they want most. I created this activity to emphasize the importance of gift giving rather than the “gift receiving” that so many students focus on during this month. Through the downloadable worksheets below, students are invited to be part of a made-up scenario in which a long-lost relative has won the lottery and is giving away some of his money in the hope that it will be used in a positive way during the holiday season. Each student is given $500 and is asked to spend it on friends and family. Since the relative tells the students that they cannot keep any leftover money for themselves, the goal is to spend as close to $500 as they can.
I love this activity because it requires students to understand how to navigate a Web site purposefully. The Toys "R" Us site is perfect because it allows users to search by age, category, gender, price, character/theme, top rated toys, or keyword. Students first make a list of the people they plan to buy gifts for. On their list, most students include recipients of different ages and genders. Sometimes students know exactly what they want to buy and can use the keyword search, other times they have a certain price range in mind, and often they just search for top-rated toys for a certain age level. Of course students do not actually add any items to their online shopping cart. They just record the price on their worksheet.
In years past, my students have created holiday hope chests for children who will be spending the holidays in a local children's hospital. (The hope chests can also be made for children in homeless shelters, orphanages, foster homes, soup kitchens, domestic violence shelters, low-income pediatric clinics, or low-income day care centers.) It is easy for children to take for granted the gifts that they receive during the holidays, and this project encourages children to embrace the holiday season as one of giving rather than receiving.
I first found out about holiday hope chests on the Kids Care Web site. The chests are simply decorated shoe boxes designed by my students. Each chest is filled with small toys, games, and art supplies chosen especially for a girl or boy of a specific age. My students also make holiday cards to enclose in each chest. The decorative shoebox gives the receiving child a "treasure chest" in which to keep the items together.
To begin the project, I introduce the idea to my students and then send a note home explaining the project to the parents. I ask parents to donate shoe boxes, and each student is asked to bring three to five small, new toys to put in his or her hope chest. I suggest shopping at local dollar stores and emphasize the fact that the items must be small enough to fit inside a shoebox. I also ask students not to bring candy, toys with many small parts, or toys that promote violence, such as toy guns or action figures with guns or battle gear. Suggested items include crayons, pencils, markers, notebooks, notepads, glue, Play Doh, flash cards, stickers, small toys, small books, magazines, LEGOs, hair bands, card games, small stuffed animals, magnets, etc.
This project has been very successful and rewarding in years past. My students love being able to spread joy to their less fortunate peers, and it helps them to embrace the real meaning of the holiday season.
For more photos and information about creating holiday hope chests, you can visit my classroom Web site. You can also download my hope chest parent letter and hope chest tag (as seen on hope chest boxes in the pictures above).
3. All Aboard . . . Bring the Polar Express to Your Classroom!
When I taught 2nd grade, we spent part of one day in December pretending we were aboard the Polar Express. After reading the story in class, students wore their pajamas to school and took part in a variety of activities related to the book. We even "built" a Polar Express train in our classroom for the special day. Since the young boy in the story had a most prized possession, his silver bell, students also brought along their most prized possessions. Students wrote "small moment" stories related to their special items in their Writer's Notebooks.
See more pictures from our special day aboard the Polar Express and read more about the activities we did aboard the train.
4. Holiday Interactive Whiteboard Resources
I am officially obsessed with my SMART Board after having it for only a few short months. I can hardly teach a lesson without using it, so I know that anything I do related to the holidays will likely involve my SMART Board as well. I find that many of the activities created for the holidays are more focused on fun than on real learning, so I am sorting through what is out there and then trying to find creative ways to connect the activities to my curriculum. Here are some of the holiday resources that have looked good: Teachers Love SMART Boards' holiday resources, TeqSmart's December holiday resources, SMART Board Terminal's holiday resources, SMART Exchange's Christmas activities, and Christmas SMART Board lessons on TeachersPayTeachers.
5. Making Gingerbread Houses to Inspire Your Writers
It has been a tradition for over 20 years (long before I was even teaching) for Hill School 3rd graders to make gingerbread houses in December. When I was moved from 2nd to 3rd grade, I was excited to become part of this tradition. Students absolutely love building their houses and decorating them using a variety of yummy candies and icing. Parents even join in on the fun as well, often taking the day off to come spend time with their child in our classroom for this enjoyable event.
Though I love the activity, it bothered me that it was completely unrelated to our curriculum. For that reason, I decided it was the perfect activity to link to Writing Workshop. What better way to teach students about descriptive writing than to have them use their deliciously colorful gingerbread houses as inspiration?
With a focus on word choice, students sit with their completed gingerbread house in front of them and describe the house in detail. My previous lessons on similes, metaphors, sensory language, and rich, vivid details suddenly came to life even for my most reluctant writers. Since I often tell my students that they are creating a picture with words, we display this writing in our hallway in December with the actual picture of their gingerbread house above it.
Read about a similar project my fellow Top Teaching blogger Megan Power does with her kindergartners!
6. Homemade Holiday Gifts for Parents and Loved Ones
When it comes to the gift that my students make for their parents or other loved ones during the holiday season, I try to think of something that is creative, but also desirable for the recipient. The gift I've had my students make for the past few years is called "cookies in a jar." I am sharing this idea again because it has been so well received by other teachers and by the students’ parents who receive the gift!
I use quart-sized jars with lids and the ingredients necessary to make a specific type of cookie. One afternoon, I pour the ingredients into large bowls and call groups of four or five students at a time over to a table to add the ingredients to their jars. I ask parents to send in sets of measuring cups and measuring spoons for students to use for the special project. While I walk small groups of students through the steps necessary to make their "cookies in a jar" gift, the rest of my class reads quietly at their desks or completes a purposeful assignment that I have explained prior to the cookie-jar project.
Once all students have added the ingredients to their jar, they attach a circular piece of festive material to the top of the jar with a rubber band and tie a ribbon around the rubber band. Finally, students attach a gift tag to the ribbon with the recipient's name. The recipe for how to make the cookies is printed on a label and stuck to the back of the jar so that the cookies can be easily made by adding butter and eggs.
Since the holidays are such a busy time of year, parents tend to appreciate the ease of having a pre-made cookie mix to entertain holiday guests. It is also a fun way for students and parents to spend time together at home baking (and enjoying) the cookies. I like this gift idea because it can be altered for students who celebrate any holiday. I purchase different types of inexpensive cloth from a fabric store including material with holiday designs, winter themes, and basic designs like polka dots, stripes, and plaids. You can also tie the holiday project to lessons in math to reinforce concepts having to do with fractions and measurement.
You can find specific directions for making a variety of "cookies in a jar" at Allrecipes.com. Download my holiday cookies in a jar recipe, my holiday cookie direction labels for jars (seen in picture above), and my "cookies in a jar" gift tags (on jars in picture above).
7. Holiday Integration Activities That Blend the Season
My fellow Top Teacher blogger, Angela Bunyi, never ceases to amaze me with her creative ideas and the purposeful way she approaches the curriculum. Last year, she wrote a fun post filled with curriculum-worthy holiday ideas including making Christmas factor trees, teaching measuring skills by creating a life-sized abominable snowman, designing geo-ornaments, creating an iMovie about winter holidays around the world, teaching series and parallel lighting using Christmas lights, and constructing holiday “branches” of government. Read her great holiday post!
8. Scholastic’s Awesome Collection of Holiday Resources
There is no other place on the Web where you will find a more comprehensive collection of resources to help celebrate and teach your students about the many winter holidays. From art projects, online activities, printables, and recipes to thinking questions, clip art, books, and classroom decorations, this is one stop shopping when it comes to teacher resources for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa!
Also, check out a great holiday booklist organized by grade level.
9. Personalized Cards for Parent Helpers
I am always so appreciative of the parents who volunteer to chaperone field trips, assist with special projects in the classroom, and plan classroom parties during the holidays. Oftentimes their help directly impacts the students. For this reason, I like my students to help create the cards we make for our helpers.
For the card below, students worked in teams of two or three to make letters with their bodies that spelled "THANK YOU!!" If you have more students, you can make the words "THANK YOU VERY MUCH" instead. To put the card together, I took pictures of the students forming each letter. I then inserted the pictures into a blank poster in Print Shop and used the freehand crop tool to cut around their bodies. (This makes them look more like the letters they are trying to form.) Once I have all of the letters cropped, I arrange them on the Print Shop poster and print copies for each parent volunteer. I paste the printed copies on a construction paper card and have the students sign their names inside the card.
The pictures below show a quick and easy way to make a thank-you card or holiday card from your class. I used Microsoft Word to write "THANK YOU!" or "HAPPY HOLIDAYS," printing each letter on a separate piece of paper. I glued each letter on a colored piece of construction paper and had my students hold up the letters for a picture. When making the card, I glue the thank-you picture on the front and have the kids sign their names on the inside.
10. Ringing in 2011 With Your Students
When students come back from break, it can be difficult to get them refocused after the excitement of the holidays. For this reason, I treat January as a new beginning. I hit up the party supply store immediately after New Year's Eve to find party hats on sale (often 50% off). When my students come back to school in January, they each find a party hat on their desk. My students and I reflect on and celebrate what we have accomplished so far in the school year, and then we make plans for the rest of our year together.
Part of our plan includes the students making resolutions. I start my lesson by asking students, “What is a resolution?” They soon learn that a resolution is a promise that you make to yourself. I then read aloud some of the resolutions made by my students in previous years. This gives my current students some specific ideas about making resolutions. I follow this up with a discussion about how there are different kinds of resolutions.
Finally, students complete a worksheet that I created called "My New Year's Resolutions." It asks them to make two PERSONAL resolutions, two resolutions that involve FAMILY OR FRIENDS, and two resolutions that involve SCHOOL. Students share their top two resolutions with the class before we put them in our “Resolution Time Capsule” (see picture below). I decorate a shoe box with New Year’s Eve decorations and have each student ceremoniously place their resolutions into the box. I explain to the students that we will not open the box to see if we have accomplished our goals until the end of the year. When the end of the year comes around, students are given their resolutions from the box and are asked to write a reflective piece of writing about how far they have come or what things they might still need to work on. This is the final piece of writing that is placed in their 3rd grade portfolio.
I'd love to hear what special things you do in your classrooms in December. Add your comments below!