The week before winter vacation, many students are getting ready to celebrate holidays with families. Most of them are also getting very excited about the prospects of gifts or fun traditions, and they may be distracted in school. So, instead of pushing them to focus purely on academics, I channel this interest in holidays into an important week-long social studies lesson – Winter Holidays Around the World.
What is the goal of Holidays Around the World?
One of our social studies standards (MA Kindergarten Standard Topic 3) is to “compare and contrast traditions and celebrations of peoples with diverse cultural backgrounds”. Young children really have no understanding that people around the world, around their neighborhood, and in their class, don’t celebrate holidays the same way that they do. It is important to me that students understand that there are different holidays than the ones that they celebrate. But more important to me than the differences, are the similarities. In keeping the goal and the focus to comparing the similarities, as opposed to finding the differences, we are developing tolerance and empathy for people we might have “othered”. By contrasting some differences, we are appreciating diversity in our community.
Which Holidays Around the World?
In my Holidays Around the World product, I include 10 different winter holidays from around the world. I do not do all 10 in my classroom. In fact, every year the holidays change. I want to make sure that winter holidays that are celebrated by my students are the main focus of the week. Families are always invited to come in and share about their family traditions, throughout the year, but especially during this week. I also send home a project where the students and their families create a poster displaying their special family traditions. They all come out so unique and special, and I always learn a lot! I definitely suggest reading Daddy Christmas and Hannukkah Mama to show how families often blend traditions of holidays to make their own, special, family traditions!
Introducing Holidays Around the World
I always start the week reading Whoever You Are by Mem Fox, because I want to start the week on the idea that while people around the world have many differences, there are so many more important qualities about us that are the same!
I also like to read Lights of Winter: Winter Celebrations Around the World to go over basic information of some of the holidays we will be learning about, the history of them, and connecting them all to the theme of light.
For every country that we travel to, there are a few things that we do every time.
Each time we travel, we always fill out our passport! This keeps a log of our journey and roots our learning in geography! It’s also something you would do if you really were traveling the world! I have a version of a passport for older students where they fill out a fact they learned, but it’s easier for my students to color in the flag of the country and the four important symbols of the holiday.
I also make sure to keep a world map of all the places we are going on our trip. I usually do one map for the whole class, but you could also have students keep their own map. It is important for students to start to understand the geography of our world.
Before we leave, my students pack their suitcase. They draw on it what they think they will need to travel the world. This always sparks some funny discussions. Then I staple two suitcase pages together and it becomes a convenient folder to store all the activities that we do during our travels! At the end of the week, it goes home!
Favorite Holidays Around The World Activities
There are some activities that I look forward to doing year after year. I love reading Tommie dePaola’s books The Legend of the Poinsettia, and The Legend of Old Befana. After reading The Legend of the Poinsettia, my students decorate their own poinsettias and then we walk around the school and give them to staff – it makes everyone smile! I also love anytime my students make and wear crowns, so of course I love our St. Lucia activity of making candle wreaths or starboy crowns! Finally, I love all the winter solstice activities, because I love anything winter. I especially love having the students make their own lanterns – they always draw such a beautiful design! Then we watch the sunrise together (thank goodness for youtube showing videos of the sunrise at Stonehenge!).
Winter Holidays Around the World is the perfect focus for the week before vacation. Students are so engaged learning about each other’s traditions, as well as traditions from other parts of the world. Not only is it a fun and exciting week (each day your students will run in asking where are they going next!), but it is also a wonderful way to teach compare and contrast holiday traditions with their own and appreciate the diversity in the class and world community.
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