Planning lessons around the holidays can be a challenge. It’s important to understand the difference between teaching the religious origins of a holiday and celebrating it in the classroom. The line can easily be blurred and students can easily come to feel excluded. One way around this is by viewing December as an opportunity to plan cross-curricular lessons with a winter theme that are both engaging and fun.
Have you read aloud T he Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer? It’s a charming picture book that explores the shortest day of the year. Your students will learn how various cultures have come to celebrate the solstice throughout the ages. They will also gain an understanding of why it is such a short day from a scientific perspective. A must read is T he Mitten by Jan Brett. This winter classic features a parade of various critters taking up refuge in a mitten left behind in the snow by the protagonist. It’s a heartwarming retelling of an old Ukranian folktale that won’t leave any of your students feeling left out. Use the story as an opportunity to teach your students how animals really survive the cold winter months from a scientific perspective.
Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner teaches how various animals make it through the winter. Your students will learn about burrowers, hibernators and avian migrators. This is a great way to tap into their interest in the changing seasons and also animals.
You can pair activities to the suggested read alouds to provide a hands-on extension to their learning experience. Let your students help the birds in transit by making a bird feeder out of a pinecone. You don’t need many supplies at all! Just get a pine cone, some peanut butter (or a nut butter substitute if you have a student with an allergy), birdseed, and yarn. Simply cover the pine cone in peanut butter, roll it in birdseed, and hang it in a nearby tree. It won’t take long for the stars of Over and Under the Snow to stop by for a snack.
A wonderful way to incorporate the facts a student has learned and to showcase their comprehension is with creative writing. Have your students choose an animal that either migrates or hibernates. Then instruct them to write a short story from that animal’s perspective. Have them include how the animal prepares for winter and also have them draw a picture of that process.
These are only a few of the ways that you can make it through your holiday lessons without ever mentioning religion. If you implement them, you will help to ensure that none of your students are left out of the fun, and you will also avoid any uncomfortable parent-teacher conversations.