Holidays are super fun. For almost every person and religion that I have encountered, these special times revolve around food, family, traditions, and community. Yet, we don’t take the time to honor or teach these very important aspects of life, or we focus on only one particular culture’s traditions.
As teachers, and families, we can turn holidays into learning experiences.
Kids love a good hook, a way to catch their attention. Think about TV or video games: they combine familiar characters with interesting plot lines and cool graphics or special effects. Teaching can do this, too, if we use something that our kiddos already love and are interested in.
Our students already love their particular holiday traditions. Think about a child in your classroom (or home) that isn’t excited to start celebrating their winter holiday. I bet that you have kids talking about Santa, or lighting the menorah, or eating black eyed peas for Kwanza.
So use that enthusiasm to actually teach the children about other cultures and traditions. In our world, we need to seize every single opportunity we are offered to help our children become more educated and accepting of other cultures.
One of your best resources for teaching different cultural celebrations are your students’ parents and community members. If you home school, you could reach out to neighbors or friends or different faith centers. Actually, classroom teachers should do those things, too.
Figure out the demographics of your classroom.Which ethnic groups are represented? Which religious groups are present? Then reach out to parents. Use a newsletter or letter to request help. Outline exactly what you want to do, or use my format and write in your own details before you make copies. MilKids Holiday classroom flyer
When the parents or community members come to your class, or you visit another family or community, be respectful and ready to listen. You might ask visitors to bring some interactive items, a read aloud, or a small craft. If you are making a visit, talk before with the person or people who will be hosting you to clarify what will be happening. You should also check your school’s policy about religious discussions or material, or focus mostly on the social traditions and shy away from the more religious aspects.
Make it Fun!
With or without community volunteers, you can make this day or days as fun as possible. If you are working in a school setting, team up with a few other teachers and each host one celebration in your classrooms. At home, you could dedicate a little more time to each holiday that you are learning about.
For each celebration, you should discuss briefly the background of the holiday and the individuals who celebrate these events. A good idea is to read a short story about the holiday or to watch a short video.
You could also do a small craft or play a game traditional to the holiday. Classroom teachers should be aware of allergy concerns if planning on snacks, but home school families can go crazy with latkes and cookies or cakes!
And you can connect almost everything to the curriculum. Create math problems, or go to TeacherPayTeachers and grab some pre-made worksheets in everything from math to social studies. There are also helpful holiday guides with lesson plans and resources from Scholastic, PBS, and Teaching Tolerance.
The opportunity to turn cultural celebrations and touchstones into a learning experience and lesson in multicultural acceptance is too good to miss. With the hatred and violence that we see every night on the news, or read about in the newspaper, we need to foster love and peace whenever possible.
Let’s teach peace to our children, and let’s start this holiday season!