Celebrating the Holidays
In early childhood centers, we know that the celebration of holidays can be a meaningful and fun experience for children, teachers, and parents. Celebrating holidays is a reflection of families' cultural and ethnic diversity. We believe that any center-wide celebration should be inclusive, strengthening our school community, and bringing us together to promote belonging and friendship. Therefore, all staff, children, and families should have the opportunity to be included in all activities in the center and the purpose shall be to create and support connections.
Because you want to respect the cultures and traditions that they bring to your program, and at the same time include everyone in center-wide celebrations, ask each parent to let your child's teacher know if there is a special answer to any of the following questions in regards to their family.
- What would you like us to know about your family celebrations/traditions?
- Are there special days that you'd like us to be aware of?
- Is there any special way our program can be involved in your celebration?
- Is there anything about your culture or family you are worried we might not understand?
- Is there anything in the celebration of others in which you would not want to be involved?
The NAEYC Stand on Celebrating Holidays in Early Childhood Programs
Holiday celebrations can be wonderful opportunities for children to learn about the traditions and values that are cherished parts of people's lives. But, many early childhood professionals wonder what holidays to celebrate in the program or classroom and how to respect the cultures represented by all children. Many parents, too, wonder why programs celebrate specific holidays or why they discourage any celebration at all.
NAEYC believes that decisions about what holidays to celebrate are best made together by teachers, parents, and children. Families and staff are more comfortable when both have expressed their views and understand how a decision has been reached. The important thing for all to remember is that when planning holiday activities, the rules of good practice continue to apply:
- Are the activities meaningful to the children?
- Are their needs and interests being met?
- Is the activity a valuable use of children's time?
Teachers may survey families at the beginning of the year to determine what holidays to celebrate. They may even ask the children to create their own holiday to help them learn the concepts that underlie such valued traditions. In any case, holiday celebrations are just one way for programs and families to work together to create developmentally and culturally appropriate learning experiences.
Here are some signs of good practice in celebrating holidays:
- Parents and teachers ask themselves why children should learn about this holiday. Is it developmentally appropriate for those in the group? Why is it important to specific children and families?
- Activities are connected to specific children and families in the group. This helps children understand holiday activities in the context of people's daily lives. Children should have the chance to explore the meaning and significance of each holiday.
- Children are encouraged to share feelings and information about the holidays they celebrate. This will help them make the distinction between learning about another person's holiday rituals and celebrating one's own holidays. Children may participate as "guests" in holiday activities that are not part of their own cultures.
- Every group represented in the classroom is honored (both children and staff). This does not mean that every holiday of every group must be celebrated...classrooms would be celebrating all the time! It does mean that once families and programs have decided on what holidays to celebrate, none should be treated as if they are "unusual." Children should recognize that everyone's holidays are culturally significant and meaningful.
- Activities demonstrate the fact that not everyone in the same ethnic group celebrates holidays in the same way. Families may provide examples of their own unique traditions.
- Curriculum demonstrates respect for everyone's customs. If children are observing different holidays at the same time, the values and traditions of each child's culture should be acknowledged.
- Parents and teachers work together to plan strategies for children whose family's beliefs do not permit participation in holiday celebrations. Families should take part in creating satisfactory alternatives for the child within the classroom.
- Focus on meaningful ways to celebrate holidays without spending money. Families may find certain holidays stressful due to the amount of commercialization and the media pressure to buy gifts. Teachers can help by showing children that homemade costumes and gifts are very special, and celebrating can be joyful without gifts.
Pumpkins, Turkeys and Reindeer:
Introduction to Celebrating Holidays in The Classroom
What comes to mind when you think back to your early childhood about Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the winter holidays? For many of us, there are fond memories of costume parades, art projects of turkey shapes and pilgrim hats (that all looked the same), and perhaps even a visit to your school by Santa Claus. We may smile and remember how exciting it was. For others, it was a time of fear (scary Halloween masks and being too shy to parade in front of strangers) and isolation ("I am the only one who doesn't't believe or celebrate. I must be strange.") or, even feelings of loneliness ("No one shares or acknowledges my traditions."). What others were celebrating in school and what the teacher was teaching was not what we did at home.
Since the early 1980s, many early childhood teachers have been re-thinking how we celebrate holidays with young children and discussing the implications of going from one holiday theme to the next as the guiding force in their curriculum planning. Unfortunately, the companies that design curriculum materials for teachers (bulletin board cutouts, worksheets, ideas for songs and art projects) encourage this by selling numerous items to facilitate this process. Greeting card manufacturers also participate in the "holiday craze," putting out displays sometimes three months prior to the holiday's actual date!
Every School Does It Differently
In some schools, teachers have re-examined how holiday times will be handled. There are no two schools that handle this issue the same way, which is appropriate as no two schools are alike in the families they serve or in the teachers who work there. Discussions about how to celebrate holidays can be heated, depending on how strongly adults feel about celebrations in general and what it might mean to them personally.
It helps to ask the questions:
- Why are we doing this?
- Is it for the benefit of the children or mostly for the adults?
Other questions to think about include:
- How do we handle family differences without making one seem better or more important than another?
- How do we introduce cultures in a historically accurate way?
- How do we teach another culture or religion that we are unfamiliar with so that it will not be misinterpreted?
There is no one right way to answer these questions.
Some early childhood programs have decided to use the seasons as a theme and leave the celebration of holiday traditions for the home. For example, autumn suggests studying its many smells, tastes, colors and textures, as well as the things we're thankful for. In wintertime, classes might celebrate underlying values that all cultures find meaningful, such as caring for one another and sharing. These are concepts that fit right in to the development of the whole child. Whatever the decision is, it needs to be a thoughtful one, one that is constantly evolving and is always being evaluated, just like any other aspect of the curriculum.
Developmental Issues Are Important
There are also some developmental issues that make "teaching" holidays in the traditional way inappropriate for very young children. First, there is the issue of time as a concept. Most children struggle with understanding what time of day their parents pick them up or what it means that they will go see their grandparents "this weekend." Understanding what will happen in three months or that we are celebrating something that occurred 200 years ago is beyond their comprehension. Second, children in this stage of development are primarily learning about themselves--their feelings, their families, their interactions with others, their creativity--as well as constructing knowledge about how things work. Spending a great deal of time celebrating events or rituals that are not a part of their intimate world is often not meaningful to young children. One school has chosen to celebrate a variety of "life events" throughout the year, such as: a party when a new sibling is born or when a child grows taller. They also have different everyday themes such as "beach party in the winter," "pajama day," or "backward day."
Today's Diverse Society
Louise Derman-Sparks' book Anti-Bias Curriculum: Tools for Empowering Young Children, discusses the responsibility of teachers to create experiences that are meaningful and sensitive to all genders, races and cultures. She states: "If children are to grow up with the attitudes, knowledge and skills necessary for effective living in a complex, diverse world, early childhood programs must actively change the impact of bias on children's development." Is teaching holidays a way for children to learn about other cultures? Derman-Sparks points out that if holidays, with their traditions, foods and activities, are the only thing we teach children about other cultures, we aren't really communicating a true picture of that culture. The ideal is to incorporate aspects of those other cultures throughout the day and the year, not just on one holiday.
Parents of young children can facilitate a positive approach to learning about others by examining their own understanding and knowledge of different cultures. Checking out books from the library, opening discussions and having shared experiences with others helps us learn and translate that knowledge to our children. Being an active participant in your child's classroom (spending time reading a story, doing a special cooking activity, talking with the teachers) would also be a way for you to share your family's traditions in a meaningful way to children. Thoughtful parents and teachers will continue to examine the appropriateness of holiday activities and the messages we send when we choose to do celebrations in the classrooms. We hope to discover the best way to celebrate holidays with young children, keeping in mind their developmental needs and the growing diversity of the larger society.
Christmas Celebrations World Over
Caroling, feasting, and gift giving along with the prayers and wishes - Christmas is celebrated with high spirits all over the world. Though the mode of celebration, the dates and the traditions vary, the main spirit remains the same everywhere. For instance, the Christmas flower. If poinsettia is a Christmas flower here in United States, it is white rose in the British Isles. If gifts here and in Britain are given on Christmas, it is done on New Year in France and many other countries. While most of us celebrate it as a festive season spreading over a week, for some it is a month long festival that starts with the Advent on Sunday next to November 26 and ends on January 6 with the feast of Epiphany.
The next few pages will go over the holidays are celebrated around the world.
Christmas in Mexico
Several weeks before Christmas, elaborately decorated market stalls or puestos are set up in the plazas of every town and city. Some people travel for days from remote areas to get to these markets. The puestos offer crafts of every conceivable kind, foods such as cheese, bananas, nuts, and cookies, and flowers such as orchids and poinsettias.
The poinsettia is native to Mexico and is believed to have first been used in connection with Christmas in the 17th century when Mexican Franciscans included the flowers in their Christmas celebration. There is a legend connected with the flower. A little boy named Pablo was walking to the church in his village to visit the Nativity scene, when he realized he had nothing to offer the Christ Child. He saw some green branches growing along the roadside and gathered them up. Other children scoffed, but when he laid them by the manger, a brilliant red star-shaped flower appeared on each branch.
The main Christmas celebration in Mexico is called las posadas, which refers to processions reenacting Joseph and Mary's search for a place to stay in Bethlehem. The processions begin nine days before Christmas because the original journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem took nine days. Friends and family members divide themselves into two groups - pilgrims and innkeepers. The pilgrims travel from house to house asking for a shelter and are refused at each until they finally reach the house where an alter and Nativity scene have been set up. Here the pilgrims are admitted with great rejoicing, a traditional prayer is spoken, and the party begins. Food and drink are served and then children take turns trying to break open the pinata.
Christmas in Iraq
On Christmas Eve, Iraqi Christian families gather together and one of the children read about the birth of Jesus while other family members hold lighted candles. After the reading, a bonfire of thorn bushes is let and everyone sings. If the thorns burn to ashes, good luck will be granted for the coming year. When the fire dies, each person jumps over the ashes three times and makes a wish.
On Christmas Day, another bonfire is lit in the churchyard. The bishop, carrying a figure of the Baby Jesus leads the service. Afterwards, he blesses one person with a touch. That person touches the person next to him or her and the touch is passed around until all present have felt the "touch of peace."
Christmas in Russia
St. Nicholas is especially popular in Russia. The legend is that the 11th-century Prince Vladimir traveled to Constantinople to be baptized, and returned with stories of miracles performed by St. Nicholas of Myra. Since then, many Eastern Orthodox Churches have been named for the saint, and to this day, Nicholas is one of the most common names for Russian boys. The feast of St. Nicholas (December 6) was observed for many centuries, but after the communist revolution, the celebration of the feast was suppressed. During the communist years St. Nicholas was transformed into Grandfather Frost.
Other religious traditions were suppressed during the communist era. Before the revolution, a figure called Babushkas would bring gifts for the children. Like Italy's La Befana, the story is that Babushkas failed to give food and shelter to the three wise men during their journey to visit the Christ Child. According to tradition, she still roams the countryside searching for the Christ Child and visiting the homes of children during the Christmas season. Babushkas never completely disappeared, and now in the post-communist era, has returned openly. Christmas trees were also banned by the Communist regime, but people continued to trim their "New Year's" trees.
Most Christian Russians belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church, and it is customary to fast until after the first church service on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve dinner is meatless but festive. The most important ingredient is a special porridge called kutya. It is made of wheat berries or other grains, which symbolize hope and immortality, and honey and poppy seeds, which ensure happiness, success, and untroubled rest. A ceremony involving the blessing of the home is frequently observed. A priest visits the home accompanied by boys carrying vessels of holy water, and a little water is sprinkled in each room. The kutya is eaten from a common dish to symbolize unity.
Christmas in China
Although Christianity is unsanctioned in China, there are an estimated 10 million baptized Christians forming about 1 per cent of the population. These people celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas time. They are influenced more by their own tradition than their Western counterparts. Over the past few years the popularity of midnight mass has grown so swiftly that most Catholic churches cannot hold the numbers. Some who celebrate Christmas in China do so after having spent time in Japan where the holiday is becoming a booming business. The small percentage of Chinese who do so, erect artificial trees in their upscale apartments decorated with spangles form southern China's export zone. Christmas trees are called "trees of light" and are also decorated with paper chains, paper flowers, and paper lanterns. Children hang up muslin stockings in hopes that Dun Che Lao Ren (China's Santa) will fill them with presents. Stores have men dressed as Santa Claus handing out candy and waitresses with Santa hats. The booming commercialism, which has spread outward from Beijing, has been called a Chinese phenomenon. It started out as a friendly gesture or business ploy aimed at Christian visitors.
A festival of peace and renewal known as Ta Chiu is celebrated in Hong Kong. Taoists summon their gods and ghosts. People make offerings to their patron saints. Festivities close with the reading of the names of every person who lives in the area. The names are then listed, attached to a paper horse, and burned in hopes that they will rise to heaven.
Merry Christmas In Many Languages
|Wish Merry Christmas in...|
|Arabic||Idah Saidan Wa Sanah Jadidah|
|Armenian||Shenoraavor Nor Dari yev Pari Gaghand|
|Basque||Zorionak eta Urte Berri On!|
|Brazilian||Boas Festas e Feliz Ano Novo|
|Bulgarian||Tchestita Koleda; Tchestito Rojdestvo Hristovo|
|Catalan||Bon Nadal i un Bon Any Nou|
|Chinese (Cantonese)||Gun Tso Sun Tan'Gung Haw Sun|
|Corsican||Pace e salute|
|Czech||Prejeme Vam Vesele Vanoce a stastny Novy Rok|
|Dutch||Vrolijk Kerstfeest en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar|
|Egyptian||Colo sana wintom tiebeen|
|English||Merry Christmas & Happy New Year|
|Eskimo||Jutdlime pivdluarit ukiortame pivdluaritlo|
|Finish||Hyvää Joulua or Hauskaa Joulua |
|Flemish||Zalig Kerstfeest en Gelukkig nieuw jaar|
|French||Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année|
|Gaelic||Nollaig chridheil agus Bliadhna mhath ur|
|German||Froehliche Weihnachten und ein gluckliches Neues Jahr|
|Greek||Kala Christougenna Kieftihismenos O Kenourios Chronos|
|Hawaiian||Mele Kalikimaka & Hauoli Makahiki Hou|
|Hebrew||Mo'adim Lesimkha. Shana Tova|
|Hindi||Shubh Naya Baras|
|Hungarian||Kellemes Karacsonyiunnepeket & Boldog Új Évet|
|Icelandic||Gledileg Jol og Farsaelt Komandi ar|
|Indonesian||Selamat Hari Natal|
|Iraqi||Idah Saidan Wa Sanah Jadidah|
|Irish||Nollaig Shona Dhuit|
|Italian||Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo|
|Japanese||Shinnen omedeto. Kurisumasu Omedeto|
|Korean||Sung Tan Chuk Ha|
|Latin||Natale hilare et Annum Nuovo|
|Latvian||Prieci'gus Ziemsve'tkus un Laimi'gu Jauno Gadu|
|Maltese||Nixtieklek Milied tajjeb u is-sena t-tabja|
|Mandarin||Kung His Hsin Nien bing Chu Shen Tan|
|Marathi||Shub Naya Varsh|
|Mongolian||Zul saryn bolon shine ony mend devshuulye|
|Norwegian||God Jul og Godt Nyttår|
|Oriya||Sukhamaya christmass ebang khusibhara naba barsa|
|Papua New Guinea||Bikpela hamamas blong dispela Krismas na Nupela yia i go long yu|
|Philippines||Maligayang Pasco at Manigong Bagong Taon|
|Poland||Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia|
|Portuguese||Boas Festas e um feliz Ano Novo|
|Punjabi||Nave sal di mubaraka|
|Pushto||Christmas Aao Ne-way Kaal Mo Mobarak Sha|
|Russian||Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva is Novim Godom|
|Samoan||La Maunia Le Kilisimasi Ma Le Tausaga Fou|
|Sardinian||Bonu nadale e prosperu annu nou|
|Scots-Gaelic||Nollaig chridheil huibh|
|Serbian||Hristos se rodi|
|Singhalese||Subha nath thalak Vewa. Subha Aluth Awrudhak Vewa|
|Slovak||ciid wanaagsan iyo sanad cusub oo fiican|
|Somalis||Vesele Vianoce. A stastlivy Novy Rok|
|Spanish||Feliz Navidad y Próspero Año Nuevo|
|Swedish||God Jul och Gott Nytt År|
|Sudanese||Wilujeng Natal Sareng Warsa Enggal|
|Tamil||Nathar Puthu Varuda Valthukkal|
|Thai||Suksan Wan Christmas lae Sawadee Pee Mai|
|Turkish||Noeliniz Ve Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun|
|Ukrainian||Veseloho Vam Rizdva i Shchastlyvoho Novoho Roku|
|Urdu||Naya Saal Mubarak Ho|
|Vanina||Bon Natale a Tutti|
|Vietnamese||Chuc Mung Giang Sinh - Chuc Mung Tan Nien|
|Welsh||Nadolig LLawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda|
History Of Hanukkah
The holiday originated when Judah the Maccabee and his followers reclaimed the temple in the village of Modi'in from Syrian King Antiochus IV. The temple was cleansed and prepared for rededication. The Hebrew word "Hanukkah" means "dedication." When the sacred temple Menorah (candelabra) was relit, there was only enough sacred oil to burn for one day. Yet, according to tradition, the oil miraculously lasted eight days until more purified oil could be found.
A lesser-known story from the Apocrypha tells of the beautiful widow Judith who plied enemy Assyrian General Holofernes with cheese and wine until he fell into a drunken stupor. Judith beheaded the general in his sleep, and his soldiers fled in fear, thus saving her people from the Assyrians. This story is the subject of much renowned artwork.
In remembrance, a candle is lit each of the eight days of Hanukkah. Children receive gifts of gelt (in remembrance of the coins minted by the new independent Maccabee state) or money and play games of dreidel (a spinning four-sided top). The tradition of receiving a gift on each of the eight days of Hanukkah is fairly recent. Since Christians exchange gifts at Christmas, Jews have come to exchange gifts other than coins at Hanukkah, which comes at the same time of the year.
You will also see this holiday spelled Chanukkah and perhaps even Hannukah due to different translations and customs.
The traditional foods consumed during the Hanukkah holiday are symbolic of the events being celebrated. Most are fried in oil, symbolic of the oil that lasted eight days. Others contain cheese to celebrate Judith's victory. Loukoumades are deep-fried puffs dipped in honey or sugar to represent the cakes the Maccabees ate, along with Soofganiyot (also Sufganiyot) and zelebi. Pancakes are a traditional dish, serving as a reminder of the food hurriedly prepared for the Maccabees as they went into battle, along with the oil they are fried in as a reminder of the miraculous oil.
Latkes were originally symbolic of the cheesecakes served by the widow Judith, and later evolved to the potato/vegetable fried latkes most known today. Many cheese and dairy dishes are consumed in memory of brave Judith.
A newer tradition in the United States is the baking of butter cookies or pretzels in the shape of Hanukkah symbols while relating the stories. Children delight in helping and learn as they create, too.
About the Menorah
To Jews and non-Jews alike, the menorah, or Hanukkiya, is the most recognizable symbol of Hanukkah. It's usually a nine-branch candelabrum whose candles are lit by a "Shamash" or service candle, which then takes its own place at the center of the menorah. The menorah itself is placed in a window or anywhere it can be seen by passers-by. Lighting the Menorah on the first night of Hanukkah, a single candle (or oil wick) is lit on the far right side of the menorah. A candle is added, from right to left, each night, and the newest candle is always lit first. Ideally, the candles should be lit as soon as stars become visible in the night sky, but they can be lit late into the night. While the candles are being lit and the blessing given, the whole family and any guests gather to witness the ceremony; everyone is encouraged to participate. By the eighth night, with all eight candles lit, the menorah makes a spectacular sight. And as they did the previous evenings, the candles will continue to shine until they burn themselves out.
History and the Thoughts Behind Kwanzaa
It is worthwhile to learn about the festivals we celebrate, and learning about Kwanzaa is all the more important, as it was created with a specific purpose, of protecting our Cultures and Traditions. So read on, and let others read, about our popular festival of Kwanzaa.
Kwanzaa, an African-American celebration of cultural reaffirmation, is one of the fastest-growing holidays in the history of the world. It took root 30 years ago, when graduate student Maulana Karenga, disturbed by the 1965 riots in Los Angeles' Watts area, decided that African-Americans needed an annual event to celebrate their differences rather than the melting pot. Not a religious holiday, Kwanzaa is, rather, a seven-day celebration that begins on Dec. 26 and continues through Jan. 1.
Kwanzaa is a spiritual, festive and joyous celebration of the oneness and goodness of life, which claims no ties with any religion. It has definite principles, practices and symbols, which are geared to the social and spiritual needs of African-Americans. The reinforcing gestures are designed to strengthen our collective self-concept as a people, honor our past, critically evaluate our present and commit ourselves to a fuller, more productive future.
Kwanzaa, which means "first fruits of the harvest" in the African language Kiswahili, has gained tremendous acceptance. Since it's founding in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, Kwanzaa has come to be observed by more than 15 million people worldwide, as reported by the New York Times. Celebrated from December 26th to January 1st, it is based on Nguzo Saba (seven guiding principles), one for each day of the observance:
Umoja (OO-MO-JAH) Unity stresses the importance of togetherness for the family and the community, which is reflected in the African saying, "I am We," or "I am because We are."
Kujichagulia (KOO-GEE-CHA-GOO-LEE-YAH) Self-Determination requires that we define our common interests and make decisions that are in the best interest of our family and community.
Ujima (OO-GEE-MAH) Collective Work and Responsibility reminds us of our obligation to the past, present and future, and that we have a role to play in the community, society, and world.
Ujamaa (OO-JAH-MAH) Cooperative economics emphasizes our collective economic strength and encourages us to meet common needs through mutual support.
Nia (NEE-YAH) Purpose encourages us to look within ourselves and to set personal goals that are beneficial to the community.
Kuumba (KOO-OOM-BAH) Creativity makes use of our creative energies to build and maintain a strong and vibrant community.
Teaching Children About Giving
America is an extremely "giving" nation. It has been a part of our national character to volunteer or give service to those less fortunate than ourselves or to support political and religious causes in which we believe.
You can teach your children to continue this tradition by making volunteering a part of your family's together time. Particularly during the holiday season, the "giving of ourselves"--our time, our thoughtfulness, our joy--tells our children that the essence of celebrating in all faiths is what we give to others.
Activities to Encourage and Teach Giving
The Gift of Time
Not all families feel that they can donate money to worthy causes or even that giving money is the most effective way to help individuals or organizations. Sometimes, a more personal commitment of time to help those in need can be a meaningful way to teach children to be less selfish and to be more grateful. Help your child to see that one does not always have to be paid in order to do a service for others. Kindness and unselfishness can be nurtured in children through example and encouragement.
*TRY THIS: Volunteer at a local charity, church, or soup kitchen and explain to your child how important it is to give back something of what we have been given. Help children to think of their own volunteer projects--making craft items or toys for a hospital or church charity, doing yard work for an elderly neighbor, cleaning up a vacant lot near your home, or volunteering to watch and care for someone else's pet while s/he is on vacation. Work at a soup kitchen, church, or civic organization during the holidays or regularly. As a family, volunteer to be bell-ringers for the Salvation Army during the holidays.
"Pass-It-On" Field Trip
If you donate to a charity such as United Way or World Vision, discuss with your child the importance of sharing and supporting those who have experienced the tragedies of war, famine, and natural disasters. Even young children can understand the idea of the "Golden Rule"--that we help others because we realize how grateful we would be to receive such help in similar circumstances.
*TRY THIS: When a child outgrows clothing and shoes, let them help pack their used items with other family clothes or household goods that are no longer needed, and take a family trip to Goodwill or Salvation Army. Ask the workers there to explain to your children what happens to the clothing and other household items and why it is important that the community support these organizations.
Share the Joy
Children exhibit much natural joy and affection. Nowhere are those lovely, youthful qualities more appreciated than at nursing homes.
*TRY THIS: If you already have friends or relatives at nursing homes, it is natural to take your children with you to visit and bring comfort to those living there. If your children are learning piano or other instruments, they can play for the residents. Not only will they find a willing audience for their hard work in learning their instruments, they will also experience the simple joy of bringing happiness to others through donation of a little time and effort.
Reading is Caring
Visit a nursing home. Children can read books to residents—you can find a number of excellent books about relationships between young children and older friends.
Lectures on caring, politeness, kindness, and so on rarely accomplish what parents intend--changes in behavior. A simple question repeated each day over a period of time can accomplish much in the way of letting your child know what you value without lecturing.
*TRY THIS: Ask your child a question at dinner or when s/he comes home from school, a question such as, "Who were you especially nice to today?" or "Did you help anyone today?" At first, the question may seem strange to the child. If there is no response or the child says, "No one," just move on to discussion of the day's events or the task at hand. Don't make a big deal of it. Ask again the next day. Soon the child will begin to notice their own kind deeds or find ways to be more helpful or kind.
Reading and Discussing Children's Books
There are a number of children's books that depict story characters giving, being unselfish, and showing compassion. Reading these books together and discussing the themes can help children understand your values and beliefs.
- Christmas is a Time of Giving by Joan Walsh Anglund. (P) A much loved classic with Anglund's well-known and beautiful illustrations. Amazon.com
- The Gift by Aliana Brodmann. (P) Delightful story of a little girl's tender-hearted, unselfish gift at Hanukkah.
- Imani's Gift at Kwanzaa by Denise Burden-Patmon. (P) The Kwanzaa celebration begins on December 26 and lasts for seven days. During Kwanzaa, African Americans remember their ancestors and celebrate the values that hold their communities together.
Holiday Activities for the Classroom
This file folder activity helps young children use number skills as they match numbers 1 - 10 during a winter theme.
- White paper
- Contact paper for laminating
- File folder
You will need to make 20 snowflakes, but only 10 different patterns, out of the white paper. To do this you will cut 20 squares of paper to whatever size you want. Then, take two pieces of paper at a time and fold them. Next, cut to make the snowflakes.
Once you have 10 patterns and 20 snowflakes take two snowflakes of like patterns and write the number 1 on one and draw one circle on the other. Take the second like pattern and write the number 2 on one snowflake and draw two circles on the other and so on, until you have done that for all 10 snowflake patterns. Do each number in a different color. Then laminate all 20 snowflakes.
Tape the 10 numbered snowflakes on the file folder and keep the snowflakes with the circles loose. The child can then take a snowflake with the circles, count the circles, and match the number of circles to the number on the snowflakes on the file folder.
Winter Bulletin Board Idea
- Snowmen (children created)
- Blue poster board
- Epson salt
- Quilting batting
- White circles (snowballs)
Ask the children to design a snowman. Mix the Epson salt with water and encourage the children to take turns painting the mixture on the poster board (this creates a snow effect). When dried, staple to your bulletin board, the add snowman, snowflakes (with chalk) and batting to create hills. Place the snowmen on the hills as if they are playing in the snow with snowballs.
Encourage older preschool children to move and glide their bodies in different ways with this winter movement activity.
- Music CD player
- Any type of Waltzing music
- Two pieces of wax paper per child (pieces must be big enough so that the child can stand on the wax paper)
- Lots of room for skating
Transform your room into an imaginary frozen pond or skating rink. Give the children two pieces of wax paper that they are to stand on. (Have the wax paper pre-cut ahead of time.) Remind the children that the paper is slippery and the magical skates will work better if they glide, keeping their feet firmly planted on the wax paper. Play some waltzing music and have the children 'feel' the music and skate around.
The wax paper works well on carpet and tile flooring. Remind the children to skate slowly.
Winter Time Poem
by Mary Ryer
Icy fingers, icy toes,
Bright red cheeks and bright red nose.
Watch the snowflakes as they fall,
Try so hard to count them all.
Build a snowman way up high,
See if he can touch the sky.
Snow forts, snowballs, angels, too,
In the snow, so white and new.
Slip and slide and skate so fast.
Wintertime is here at last.
Older preschool and kindergarten children learn about estimation and have fun making a snowman that they can take home during this winter activity.
- 8oz cups
- Measuring cup
- White adult socks
- Colored children's socks
- Hot glue gun (The hot glue gun is for adult use only!)
- Hot glue sticks
- Rubber bands
- Jingle bells (optional)
- Black and orange paint
- Various fabric pieces
- Various colored buttons
Place a white sock in an 8 oz. drinking cup, opening the top of the sock and folding it over the rim of the cup. With a 1-cup measuring cup have the children estimate how many cups of rice it will take to fill the sock in order to make a snowman body. Have each child fill their sock about ¼ of the way and put a rubber band around it. Repeat this process two more times to create the snowman body.
Have each child count how many cups of rice it took to make their snowman. After making each part of the body with the rubber bands, hot glue around the rubber band and squish it down. Fold the remainder of the white sock down to create the rim of the hat. Take a children's colored sock, cutting the toe out and cut strips up to where the cuff of the sock begins. Place over the top of the white sock to make a colored hat. Rubber band the colored hat where the strips end and the cuff of the sock begins to create fringe like strips hanging off of the hat.
Glue under the colored hat to attach it to the white rim part of the hat, leaving some white showing. Have the children paint a face on the front of the snowman, and cut strips of fabric. Tie the strips around the neck to create a scarf. Then
cut strips at the end of the fabric to create fringe on the scarf.
Have the children color the pointy part of a toothpick orange with an orange marker, and glue on as the nose. Place 3 buttons down the front of the snowman and add bells if desired.
Seasonal Attendance Chart
Encourage preschool and kindergarten children to participate in this early childhood name recognition activity by letting each other know who is at circle time.
- A bare winter tree (The size of the tree depends upon how much room you have or how much room you want to use.)
- Seasonal cutouts corresponding in size to your tree (Those cutouts would include apples, leaves, turkeys, snowflakes, hearts, shamrocks, whatever you want to use to write the children's name on.)
Everyday, at the beginning of circle time, each child takes a turn at finding his or her name and putting it on the tree. The teacher needs to put the names off to the side before the children begin each morning.
This leads into a discussion of the different seasons and holidays.
Preschool children learn body parts, use descriptive terms and memory skills during this winter activity.
- Different style or color of winter clothes (several hats, mittens, scarves, etc.)
One student will be chosen to be the "snowman" that you have to dress. Put scarf, mittens, etc. on the snowman and have the other students close their eyes. Change one clothing item (e.g.. put a different hat on) or take a clothing item away. Ask the children to uncover their eyes and guess what is different about the snowman. Make sure they are descriptive and don't just label.
Winter Clothes Mobile
During this early childhood education activity youngsters use fine motor skills, hand eye coordination and cutting skills.
- Coats and boots tracers
- Yarn and various collage materials
This is a weeklong project. We start on Monday with the hat. The children choose which hat they want to trace, then trace it, cut it out and decorate it. On Tuesday, we work on the coats, Wednesday the mittens and Thursday, the boots. The children trace all of these and cut out all items and decorate them. Friday is spent finishing up. As the week goes along the teachers punch holes and connect the pieces together.
Winter Snow Recipe
Here is a classic recipe for winter painting.
- Soap flakes
- Liquid starch
- White powdered tempra
Mix soap flakes with water into a thick paste. You may let children mix with a hand beater if you have one. Add a small amount of liquid starch and tempra. Let children create designs by painting with this mixture.
- 1 large box
- White paper
This is a messy but fun project. Starting a few days ahead, teachers paint the box white, cut a U shape on one side of box then, bring box into class. Ask the kids (2 at a time) to sit inside the box and cut or shred paper. Save the paper at the end of the day in a bag. Keep putting the larger pieces of paper back into the box to be cut into smaller pieces. When you have collected enough paper you announce to the class, "Tomorrow it's going to snow in our classroom."
The next day, teachers turn the air conditioner on to make it chilly and you can add ice to the sand/water center. Bring in the bag of collected paper and start throwing the shredded paper in the air to make a snowstorm. You can also wad up paper to make snowballs for throwing.
To clean up this mess, you can glue the paper that was on the floor onto the white box and create an igloo. You can also cut large paper circles out of butcher's block paper and glue on snow (paper) to create snowmen. At the end of your Snow Day, if there is still paper around, you can put a trash can in the room and say, "First to finish picking up paper will receive a treat!" I give candy Smarties.
Hope you have as much fun as we do!
You may wish to decorate your classroom with snowflakes that you can hang from the ceiling. To the home center, add mittens, gloves, hats, scarves, even an over sized coat.
Five Little Snowmen
We suggest several activities and include ideas for both hearing and visually impaired preschool children saying, "The students will participate in singing and dramatizing the song "The Five Little Snowmen".
- Chart with words of the song
- Real hats for dramatics
- Puppets, models or cut outs to illustrate the song
Children will be seated in circle time. Sing the song facing the children. Repeat, moving hand across the words on the chart. Or, by eliminating puppets or props one by one and allowing participation if any children wish. Children sing while five children at a time wear hats of their choice and act out the melting at end.
Improvise your tune:
Five Little Snowmen fat,
Each with a funny hat (point to head)
Out came the sun and melted one.
What a sad thing was that!
DOWN, DOWN, DOWN! (exaggeratedly slow, while melting to the floor)
Hearing Impaired: Hold up picture cards, or use stick or bag puppets eliminating one each verse. Use manual signs; make sure you are facing the child.
Visually Impaired: Make the song into a fingerplay, letting children count down on fingers as they sing. Let the child feel the hats, choose a hat, participate in the dramatization. Provide tactile experiences.
Art: Provide materials for creating snowmen on dark paper. White & light colored chalk, whipped soap, cotton, oatmeal, rice and paint. Add paper & fabric scraps, raisins, buttons, beans etc. for the snowman's features.
Food: Create "Rice Cake Snowmen" with cream cheese, raisins, baby carrots, etc.
Snow Ice Cream
- 2 ½ cups Milk
- 2 beaten eggs
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
This forms a custard that should be cooked before adding the snow. In fact, it should be cooked the night before using with snow. Pour the custard over one gallon of fresh clean snow and stir until thick.
Snowflakes and Cupcakes
(Tune: Raindrops and Lemon Drops)
If all the snowflakes were chocolate covered cupcakes
Oh, what a snow it would be!
I'd go outside with my mouth open wide (open mouth and stick out tongue)
Ah ah ah ah ah ah ah
If all of the snowflakes were chocolate covered cupcakes
Oh, what a snow it would be!
A fun follow up would be to make and bake chocolate cupcakes. Kids love to be told that they can stick out their tongues and think it's funny when the teacher does, too!
Snowman Matching Game
This file folder matching game focuses on color recognition.
- File folder
- Cut outs of twenty snowmen
- Cut outs of twenty colored scarves for the snowmen
- Laminator or clear contact paper
Teachers cut out the snowmen and scarves then place a different colored scarf on each snowman and place ten of them on the file folder. I use the colors: red, orange, green, yellow, blue, violet, pink, brown, black, and white. Now, laminate the file folder. Next, take the other snowmen and scarves and laminate them separately. Cut them out and place them in an envelope on the back of the file folder for a matching game.
I have done this with fire trucks, turkeys, bears, letters, and different size pumpkins.
Parent Involvement: "Winterfest"
This is how some teachers bring families and people important to the children into the school to see what they've created and have fun!
- Tissue Paper
- Helium tank
- Construction paper
- Hot cocoa
- Cookies and treats
- Special friends and family
When we returned to school after the Holiday break, we began preparing for Winterfest in early February. We made invitations for our families and VIP's from construction paper, inviting them to join us for an evening of fun, music and treats to eat.
Each class chose what they wanted to do in their room. The kindergartners invented winter themed carnival games for our guests to enjoy. The Pre-K class decided on a craft project and had everything prepared for their guests to create the project with them. And, two younger groups enjoyed stories and finger plays with their special guests.
After an hour of enjoying individual activities in the classrooms, we gathered in the "Great Room" for a sing along led by the children. We served hot cocoa and yummy treats which were prepared by classroom mothers and fathers.
Each room made their own decorations, but to decorate the "Great Room" the children made snowflakes from tissue paper and we wrote their guests names on them in glitter. The afternoon of the event, we filled balloons with helium and attached the snowflakes to them with different lengths of ribbon. We let these
go in the room and they floated to the ceiling. We held our sing along under "falling snowflakes" and each guest took home a souvenir with their name on it!
Several parents remarked how nice it was to have something fun to do at a time of the year when not much is going on.
Snack: Winter Snowman
Youngsters use fine motor skills as they create their own winter snack.
- Large marshmallows
- Pretzel sticks
Give each child 2 marshmallows, 3 pretzel sticks and a few raisins. Have them take a pretzel stick and put it into the middle of one of the marshmallows, then place the other marshmallow on top. Now, take the other two pretzels and use them for the arms. Use the raisins for eyes, nose, and mouth.
Science: "Ice Block Designs"
Children observe how salt melts ice and create colorful designs in large blocks of ice during this early childhood education activity.
- Large ice blocks (We made them by freezing water in empty one gallon milk containers. When water is completely frozen, cut away container.)
- Coarse salt
- Food coloring
Place ice blocks on trays covered with several layers of newspaper. Have children sprinkle coarse salt on top of the ice blocks. Have children drip various colors of food coloring on top of the ice block. Tunnels of color are created as the salt melts through the ice block. Put the colorful ice blocks outside. If it's cold enough, they should stay frozen for several days. Children can continue to examine the melting process during outdoor play.
If possible, give each child his or her own block of ice. They love watching the changes that occur as the blocks melt away!
Language: Sticker Matching Lotto Games
During these teacher made games, preschool and kindergarten children match pictures while developing verbal expression and language skills.
- Packages of winter stickers that contain enough stickers to make one set of "calling cards" and several individual game boards
- Card stock paper
- Buttons or circle tokens
Choose winter stickers that will be appealing to children in a specific age group. Make one set of "calling cards" approximately 2" x 3" in size. Cut out several individual game boards, I usually make at least 4. Mark off each board into 6 or more sections that are large enough to place a sticker in. Vary the stickers so that no 2 game cards are the same. Also, have handy buttons, circle tokens, etc. to use to cover the stickers on the game boards as the "calling cards" are shown as when playing BINGO.
Place the "calling cards" in a bag, box, basket, or face down on the table. Each child will take a turn to pick a "calling card" and show it to the others in the group. I use this activity to develop language skills. I ask the children to describe the pictures by stating a few attributes about the sticker picture or to describe the actions of the sticker characters. I encourage full sentences that are grammatically correct.
Teachers can choose theme based or holiday related stickers. I have several lotto sets made with Halloween stickers, Christmas stickers, Easter stickers, winter related stickers, and some that depict characters performing various actions, Mickey and Minnie Mouse and Disney friends, etc. The children love this activity and never tire of playing lotto games.
Language: Snowy Day Activity and Song
Encourage youngsters to talk about different types of weather as they participate in this art activity and song.
- Construction paper
- Glue or glue sticks
- Paper circles from using a hole punch
Have children draw a winter scene onto construction paper using markers and crayons. Coat paper with glue (glue sticks work best), and then sprinkle paper circles onto paper. The color of the circles doesn't matter. Press circles down to be sure they're stuck.
Teach children this song:
Oh, What A Rain!
If all of the raindrops were lemon drops and gumdrops,
Oh, what a rain that would be.
Standing outside with my mouth open wide,
AHHH, AHHH, AHH, AHH, AHH, AHH, AHHH, AHHH, AH,
If all of the raindrops were lemon drops and gum drops,
Oh, what a rain that would be.
If all of the snowflakes were candy bars and milk shakes,
(Continue as with 1st. verse.)
Using this song, the color of the circles doesn't matter. The children enjoy imagining that the circles are different candies after hearing the song and will have an amazing time telling you about their artwork.
Language: What Should I Wear?
Children use weather and clothing vocabulary as they relate clothing choices to weather during this early childhood activity.
- Dress-up clothes for various weather conditions: mittens, winter hats, sunglasses, rain boots, snow boots, sandals, sweater, sun hat, raincoat, winter coat, scarf, bathing suit, etc.
Choose children in turn to be 'dressed up' or dress teacher or a life sized doll. Teacher describes the weather conditions by saying, "Ooh, I woke up this morning and I looked out the window and it was COLD and SNOWY. What should (child's name) wear?"
Children can call out suggestions and help dress the chosen child in the appropriate outfit. Children get quite pleased and giggly if they're allowed to 'correct' the teacher's incorrect suggestions, too.
Winter Scenes in Southern Climates
This craft activity provides students an opportunity to create a winter scene that will illustrate a snowy day.
- Old Christmas cards with outdoor scenes
- White glue
- Iridescent white glitter
This is especially helpful for students who are not able to experience snow because their part of the county is too warm for snow. I have the students select, from old Christmas cards, an outdoor scene. They brush on a water and glue mixture over the whole picture. We then sprinkle the card with the iridescent white glitter. They are amazed at the results. I often hear "Mr. Tym, it's like magic rain."
Of course, we have already discussed the change in the season, experienced snow through many books, and spent some time in the walk-in cooler to have an up close and personal experience. But the true magic of snow is so elusive; this craft helps capture that magic.
Songs for Winter
Here are some songs for chilly winter days. Just add your own tunes.
5 Little Snowmen
There were five little snowmen,
Each with scarf and woolly hat,
Out came the sun and melted one;
It's sad- But that was that!
There were four little snowmen...etc.
There are no little snowmen,
Just scarves and woolly hats,
Sitting in a puddle
In a very wet muddle;
It's sad -But that is that!
Chubby Little Snowman
A chubby little snowman
Had a carrot nose;
Along came a rabbit
And what do you suppose?
That hungry little bunny,
Looking for his lunch,
Ate the snowman's carrot nose...
Nibble, Nibble, Crunch!
The snowflakes are falling, so softly, so gently,
They fall on the treetops, the grass and on me.
I build a big snowman, outside in my garden,
I look through my window and what do I see?
My snowman is smiling, he's jumping and waving,
He picks up a snowball and throws it at me.
He looks very funny, but only I see him.
He's my special snowman and always will be.
Ten happy snowmen dancing all around.
Dancing all around (spin in place).
Ten happy snowmen dancing all around,
The sun came out and one melted to the ground (make sun with arms,
one slides to the ground).
Nine.... Eight.... Seven.... and so on.
No little snowmen dancing in the sun.
First there were ten and now there are none!
Art Activity: Puff Paint Snow
Children from pre-k through second grade can enjoy this creative activity. Just remember to keep the shaving cream out of little eyes, it stings.
- Turquoise blue construction paper
- Snowman shape
- Collage materials
- Shaving cream
Have children decorate a snowman with the collage materials; wiggly eyes, buttons, foam shapes, ribbon, etc. Glue to blue paper. Mix equal parts of shaving cream and Elmer's glue. Have the children use Popsicle sticks, q-tips, plastic spoons, etc. to add the mixture around their snowman and make hills of snow and snow falling from the sky. When the mixture is dry, it makes beautiful puffy snow.
Teachers, get some ivory soap and soak it in water over night, then break it into halves. Give it to the children to mold like play dough into a snowball. When it dries, it flakes up like a real snowball. You can put it into a sandwich bag to send home with a poem that reads:
My snowball soap,
I made it just for you.
To help me learn about Winter,
And keep my hands clean too!
Cooking: Popcorn Snowmen
This activity involves motor skills and the concept of larger and smaller while also helping to distinguish body parts.
- Raisins (for the eyes and buttons)
- Gumdrops (for the hat)
Pop the popcorn and melt the butter and marshmallows (just as you would for making rice krispie treats). Once the butter and marshmallows are melted, pour the mixture over the popcorn and mix well.
After the mixture has cooled, have the children take two handfuls of the mixture, one smaller than the other, then shape them into circles and place the smaller circle on top of the larger one, then they can decorate their snowmen with the raisins and gumdrops. Use wax paper to put the snowmen on. The children will love the sticky texture and the smell.
Science Activity: A Melting Snowman
- 3 large balloons
- 1 large bowl
- 1 medium bowl
- 1 small bowl
- Water table or large plastic container
- Accessories for snowman (hat, scarf)
- Felt cut into shapes for eyes, nose, mouth and buttons
Fill the balloons with water so each one will fit into the bowls. Freeze until solid. (Takes 12-24 hours.) Remove the balloon pieces and take the solid ice balls and place them one on top of the other by placing the largest one inside the water table and the other two balls on top. Use salt on the bottom of the table and in between the ice balls to help them fuse together. Now add the felt pieces (they stick right on the ice) as well as the other accessories. This makes an adorable little snowman that the children can watch melt.
Literacy and Art: Snowy Day Picture
Read "A Snowy Day" by Ezra Jack Keats, and then create a SNOWY DAY PICTURE.
- Light blue construction paper
- Glue stick
- Black crayon
- A mixture of Epsom salts and water (approx. 1 teaspoon to 1/3 cup water per child)
- Pre-made red "Peter" shapes cut out (very simple outline, check out the book cover)
Provide light blue paper for the children. Show them how to draw a wavy line with a black crayon across the paper for the snow, and then glue the Peter shape on. Have the children embellish the picture with something they remember from the book: Peter hitting a tree with a stick, dragging a stick in the snow, throwing a snowball, etc. When their picture is completed, have them brush a mixture of Epsom salts and water across their picture. When it dries, it will glisten lightly, as if in a snowy haze.
Science: Melting Experiment #1
Preschool children will use the scientific skills of observation, prediction and evaluation for this melting experiment.
- Paper cups and plates
- Plastic containers
- Aluminum foil
- Plastic wrap
- Cloth scraps
- Ice cubes
With a small group of pre-k children ask, "What do you think happens when you put ice in a glass of water or juice?" "What happens when you leave crayons out in the sun or when you bring a snowball inside?" Talks about the children's responses then ask, "What do you think makes ice melt?" "What makes crayons melt?" Then suggest, "Let's try some experiments to learn more about melting."
Next, show preschool children a tray of ice and ask them to think of different ways to melt each cube. Make a list of the methods they suggest and ask youngsters to predict which method will make the ice cube melt the fastest and/or slowest. If needed give these examples, place an ice cube in a container filled with cold water; one with hot water; another in sand, snow (if available).
Preschool children may enjoy wrapping the ice cubes in different materials and predicting which cubes will melt the fastest. You can use aluminum foil, plastic wrap and cloth. Remember to write the youngsters predictions down, do the experiment, and then refer back to what children had thought would happen. Talk about which cubes melted the fastest and record the results under the predictions.
Science: Melting Experiment #2
Pre-K children will continue to use the scientific skills of observation, prediction and evaluation during this second melting experiment.
- Paper cups and plates
- Plastic containers
- Aluminum foil
- Plastic wrap
- Cloth scraps
- Ice cubes
Help young children experiment with ice cubes by placing the cubes (or snowballs if available) in various places around the classroom. Ask children to predict which ice cube will melt the fastest, considering where it is placed. Cubes can be placed in sunny windows, a dark closet, out side of a window, near a heater, etc. Permit youngsters to offer their suggestions.
Make a list or chart of the predictions then test your theories by encouraging preschoolers to check on the various areas every few minutes. When the results are in record the findings on the list or chart. Encourage children to express opinions about why a particular cube melted the fastest and why another melted the slowest.