Why Choosing Substance is Always Better When Celebrating Holidays
It’s easy to choose cute over substance when celebrating school holidays. But our students deserve more. Here are three reasons why choosing substance over fluff is always better when celebrating holidays in the upper elementary classroom. Plus help finding teaching resources to bring both meaning and fun when planning holiday activities throughout the year.
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Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Earth Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Five school holidays often celebrated in elementary classrooms across the country. And for each one, teachers everywhere must choose how to “celebrate” it, how much time to devote to it, and where to find teaching resources.
A typical planning process goes something like this:
Go to Pinterest
Search for “holiday activities”
Scroll through thousands of images
Find a craft that is super cute
Use it the next day in the classroom
But, what do our students really gain from these types of holiday activities?
What do we really gain from them?
A cute project to hang on the wall for a few days and then send home?
Shouldn’t it be something more?
My two cents would be yes, it should.
three reasons why choosing substance is always better when celebrating holidays in the upper elementary classroom
1. Substance provides a foundation of knowledge
Resources of substance provide students with an understanding of the history, culture, geography, and people behind the holiday. Students come away understanding why a day is devoted to celebrating a man known as St. Patrick, why chocolate came to be a prized gift given on special occasions such as Valentine’s Day, and how two unlikely groups of people came together to share a friendly meal of gratitude. Substance provides a view into the lives of those living half a world away, an appreciation of the difficult work behind the candy students eat, and a perspective of gift giving different from their own.
2. Substance provides opportunities for skill practice
When planning for a holiday, oftentimes schedules are scoured for what can be cut from the usual routine to make time for that super cute Pinterest craft. So not only is precious time spent on a “filler” that provides little to no instructional value, but also routine learning is sacrificed in its place.
Rather than replacing content, why not integrate holiday themes into what’s already on the instructional plan?
Besides building a framework of knowledge, thematic holiday teaching resources provide an excellent opportunity for skill practice and review of essential reading skills.
3. Substance encourages critical thinking.
Holiday resources of substance lend themselves to further exploration of a topic. They encourage students to ask, “I wonder why…” and open doors to follow-up Genius Hour studies, project-based learning, and meaningful discussions with peers.
Three types of resources that provide both substance and "fun" in the upper elementary language arts classroom:
1. Non-fiction mini-units.
Holiday non-fiction units are wonderful sources of thematic passages and aligned skill-based practices. Oftentimes units include options for differentiation, such as a variety of leveled texts, making your job even easier. Simple resources can include guided practices that walk students through the process of close reading, written reflective responses to text, the collection and learning of important vocabulary words, and more. Complex resources offer ways for students to expand on what they’ve learned and/or apply it to their own experiences.
2. Writing Activity Units
For those who typically follow the cute Pinterest craft route during holidays, the switch to "meatier" resources can be difficult at first. Holiday writing activities can often be a way to combine both substance and fun. Creative writing resources ask students to imagine themselves in new places or on exciting adventures. Students forget they are practicing essential narrative writing skills and simply enjoy the creative process.
3. Children’s Literature
Books. They can make anything better, can’t they? Holiday books are one of the best ways to incorporate both fiction and non-fiction into holiday lessons. Here are a few of my favorite books for celebrating holidays in the classroom. (Click on an image to learn more.)
Valentine's Day Books:
1. Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch
2. Those Shoes
3. The Hundred Dresses
St. Patrick's Day Books:
1. S is for Shamrock
2. Patrick' Patron Saint of Ireland
3. This is Ireland
Earth Day Books:
1. This Book Stinks
2. The Magic School Bus and The Climate Change
3. The Human Footprint
1. The Thanksgiving Door
2. How Many Days to America? A Thanksgiving Story
3. Balloons Over Broadway
1. Tree of Cranes
2. The Little Drummer Boy
3. The Nutcracker in Harlem
For even more books, see my “Book Lists” Pinterest board containing lists on all sorts of topics: