From October through the end of the semester, students’ minds are torn between their lessons and a wide range of extracurricular and family activities that take place over Halloween, Thanksgiving and the December holidays. In fact, New Year’s Day and Christmas are the two most celebrated holidays around the world. December also represents a great opportunity to teach students about the many multicultural holiday celebrations among other countries and cultures. How can teachers be proactive in helping to channel this energy in appropriate, educationally focused ways, while still allowing opportunity for holiday fun?
Using Technology to Incorporate Holiday Fun
Students are eager to engage with technology. As children of the digital age, using technology comes naturally to them. Leverage this innate curiosity and willingness to experiment to engage them productively this holiday season. Technology makes the world much smaller and opens up opportunities to let students not only learn about but see how their peers in other countries enjoy the holidays.
Virtual reality allows students to travel without leaving the classroom. This year, plan a virtual field trip to see holiday differences and similarities across the globe. For example, Jen Hauser, a student at Boise State University, created a virtual tour across England, Germany, Greece, Italy, and the United States to compare the history of Christmas traditions. Each country has a different representation of Santa, seasonal foods, and decorations.
This tour is a great example of how to employ virtual field trips, and you can add destinations and holidays to it, depending on your focus. Education World offers a wide range of lesson plans to help educators celebrate the holidays in a global and inclusive way. Here is a list of additional December holiday activities to incorporate into the classroom for teachable moments on multicultural events and religious celebrations.
Another way to try virtual reality in the classroom is through Google’s tour of the White House. Explore the inside of the famous government building decked out for the holidays with this 360-degree video available on YouTube.
In addition to simply seeing new locations, technology now makes it possible to actually connect with students and teachers around the world. Skype in the Classroom provides these connections between thousands of teachers and students from different countries. A Skype-a-Thon will take place Nov. 29-30, providing opportunities to connect with other teachers through the Microsoft Educator Community. The goal is for classes to “travel” 3 million miles over Skype to learn more about holiday traditions in other countries on both sides of the camera.
The holidays also offer a perfect opportunity to gets hands-on. Hold a holiday makerspace this year. Activities could range from simple events, like Make Your Own Holiday Cards sponsored by Hudson County Community College in New Jersey, to more advanced projects such as creating your own holiday app or YouTube video. Students can collaborate on projects by creating Pinterest boards around various themes, from ways to help others over the holiday to creating traditional meals.
Avoiding Holiday Minefields
Separation of church and state isn’t just something students encounter in social studies classes, but a real and present concern for teachers and administrators as the Christmas holiday approaches. Cue the “December Dilemma.” Is it OK to decorate the school and the classroom for Christmas? What kinds of concerts and plays are constitutional in a public school?
Being inclusive is important, and teaching students about the many different types of celebrations that take place over the winter months can be a great learning experience. However, the focus should be on learning, not on celebrating any specific religion. This National Geographic Kids article on winter celebrations, for instance, provides information on Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Day, Three Kings Day or Epiphany, and Chinese New Year. If you are unsure as you begin planning, the First Amendment Center offers some advice for teachers on how to approach holiday discussions and celebration appropriately.
Takeaway: As the restless end-of-semester days of the holiday season get closer, it’s time to start thinking about ways to engage students that not only drive learning, but also that allow for fun and holiday traditions. While teachers must be careful to ensure their activities are educational and not religious in nature, the holidays represent a wide range of ways that students can learn about people and traditions they may not currently be familiar with. Technology and makerspaces can help bring those lessons to life.
1. “10 Most Celebrated Annual Holidays Around the World” Wonderslist. N.d.
2. “December: A Month of Multicultural Holiday Celebrations” Education World. November 22, 2015.
3. “Christmas Around the World” Jen Hauser. 2011.
4. “Christmas Virtual Field Trip” Tramline. 2003.
5. “Take a Virtual Holiday Tour of the White House, Courtesy of Google” Android Central. December 18, 2015.
6. “Skype-a-Thon” Microsoft. 2016.
7. “Makerspace Event: Make Your Own Holiday Cards!” HCCC Library. December 14, 2014.
8. “Christmas Around the World” Pinterest. N.d.
9. “December: A Month of Multicultural Holiday Celebrations” Education World. November 22, 2015.
10. “Christmas Around the World: Lessons and Activities” Education World. 2015.
11. “Top 10 Holiday Learning Activities” Teach Hub. 2011.
12. “This Holiday, Talking About Religion in the Classroom is More Important than Ever” PBS NewsHour. December 9, 2015.
13. “Winter Celebrations” National Geographic Kids. August 26, 2016.
14. “How to Handle Religious Holidays in Public Schools” Teach Hub. 2014.