I realize it’s still November, but based on our search statistics, many of you are already looking for books, lesson plans, and resources for teaching about winter celebrations like Christmas and Las Posadas. I’m impressed! You all are far more organized than I was when I was in the classroom. You’ll definitely want to check out this week’s giveaway of Merry Navidad! In previous posts we’ve discussed our philosophy for how to approach teaching about cultural celebrations and traditions in a way that’s authentic and meaningful. Many of those same ideas are relevant here as well.
First, I thought I’d share some of the ideas I’ve written about in past posts on teaching about winter celebrations. This time of year was always one of my favorites times to be in the classroom because the possibilities for engaging and interesting lessons were endless. When I taught third grade, at the beginning of each December I began a unit on three winter celebrations: Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Las Posadas. As a child, I remember talking about Hanukkah in school, but the extent of what we learned seemed to be limited to eating latkes and learning a song and game about dreidels. I wanted to go beyond that. I wanted my students to have a deeper understanding of cultural traditions that may be different from the ones they or their families personally observe.
I checked out children’s fiction and non-fiction literature on each celebration. From these books and other resources we learned the history of each celebration: when, where and why it began; the traditional language of that celebration; and the traditions that continued to be celebrated each year. This unit became a gold-mine for addressing multiple standards. I was able to meet a number of social studies, geography, literacy and cultural competency standards in just a few weeks. A timeline and world map were major components of the unit.
I never had any issues or complaints during this unit because I think it was clear we were approaching this as a means to gain cultural knowledge and become culturally competent learners. While these celebrations are much more than cultural knowledge to those who observe them, my purpose was to share some of the diversity of the world with my students, so that they would be able to acknowledge and respect difference when they experienced it in the world outside our classroom.
With all that in mind, today’s post is about how to use Pat Mora and Magaly Morales’ A Piñata in a Pine Tree: A Latino Twelve Days of Christmas in the classroom. I love this book. More importantly, I have it on good authority from one of my favorite four year-olds that this is “one of the best books ever.” In this festive new version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” a secret amiga delivers presents to a little girl, “filling the pages with brightly colored piñatas, burritos bailando, lunitas cantando, and more.” Neoshia, one of our previous bloggers, wrote the following about the book, and I couldn’t agree more with her:
“Why should we look at a book like this for our classrooms? Well, it is an easy read for young kids. Also, it demonstrates that while many people celebrate the same holiday, people celebrate it differently. It is a simple lesson in multiculturalism. This book allows us to have a discussion at a younger age about cultural differences (but really similarities), while giving us a fun read for the holiday.”
Like some of the other books I’ve highlighted this month, this one is also written with young children in mind. There are things to find and count on each page. It’s great for both English and Spanish speakers. Spanish speakers will see and hear familiar words and phrases, while English speakers are given lots of context clues and pronunciation help on each page to help them decipher the Spanish words. A glossary at the end is also useful. It can even be used with older students as the basis of a fun writing activity.
For many students, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is a familiar carol, but even for those who don’t know it, the easy repetition in Mora’s prose makes it a great book to encourage choral reading and oral language practice. With lots of cultural references, it’s perfect for either introducing students to Mexican Christmas traditions or providing literary representations of holiday celebrations that our students observe in their own homes. It’s also great for encouraging students to be aware of the things we associate with this winter holiday season.
There are lots of ways to integrate this book into a class writing activity. Probably the most obvious is to have students write their own Twelve Days of Winter poem or carol. This could be done with any winter celebration that a student observes, or just be written about winter in general. If you’re looking for a whole group activity, the class could brainstorm and write a whole class poem. You can use the cultural traditions, vocabulary, and languages of the students so that the poem is representative of the diversity of the class. In terms of actually writing the poem, once students have brainstormed their twelve objects, they’d only write the last complete stanza of the poem where they list all twelve of the objects.
If time allows, you can also combine an art activity with the writing. If students have written individual poems, let them illustrate it through their own drawings, pictures from magazines, or cards. Morales’ beautiful illustrations provide great examples to activate students’ creativity. You could also create a whole class ‘life size’ illustration that each student contributes to. There are different ways you could do this. First create a large base for the illustration, something like a pine tree or a winter scene (maybe something with slopes of snow. . .). This could be used as a door covering or just a large wall decoration. Then, ask each student to make one of the objects from a line in his or her poem. For example, in Mora and Morales’ book one of the lines is ocho pajaritos serenando (eight serenading birds). If this were the line I wanted to illustrate, I would create a representation of a serenading bird (or eight if space and time allowed) to include on the class display. Once completed, you have a life size display of your class’ winter traditions.
A fun, low stress, and relatively simple activity, this could be great for that last week before break when students might have a little more trouble focusing with the excitement of the upcoming extended break.
I hope you all have a wonderful week filled with great food, family, and friends!