Each year at this time, families around the world gather and take part in a number of winter traditions and rituals. Some families might make special foods to ring in this special season, or they might read their favorite books together as they stay warm by the fireplace. These special celebrations and rituals strengthen connections and memories that last for years to come.
At the Rise School, we aim to incorporate celebrations, rituals, and traditions into our School Family throughout the entire school year. Giving children the opportunities to participate in each other's traditions allows them to relate to one another, as well as discover many ways we are different. Celebrating our diversity is an important factor in strengthening our school family unit.
When the holiday season approaches, the classrooms discuss the many ways people celebrate special events or holidays with a specific focus on the celebrations that important to the members of their classroom family.
We asked our classroom Lead Teachers to share some of their favorite moments from this time of year. Keep reading to hear some of their fun classroom traditions!
What do winter celebrations ‘look like’ in your classroom?
Ms. Jennifer-Waddler Classroom (ages 14 months to 2 years): The Waddler classroom is all about using our senses to explore our environment, so what better way to celebrate the holiday season! The first week we’ll be focusing on the sights and sounds of the holidays, with jingle bells and mystery gifts wrapped up in boxes for the kiddos to explore. The next week we’ll investigate the smells and tastes of the holidays with a cookie-decorating party with our families!
Ms. Luvy- Preschool 1 (ages 3-4): Last year all of my students celebrated Christmas so were really able to focus on Christmas through our five senses (Christmas sights, scents, sounds..) I also had families come in and share traditions with the class. This year, we are focusing on traditions and celebrations in general and not just focusing on Christmas. We also post pictures throughout our dramatic play center of our families celebrating their preferred holiday. In the Library center I try and have a variety of books about different types of celebrations such as how we celebrate the Christmas season in Mexico, Eid Al, Hanukkah, etc so children are exposed to these even if we aren’t focusing on them during instruction.
Ms. Melissa- Preschool 2 (ages 3-4) :First, I always ask the parents what holiday(s) they celebrate in December so we can make sure to respectfully teach based on everyone’s beliefs. I also ask parents to share some of their favorite family traditions with photos so we can learn about what holiday each child celebrates and how they celebrate it. This year, I am inviting the parents to lead a lesson about their families’ favorite tradition. If the family is unable to come in, the teachers/child will lead the lesson. If I have a student who doesn’t celebrate Christmas, I try not to make that the primary focus of our instruction. Rather, I create weekly themes that don’t necessarily apply to the holidays (i.e. bells) or that are applicable across a variety of holidays (i.e. baking, gifts, family feast).
Ms. Angela- Pre-K 1 (ages 4+) With this being our whole team's first year at Rise, we had a fantastic time brainstorming and creating our approach in teaching the holiday season! I began by asking all the families how/what they celebrate during the holidays. Since every family in our class does celebrate Christmas, we kept that as our main theme/focus. But we did want to ensure that the children are exposed to and have the opportunity to learn about other holidays by adding books, objects, activities, visuals and music about Kwanza, Hannuka, etc. throughout the room. We also invited the parents and teachers to come teach the class about a tradition/celebration in their family.
Ms. Kristen- Pre-K 2 (ages 4+) We invite each family to come into our classroom to share a celebration, tradition or holiday that is special to their family! I take this time of year to teach children cultural awareness and acceptance as we introduce and learn about a variety of holidays- Hanukkah, Christmas, Diwali, Kwanza, etc! We do this through fiction and non-fiction books, activities that celebrate each holiday and food tasting! This time of year is so much fun for the teachers and kids! It’s one of my favorite units!
What is your favorite winter classroom tradition?
Waddler: It’s always fun for the kiddos to make a special gift to share with their family! Each year the gift is a little bit different depending on my kiddos and their preference, but they always love “keeping the secret” and making something unique for their loved ones. It’s a great way to teach them about love, sharing and caring for others.
Preschool 1: I don’t have one specific favorite but our students LOVE cooking and eating so we’ve loved making “warm chocolate" (hot chocolate) pies, desserts, pretend cookies etc. I also love having children make presents using bows, ribbons, crayons, holiday stickers, and exchanging them with peers (children pull out a picture out of a stocking and make and give a hand-made present to the peer).
Preschool 2: Hmm this is a tough one. I don’t think I have one! I’ve varied my instruction every single year.
PreK 1: I LOVE making as many holiday crafts with the children as possible!!
PreK 2: Inviting the parents in to join us for lunch before we leave for winter break! It’s a special time where we can come together as a school family and spend time with each other!
What is your favorite song to sing with your students during this time of year?
Waddler: “Jingles Bells” all the way! Our kiddos are already singing along!
Preschool 1: For the last two years “Jingle Bells” was the class favorite probably due to the passion one student in particular had for this song. He definitely spread the holiday spirit in our class with his love for this song.
Preschool 2: Again, I don’t really have one because my themes have varied year to year. Christmas themed ones I’ve used included “Way Up High in the Christmas Tree” (great for practicing counting skills) and “S-A-N-T-A” (great for practicing letter ID and joining along with a repetitive song).
Pre-K 1: Ooooh, this is a tough one, there are so many! I really enjoy singing "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer", "Jingle Bells" and "Frosty The Snowman."
Pre-K 2: Jingle Bells is always a class favorite!
What is your favorite holiday children’s book to share with your students?
How do you incorporate a sensory experience when teaching your students about the holidays?
Waddler: That’s our main focus! In addition to the activities I already mentioned, we’ll decorate the classroom with a tree, lights and tinsel! Our centers will be a sensory explosion for the kiddos with activities like: gingerbread scented playdough, a class-made “Holiday 5 Senses Book” filled with real items that they can see, touch, smell and hear, sensory bottles filled with pine needles and jingle bells, gift-wrapped blocks, stick-and-peel gift bows and ornament bowling (just to name a few).
Preschool 1: I try to incorporate different scents throughout the classroom (specifically sensory table/ science center/ and table tops). This year we are having a posada and eating Tamales and exploring piñatas. I also enjoy having children make/decorate/ eat cookies, go on holiday scavenger hunts, having holiday song circles, painting with bells, and going caroling throughout the schools.
Preschool 2: Sensory activities are my favorite! Some ideas include:
Baking sensory table with real ingredients (flour, salt, pie crust, etc…) and real spices
Spice scent bottles
Jingle bell “soup” in the sensory table with bowls, ladles and jingle bells
Jingle bell sensory bottles with magnet wands
Jingle bell drop activities: dropping through paper towel rolls taped to a vertical surface or paper towel rolls standing vertically on top of a baking sheet
Real pine needles to explore by smelling and touching
Peppermint slime with scissors to cut or cookie cutters to create shapes with. You can even hide jingle bells in the slime!
Peppermint scented rice with hidden holiday-themed objects to sift through and find
Textured wrapping paper to practice tearing, cutting, taping
Pre-K 1: For starters, just come take a look at our holiday decorations! ;) There are Christmas lights strung throughout the room, glitter and various eye catching decorations for the children to observe and enjoy. In the sensory table, the children can engage in scooping/dumping fake snow, using tweezers to grasp shiny red/green jewels and sparkly gifts. In the Science Center, the children will be able to participate in smelling various scents found during the Holiday Season, dissolving candy canes and exploring pine cones. The children will also try tamales, candy canes, hot chocolate and other traditional holiday treats! A variety of Holiday music will be played in the room and listening center and exploring music with bells.
PreK 2: I try to incorporate as many authentic objects as I can into the classroom from the decorations to materials we are using at our centers! I add a Christmas tree, lights, ornaments, Menorah, driedels, garland, wrapping paper, bows, etc. for students to explore and manipulate! I also incorporate smells and tastes through taste testing traditional holiday foods- latkes and applesauce, cookies and icing, gingerbread houses, etc!
What is one of your favorite holiday memories from when YOU were a child ?
Waddler: Decorating the Christmas Tree, for sure! My sister, brother and I would rotate turns of picking out the family Christmas tree from a nursery down the street from my house. Then we would bring it home, turn on our favorite Christmas record (Alvin and the Chipmunks), and hang the ornaments. The best part was that after Christmas my dad would plant the trees in our yard, and they’re still growing there today!
Preschool 1: Going to dinner with my extended family and opening presents at my grandmas house.
Preschool 2: My favorite Christmas memory growing up was definitely visiting the Christmas tree farm to cut down a tree with my family. We would ride a wagon through the snow to get to the types of trees we wanted. After cutting down our tree, we’d get hot cocoa, pet the animals in the petting zoo and play in the snow! I always looked forward to going!
Pre-K 1: Making and decorating gingerbread cookies with my parents!
Pre-K 2: My favorite holiday memory is going with my family to cut down our Christmas tree! In Ohio, it was usually cold and snowy and my family would search this HUGE tree farm to find the perfect tree! For trees we’d like, we’d station a person by the tree while the others kept looking! Cutting down a tree is still one of my favorite holiday traditions (even though the experience is a lot warmer here in Texas)
Thank you, Leads, for sharing what the winter season look like in your classrooms! Our students at Rise are lucky to take part in such a magical month with their School Families!
Whatever it is you do with your friends and family during this time of year, the Rise School wishes you a safe, warm, and happy Holiday Season!