Holidays can be tricky for teachers to navigate, especially in the elementary grades where many classroom activities revolve around the latest opportunity for celebration.
So how can educators and administrators best integrate holidays into school curriculum? While individual schools and districts will ultimately have to decide what approach works best for them, don’t forget about the power of books to educate students about the wide variety of holidays celebrated by different religions and cultures around the world.
Teach a Holiday Lesson through Holiday-Themed Texts
Today’s students live in an increasingly global society. While a holiday like Christmas or Passover or Ramadan may be a big deal in one student’s family, he or she should recognize that other students—around the world and in their own classrooms—may celebrate entirely different days for entirely different reasons.
In Edutopia article The December Dilemma: Acknowledging Religious Holidays in the Classroom, author Ann O’Brien writes:
“While celebrating should be left to families and faith communities, there is a lot of room for schools to accomplish their main purpose in any endeavor: Educating.”
From picture books to informational texts, there are many holiday-themed books that can be integrated into skills- and standards-aligned lessons during any season of year. Use them to support a social studies or geography unit. Analyze the similarities and differences between two companion texts on the same holiday. Take a virtual field trip to explore a book’s setting with Google Earth! The possibilities are endless.
The following collections have been carefully curated to help teachers incorporate different holiday lessons into their classrooms, while also exploring topics like diversity, multiculturalism and respect.
1. Holiday Stories Preschool Collection
The 10 fictional stories in this preschool collection for Pre-K and early childhood readers explore religious and cultural holidays and celebrations like the Day of the Dead, Earth Day, Ramadan, Chinese New Year, Hannukah and more.
Classroom Idea: These stories all appeal to young readers, and they provide an excellent opportunity for teachers to introduce comprehension strategies. Read closely to determine what a text says explicitly about a given holiday, and then invite students to make inferences about how people might celebrate that holiday.
2. Holiday Informational Text Preschool Collection
Classroom Idea: Pair these nonfiction books with a fictional story on the same holiday and ask students to analyze the similarities and differences between the two. Do they learn the same information? How is it presented differently in an informational text versus a story? Which do they like better?
3. Holidays Around the World Grades K-2 Collections
For younger students in grades K-2, this collection features six fiction and two nonfiction holiday titles for early elementary classrooms.
The Kwanzaa Surprise, which depicts the story of a father teaching his son how to set a table for Kwanzaa.
Mooncakes, a story narrated by a little girl who can’t wait to celebrate the Chinese Moon Festival with her family. This is a nice book for encouraging readers to consider what makes someone unique.
Calavera Abecedario: A Day of the Dead Alphabet, a fun nonfiction read that can be used to cover a variety of concepts and topics. From letters to alphabetical order to Mexican traditions to how to use a glossary (to decipher those unfamiliar Spanish words), this informational text can be integrated into your curriculum in many different ways.
4. Holidays Around the World Grades 3-6 Collection
There are six nonfiction and two fiction books in this holiday collection geared toward students in upper elementary grades.
All Different Now tells the story of Juneteenth, also known as African American Emancipation Day. Use the nonfiction title to explore themes like slavery, freedom and Civil Rights, or ask students to infer from the text why people do or do not celebrate this date anymore.
Holidays Around the World: Celebrate Easter. This National Geographic title explores the celebration of Easter from a global perspective, and has been designed by National Geographic to align with and support ELA Common Core Standards.
Moon Watchers: Shirin’s Ramadan Miracle is the fictional story of one young girl’s desire to join other Muslims in fasting for Ramadan. The picture book can serve as a window text for students not familiar with Muslim customs and a mirror text for students who are.
5. U.S. Holidays and Celebrations Collection
Classroom Idea: From Independence Day to The Pilgrims’ First Thanksgiving to Celebrating Patriotic Holidays: Honoring America, the featured books all provide teachers with an opportunity to discuss the many different ways Americans celebrate their national pride. They also reinforce the idea that—though we may celebrate some holidays differently—as Americans, we all have much in common too.