Sharing the Spirit of the Holidays With Your Students
My recent posts have been very academic. In the spirit of the season, however, this post focuses on a different type of learning. In addition to teaching our students the necessary intellectual skills they will need to be successful in the real world, it is also important to teach them about the significance of helping others. This type of teaching is essential as we strive to prepare our students to become productive, considerate citizens in our society. For some students, the holidays are all about receiving presents, eating good food, and taking part in festive activities that provide fun in their own lives. These students are not always focused on the “giving” aspect of the season that should outweigh the receiving.
READ ON to find out more about the ways students in my classroom and in our school give back to those less fortunate. You will also find ideas for creative gifts students can make for their parents or loved ones.
Holiday Hope Chests
In years past, my students have created holiday hope chests for children who will be spending the holidays in a local children's hospital. It is easy for children to take for granted the gifts that they receive during the holidays, so this project encourages children to embrace the holiday season as one of giving rather than receiving.
I first found out about holiday hope chests on the Kids Care Web site. The chests are simply decorated shoeboxes designed by my students. Each chest (shoebox) is filled with small toys, games, and art supplies chosen especially for a girl or boy of a specific age. My students also make holiday cards to enclose in each chest. The decorative shoebox gives the receiving child a "treasure chest" in which to keep the items together.
Students can print out a variety of great holiday images to decorate their hope chests using Scholastic’s holiday clip art!
We donate our hope chests to a local children's hospital, but the hope chests can also be made for children in homeless shelters, orphanages, foster homes, soup kitchens, domestic violence shelters, low-income pediatric clinics, or low-income day care centers.
To begin the project, I introduce the idea to my students and then send a note home explaining the project to the parents. I ask parents to donate shoeboxes, and each student is asked to bring three to five small (new) toys to put in his or her hope chest. I suggest shopping at local dollar stores and emphasize the fact that the items must be small enough to fit inside a shoebox. I also ask students not to bring candy, toys with many small parts, or toys that promote violence, such as toy guns or action figure with guns or battle gear. Suggested items include crayons, pencils, markers, notebooks, notepads, glue, Play Doh, flash cards, stickers, small toys, small books, magazines, LEGOs, hair bands, card games, small stuffed animals, magnets, etc.
This project has been very successful and rewarding in years past. My students love being able to spread joy to their peers who are less fortunate, and it helps them to embrace the real meaning of the holiday season.
For more photos and information about creating holiday hope chests, you can visit my classroom Web site. You can also download my hope chest parent letter and hope chest tag (as seen on hope chest boxes in the pictures above).
I teach in a school where most of my students live with parents who provide a fairly comfortable living environment for their kids. My students often see the holidays as a time to receive the newest and greatest toys of the season, and they are not always aware of the many children living so close to them who receive no gifts for the holidays or whose parents who are struggling just to buy groceries and purchase clothes for the cold weather. Melodie Myrick, the kindergarten teacher at my school, has been adopting a family with her class for over six years. In lieu of teacher gifts (which nearly every child at our school buys for the teacher), she asks students to donate from a list of items to the family her class adopts each year.
When adopting a family, the class is given some information about the family. For example, you might know that you are shopping for a 5-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy who live with their single mother. While there may be some toys on the list, the list of necessary items to purchase mainly includes essential food and items of clothing. Each family can be assigned items from the list, or you can create a sign-up sheet so that parents can choose whether or not they will participate in the service project. This project emphasizes the importance of giving to others, as it puts the meaning of the holiday season into perspective for those students who still think of Christmas only as a time to receive.
There are many local organizations you can contact to help you find a family in need, but the Salvation Army is the most universally known organization that matches impoverished families with individual or group sponsors to provide for their tangible needs during the holidays. Find more information about contacting the Salvation Army office nearest your school.
Senior Center Visit
The holidays are a time to think about those who are less fortunate. Another group of people to remember are those senior citizens who are confined to a nursing home or a senior citizen center. Many of these residents get very few visitors during the holidays and would love a holiday visit from a class of elementary students.
When visiting the center, you can plan to have your students do a fun craft with the seniors. A great way to spread cheer in the senior center or nursing home is to have students work with the seniors to make ornaments that can be hung on a special tree in the nursing home. Your students can also read holiday books with the seniors or even sing holiday songs with the help of your school’s music teacher.
Homemade Gifts for Parents and Loved Ones
I am always looking for new ideas when it comes to the gift that my students make for their parents or other loved ones during the holiday season. The gift that I have chosen to have my students make for the past few years is "Cookies in a Jar."
I use quart-sized jars with lids and the ingredients necessary to make a specific type of cookie. During one afternoon, I pour the ingredients into large bowls and call students over to a table in my classroom in groups of four or five at a time to add the ingredients to their jars. I ask parents to send in sets of measuring cups and measuring spoons for students to use for the special project. While I walk small groups of students through the sequential steps necessary to make their "cookies in a jar" gift, the rest of my class reads quietly at their desks or completes a purposeful assignment that I have explained prior to the cookie-jar project.
Once all students have added the ingredients to their jar, they attach a circular piece of festive material to the top of the jar with a rubber band and tie a ribbon around the rubber band. Finally, students attach a gift tag to the ribbon to indicate the recipient of the gift. The recipe for how to make the cookies is printed on a label and stuck to the back of the jar so that the cookies can be easily made by adding butter and eggs when the recipient chooses to make the cookies.
Since the holidays are such a busy time of year, parents tend to appreciate the ease of having a pre-made cookie mix that can be used to entertain holiday guests. It is also a fun way for students and parents to spend time together at home baking (and enjoying) the cookies.
I like this gift idea because it can be altered for students who celebrate any holiday. I purchase different types of inexpensive cloth from a fabric store including material with holiday designs, winter themes, and basic designs like polka dots, stripes, and plaids. You can also tie the holiday project to lessons in math to reinforce concepts having to do with fractions and measurement.
Now that I know I will be doing this project each year, I look for good sales on ingredients and on quart-sized jars all year long. I have found great deals on the jars and on the ingredients prior to doing the project in my classroom when I have planned ahead!
You can find specific directions for making a variety of "cookies in a jar" at allrecipes.com. Download my "Holiday Cookies in a Jar" recipe, my holiday cookie instruction labels for jars (seen in picture above), and my "Cookies in a Jar" gift tags (on jars in picture above).
Scholastic's Online Holiday Resources
Scholastic has put together an awesome variety of activities to help your students learn about and celebrate the many winter holidays. The “Activities and Resources for Teachers” section includes links to great online activities, useful printables, and other projects including holiday crafts and easy recipes. It’s definitely worth checking out!
Share Your Ideas Here!
I would love for you to share any holiday service projects or holiday gift ideas that you have done with your students in the past. Add your comments below!