How Do You “Do” Holidays?

Yesterday was a wonderful day at school! It was as I was completing my Storify Story for the day that I realized that we actually didn’t do one Thanksgiving activity during the day. The only mention of the holiday before the end of the day — when I reminded students that there is no school on Monday — was when the class realized that one of our three snails is missing. We’ve been learning about making signs as part of Writer’s Workshop, and students wanted to make signs letting others know about our missing pet because “Miss Dunsiger, the snail can’t be alone in the school for Thanksgiving!” 🙂

Now please don’t get me wrong: I would have had no problem if students chose to write about Thanksgiving. Maybe students are interested in learning more about turkeys. I have some non-fiction books on this topic, and I had them available if students wanted to read them. They didn’t though. During math yesterday, we explored shapes and even created our own shape pictures in lead-up to a Math/Visual Arts/Music Project-Based Learning experience. Students made everything from houses to Mario and Luigi, and they could have made turkeys, pumpkins, or gourds (I even had some images available of these autumn objects), but no one did.

Maybe I didn’t entice the students enough. Maybe we needed to inquire more about these items. Maybe we could have linked this holiday celebration to the seasons, or even to living things, and maybe students would have been more interested. I know that they haven’t expressed much of an interest in Thanksgiving or the harvest, but I haven’t really inspired them with the use of provocations: be that pictures, websites, or reading materials. Maybe this is something to think about for another year.

I actually don’t mind exploring holidays if I can make this link to learning. I have no problem with delving deeper into topics of interest, and the holidays could be these topics. But how do people celebrate the holidays in their classrooms — is it about learning, about crafts, or about both? I’m a big believer if using The Arts as an instructional strategy, and I love to link The Arts to all subject areas when possible. How are The Arts being used when it comes to holiday times? How could they be used? Some students may like the paper hats, colourful turkeys, and other holiday crafts, but are they truly engaging activities and how do they help students learn? 

I’ll admit that after reading this blog post of Aaron Puley‘s, I can’t do the holiday crafts anymore that I did for many years as a primary teacher. Aaron made me re-think how The Arts can be used during these holiday times (and really any other time of the year). Maybe for an upcoming holiday, we will look at how to use the elements of design (Visual Arts), media literacy, reading, writing, and oral language to share and celebrate our holiday learning. What are your classroom holiday celebrations? Why do you and your students like these options? How do you make the link between the holidays, learning, and engagement? I’d love to hear your ideas!

May I wish all of you that celebrate it, a very happy Thanksgiving, that if up to me, is hopefully free of paper hats and cut-and-paste turkeys! 🙂


10 thoughts on “How Do You “Do” Holidays?

  1. I don’t do holidays very well in my fourth-fifth grade room. My students spent the week creating Halloween posters to put on the classroom door. It was their idea. I did include a journal topic on being thankful earlier in the week. We had some eighth graders do a presentation on poverty, but I did not connect that to Thanksgiving.

    • Thanks for your comment, Alan! I think it’s great that the students decided on the posters that they wanted to do. Obviously Halloween matters to them. It would be neat to connect the poverty presentation to Thanksgiving. Now that I think about it, we did a math activity last year (it was near one of the holiday times) where we linked Data Management with food banks … and students realized what they can do to make a difference. This provides a nice Social Justice connection. While you said that you don’t do much for the holidays, you’re now making me think about different holiday options …


  2. I wonder at what grade holiday-themed activities stop? In our high school, with the exception of the main office (decorated with mums and some sparkly orange-ish streamers), there is no sign of Thanksgiving celebrations. No decorated doors or displays in the front foyers, and though I haven’t peeked into every single classroom, I’m pretty sure none of them are decorated. We’ll see a little more at Christmas (and I usually get my math students to make geometric snowflakes for the windows), but that’s it.

    I agree that doing themed crafts just for the sake of something to do isn’t right, but I wonder if our high school (and others) misses out on not having a celebration of the time of year to help buoy our spirits. What is the balance for elementary school teachers between student-made decorations for fun and integrated as part of their learning?

    • Thanks for the comment, Heather, and sharing your high school experiences. I can see what you’re saying about fun, but do we have to wait for the holidays to “celebrate?” How can we regularly celebrate learning and bring fun and excitement into the school? I wonder if holiday crafts are really the way to do this, and I question if we need to wait for the holidays to have this fun. I’d hope that every day is fun in some way … I can’t help but think of Dean Shareski’s jumping post and the need to regularly create this joyful classroom and school environment:

      Thanks for continuing the conversation!

        • Thanks Heather! Life is good, and there is a reason to celebrate every day. Yes, the holidays definitely help us remember to do so, but I wonder if we’d look at the holidays slightly differently if we embraced “joy” every day.


  3. Holidays are sometimes a “touchy” subject even in a grade 2/3 classroom. Many of my students do not celebrate Thanksgiving due to religious reasons or family reasons. I didn’t want to dismiss it completely so I left many books along the board on thanksgiving and turkeys and I read a book about being thankful. We then made a list of things that we were thankful for and students were invited to write about it further if they wanted to.

    • Thanks Kristen for your comment and for sharing what you do! I like how you read and left out some books — if students were interested — while also recognizing that not all students celebrate the holiday (something that’s also true in my class). I always find it interesting to hear the various ways that people “do” holidays at school, and the “why” behind their choices.


  4. USA Thanksgiving in November. School has a feed the hungry service learning/community service program so from Ks to 6th involved. At this holiday books & reflections about thankfulness and giving. Crafts by the wayside.

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