A Stick Tree, A Water Bottle Menorah, And A Land Acknowledgement: Can The Holidays Be Done Differently This Year?

We are about to embark on our last week of school before the holidays. This week is full of many assemblies, performances, and present making and wrapping, mixed in with hopefully some routine and learning. Don’t get me wrong! I think that we can all learn a lot from these special days — from patience and flexibility to social skills and independence — but I also think that kids and adults crave normalcy during these more stressful times of the year. There’s no doubt about it: I’m certainly one Holiday Humbug, and happy to embrace a little normal. It was the Humbug in me that had my teaching partner, Paula, and I doing some creative thinking when it comes to our holiday assembly.

When we found out that there would be an assembly, we knew that we needed to do something. Everyone loves to see the kindergartners perform. Having taught up to Grade 6 in our Board, I can say that kindergarten is the one year where children can just stand there and smile, and they still tend to steal the show. But Paula and I are big believers that if kids are going to perform in front of a school, they should be prepared to do so. Preparing though, sometimes means weeks of song singing, which can increase stress for kids. Understanding that a concert is a month or more away is hard for many children of this young age to grasp, which means that each day becomes another recap of how many more days until we perform. We wondered then if there was a way to do something different.

Last year, Paula and I taught at a different school, and for the holiday assembly, we started by sharing The Turtle Island Welcome with the rest of the school. I learned this land acknowledgement from a Mohawk Language teacher with our Board, and for the past couple of years, we’ve started each day in the classroom reading this acknowledgement with our students, reflecting on the words in it, and thinking about what we can do to make a difference.

It aligns so well with our bigger classroom focus on the environment, and our thinking that even young children can make a difference.

Last year, this presentation was not our only holiday performance, but this year, we wondered if it could be. Could we connect The Turtle Island Welcome with the holidays, and how we might consider our environmental footprint during this season of gift giving? Almost a month ago, our students inadvertantly gave us an idea, when they started to say The Turtle Island Welcome outside, and began to collect litter as a way to help “save the earth.” It was only a few days before this that our principal, Gerry Smith, suggested adding a giant menorah to the front foyer to go beside the Christmas tree. Maybe we could make this menorah out of water bottles, turn it into a statement on the use of plastic, and connect it to environmental considerations during the holiday season.

We also added a weaving tree to our classroom space around a month ago. We took this tree with us from Rousseau when we left, as our kids created it there, and it became a special part of our room. Maybe in addition to some weaving, children could start to add environmental messages to this tree, and both Christmas and Hanukkah could be part of our holiday performance.

This is not your typical assembly performance, but there was something special about making the “normal” into our holiday sharing option. The kids loved it! I worked with a student to brainstorm ideas for a short speech to add after The Turtle Island Welcome. 

Students also continued to work with Paula to create the water bottle menorah as well as add items to the weaving tree. You can see the evolution of both through our Instagram account, but below is a peek at the final products.

This is the most creative, non-traditional performance that either one of us has done before with kids, and yet, as we listened to students practice yesterday, we know that we made the right choice.

It’s not only how they performed here, but it’s also the conversations we had before and after this practice.

The kids really understand and have truly reflected on this topic. They are making this more than just about learning at school. The environmental concerns are becoming a part of their play and their interactions at home. Our hope is that this knowledge will impact on their confidence in sharing with the school and the bigger community audience. We shall see what happens on Monday.

For me, this has been a good reminder that assembly performances don’t always have to be an add-on. There can be something special about learning something new and embracing the holiday spirit. But maybe there can also be something equally as special about embracing this holiday spirit in the every day. What do you think? How do you handle these holiday assemblies? My biggest worries for Monday now are will the tree fit through the gym doors without falling apart (or poking someone) and will the water bottle menorah stay intact on its trip across the hall? People may want to stay clear of me during this movement time on Monday … have I mentioned my less than stellar spatial awareness skills?! 🙂 (I really should come with a warning. 🙂 ) Here’s to hoping for no real need to worry, and a fun non-traditional holiday share.


2 thoughts on “A Stick Tree, A Water Bottle Menorah, And A Land Acknowledgement: Can The Holidays Be Done Differently This Year?

  1. The message is great and the kids have worked hard. Good luck on Monday…I’m sure it will be a great experience for everyone. 😃

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