December is my absolute favorite in the classroom. Engagement is at an all time high and themed learning is kicked into high gear. I don’t know about you, but other than the good old Gingerbread Man, the main focus during the “holiday run” is Christmas Around the World! It’s such an amazing unit, but there is SO much to jam into the schedule. With this said, here are a few planning tips to help you create an optimal Christmas Around The World adventure for your crew . . .
DECISIONS. . . DECISIONS
There are so many wonderful winter celebrations to cover. However, fitting it all in is like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle . . . with a missing picture on the box lid. You’ll have to make some difficult cuts and get creative when it comes to stringing countries together, but it’s so doable. My suggestion is to print out a December calendar and put everything down that you know will happen this month (specials, computer lab, assemblies, guest speakers, parent performances, etc.). Then, pencil in your Christmas Around the World ideas. You’ll be surprised how fast it comes together when you map it out in a visual form.
May I make one more quick suggestion here? I like things to flow well. For example, Europe ALWAYS stays together or I start feeling like a fish out of water. I tend to tackle Hanukkah right out of the gate and I also like to focus on all of the warmer climates toward the end of the unit. However, some days are less crammed than others and that “fluid” feeling may need to be abandoned just a tad. Although you can still attempt to group your “travels,” put your favorite countries on days that are less busy. These are usually the around the world stops that have more activities.
With all this said, I tossed in this year’s December plan for you to review. (Hanukkah was a HUGE conundrum for me, but I bucked tradition and put it at the end . . . cue sweaty palms.) CLICK HERE to snag this unit plan (I used the KG Part of Me & How Many Times if you want to match). This freebie file also includes a BLANK printable calendar. Maybe you want to do some of your own holiday scribblin’?
Finding an Around the World overview collection that meets your needs is essential. Create your own, or dig around on TPT for a resource that frosts your Christmas cookies. There are SO many of them out there now. I dug up Rachelle’s Around the World Collection years ago (What the Teacher Wants) and have been using it ever since. I saw that she just updated it too! Every year I pick and pull the pages I need to create a booklet that’s in order of our particular studies. I doctored it a bit and added a flag to her question pages, but the information hiding in these is perfect for firsties. The kids love taking these home at the end of the unit as well.
In addition to the resource above, I mix in a lot from A Year of Many Firsts’ packet called Globe Trot Scott. It has great crafts and ideas that the kids always love. Her country one sheets are just the ticket too.
OUTSMART THE SYSTEM
Something always comes up during December that mucks up your plans. It never fails. But, you don’t have to go cryin’ in your eggnog quite yet . . . you just have to outsmart the system. I have two tips for you in this area today. The first is a no-brainer. Build a FLEX DAY into your December line up. If you downloaded my unit plan, you will see one hiding in the second week. This gives you wiggle room when things don’t work out or you want to spend “more time in a country.”
If a lesson gets bumped, think about tossing it into morning groups the next day. I know. I know. Reading groups are sacred. I SO get this. However, tossing out one of the rotations isn’t going to kill anyone. In first grade, I typically keep both my assistant and myself consistent. However, missing out on the computer or independent station isn’t going to kill ’em if you have a dynamite activity that got pushed aside. (Especially if it’s already prepped.) My suggestion is to just close your door and go about your business as you see fit . . . December is absolutely magical and sometimes it’s okay to let them be little. I’ll get off my soapbox now 😛 Oh, and if your activity requires extra hands, call on those stellar parents to jump into a station. Mommy/daddy helpers love to come in during the holidays.
Ever thought about splitting up the duties? For quite a few years, my grade level hosted afternoon rotations 2 times a week in the period leading up to Christmas. How did this work you ask? Well, each of us picked our favorite country to “host” and we would spend the last hour of the day dishin’ out this same lesson to a different class. The period consisted of a country/holiday overview, a craft of some sort, an activity sheet, and a snack. It definitely cut down on the planning and was a great way to foster relationships with students outside of your class. It may not be for you (some years I liked it . . . other years I didn’t), but it’s worth a quick mull over. Again, it doesn’t have to be every day. As I said above, we just slipped it in a few afternoons a week.
You may have picked up on this one in the section above. I am ALL about the traditional snacks/goodies during this unit. Some of you aren’t lucky enough to get to bring in food, but if you are, here are a few ideas. Many of you probably do a lot of this, but just in case you don’t roll with food, or want to up your “festive snack game” this year, check out my list below. Please know that I am not advocating that you run out and buy all of this and spend hours prepping. Heaven knows we ain’t got time for all of that. However, selecting a handful of countries that showcase really different foods and traditions makes for a very well rounded unit. Just a bite or two will do 😉
- Israel – potato latkes and gold chocolate coins
- England – shortbread cookies
- France – yule log (I cheat and use Hostess Ho Hos)
- Italy – panettone and/or mini pizzas (not super traditional, but it’s fun)
- Germany – gingerbread men
- Sweden – Julgröt (rice pudding with almonds) or Julskinka (ham)
- Russia -sauerkraut, porridge, or fruit/nuts
- Australia – BBQ chips and/or crockpot hot dogs (think picnic on the beach)
- Mexico – tamales, crockpot Pozole (soup), and/or bunuelos (cinnamon/sugar fried tortilla . . . I often cheat and use the sweet fried pita chips . . . don’t judge too much)
- United States – candy canes, sugar cookies, and hot chocolate
BRING ON THE VISUALS
Any visuals you can bring into the mix are über helpful for kiddos. Pictures are super. You can google just about anything and pull up pictures for days. I like to make a quick photo collage in power point when introducing a country. I would share, but I stole photos off the Net and I could get busted. But, seriously . . . it’s very easy to do and it helps the kids really “see” what you are chatting about.
Videos are BY FAR the best. I have found a handful over the years that I love to show. Ironically, my European around the world stops have been covered by Rick Steves. He has a series of short Christmas in Europe videos that hit some of the main countries. I show most of them and the kids really enjoy them. However, I suggest that you preview them first as there is some “wine” talk. To find these, pull up YouTube and type in Rick Steves Christmas in Europe.
Christmas/Holidays Around the World just lends itself to a handful of big productions. What do I mean by this you ask? I’m talking about a few choice themed activities that your students will NEVER forget. It doesn’t (and shouldn’t) be attached to every travel stop, but one or two really bring out the holiday magic. Here are a few ideas . . .
- Get a piñata and royally blow up an afternoon. My students talked about this well into spring and will never forget that special around the world stop in Mexico. I picked up everything I needed (colorful donkey, mask, and candy/prizes) super cheap on Amazon.
- Music is a very powerful thing. If you can get your hands on Christmas/Holiday music from other countries, it’s a game changer. Peruse iTunes. They have a few up for grabs. I snagged the most amazing version of Silent Night in German!
- Wearable items are always guaranteed giggle getters. The sky is the limit with this one too. Christmas tree hats, holiday themed sunglasses for Christmas “DOWN UNDER,” and candle crowns have all made appearances in my room.
- Cook in the classroom. Make rice pudding (Sweden), crockpot Pozole (Mexico), potato latkes (Israel), or mini pizzas (Italy) as a group. Students always feel so much more of a connection when they really have a hand in the process 🙂 I always did the last two with my sweeties.
- Guest speakers are a surefire way to knock a country visit out of the park. These special visitors usually have all sorts of realia and photos that you could never get your hands on. I always tend to have a friend of mine come in and chat about Hanukkah traditions.
BRING YOUR MATH BLOCK UP TO SPEED
This brings me to my final tip. Math can be themed too. Over the years, this kind of took a back burner for me because there weren’t a ton of resources out there. However, I finally figured out that I can work on this on my own with just a little extra brain power . . . DUH, Kelley. I sat down and thought about standards that are playing out in my room currently (or that need some spiral review). Then, I came up with some catchy titles that connected to facts/traditions in the countries we were visiting. Here are a few that popped into my noggin.
- For Italy, I came up with La Befana’s Bundles (place value game) and Stuff Those Shoes (domino addition game).
- When we hit Russia, it only seemed fitting to do a little ordering/comparing number practice with Nesting Doll Number Order.
- Germany wouldn’t be the same without a little Gingerbread family action (fact fam style).
- England is one of my favorites and it’s an easy one . . . Christmas Card Hunt the Room. Simply snag a handful of cheap holiday cards from the Dollar Store or pick and pull from your collection of leftovers (I had dozens of styles with only one card left and NO envelope). Stuff the middle with a word problem that incorporates a Christmas tradition or fact from England. Then, pin these to your walls and send your kids on a hunt.
All of these games that I came up with are packaged up this year. I have two smaller sets and one bundle up for grabs. You can easily create games on your own, but if you are looking for a ready made set that’s low prep and covers all of the main Around the World countries, I have you covered. CLICK HERE to check out these sets.
Before I jet, there is one more way to slip in extra themed studies into your math block. Word problems!!! You can type up some quick fact-based story problems for your kids to post and work out in math journals. You also can write a problem out on the white board or project it and have your kiddos work it out on mini white boards. These serve as wonderful warm ups before your textbook lesson 🙂 I have a set of these ready to rock if you are looking to skip the creation step. They can be glued into journals or stapled into a mini story problem book. CLICK HERE to check these out.
Alright, there you have it. A post dedicated to knocking Christmas Around the World out of the park this year with a few planning tweaks. If you have other ideas, I’d love to hear them. Some of my best holiday activities came from the brain power of a co-worker 🙂 Have a wonderful day my friends and I’ll see you again soon.