December is here, and with it comes a building anticipation for the holiday season. This year some people will no doubt be looking forward to the holiday break even more than usual. Increasingly, however, there seems to be a question of just how much influence the festive season should have on classrooms.
First, there is the annual discussion around what to call the break. While most of mainstream Canadian society continues to refer to the vacation period as Christmas break, there is a rising sensitivity to other traditions and cultures. Such sensitivity is recognized in the BC provincial government's official designation of the time off in the standard school calendar as the "Winter Vacation Period". Santa may reign supreme on tv, and in commercial advertising, but December also hosts a number of other festivals and observances including Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Pancha Ganapati, the Christian Nativity and even Festivus! Regardless of name or purpose, some time away from school to spend with family and loved ones is most welcome at this time of year.
Just how much classroom time should be dedicated to learning about and/or celebrating such events before the holidays also generates considerable debate. Some jurisdictions have gone so far as to ban Christmas celebrations from instructional time. The Fort Worth Independent school district recently put the kibosh to all forms of Christmas cheer within the boundaries of the instructional day. ( see School District Bans Christmas ) According to a district spokesperson, the reasons are twofold: Classroom time should be reserved for learning and the district doesn't want to alienate non-Christian students. Children and staff are free to observe holiday traditions before or after the bell, just not inside the instructional day.
However, the Fort Worth district's position appears to be very much in the minority. A Google search of "Christmas in the Classroom" returns over 119,000,000 possible websites. Like a child let loose in Santa's workshop, a teacher seeking Christmas resources has nearly endless options. Tying activities to curricular learning objectives is easy. Many websites make the connections quite clear.
For example, consider teAchnology. This site bills itself as "the online teachers resource" and being "all about the art and science of teaching with technology". Here educators can find links to hundreds of Christmas lesson plans. Many of these combine elements of popular culture with curricular learning objectives across a wide range of subjects and grades. Intriguing examples include steps for proper care of reindeer, plotting the speed and trajectory required for maximum efficiency for Santa's sleigh and the utilization of Charles Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" to teach elements of literature as well as ethical questions of human nature. With a little imagination, seasonal themes are co-opted to make learning more interesting, fun and engaging.
Like any resource, online websites need to be selected and used with care. Just because something is on the internet doesn't make it a good fit for classroom use. As always, it is the teacher who needs to determine what, why and how a resource fits into prescribed curriculum and appropriate classroom use. Rather than debate the value of seasonal activities, educators can use and adapt the opportunities the holidays present. Perhaps like the Grinch, we should spend less time considering how to keep Christmas from coming and invading our learning time, and find ways to embrace the season and enhance the learning of all !