Monday, 13 January 2014

Christmas at School...

I've been a teacher for two Christmas periods. The two experiences could not have been more different.

The first year I had taken over a year 3/4 class, after their regular teacher took maternity leave, in a school with huge cultural, religious and economic diversity. (Christianity was definitely a minority faith.) Christmas wasn't really a big part of our programme; we focussed on celebrating the end of the school year, the coming of summer and our progress & successes. I had the delightful experience of having one child (of Islamic heritage) ask me "what is Christmas all about anyway?" (I didn't need to answer as two of his classmates (one who attends a Latter Day Saints temple and the other a devout non-denominational Christian) explained it beautifully in a way I never could.)

This year I had the honour of working with two classes in the run  up to Christmas: the year 3/4 class I co-taught two days a week and the primary special class I took over for three days a week for the last 5 weeks of the year. This school culture allowed and encouraged the celebration of Christmas.  So... We used the celebration of Christmas to direct some of our learning.

Primary Special Class
The other teacher in this class and I ran similar but separate programmes. She arranged a neat little booklet of Christmas puzzles, mazes etc. for the class to work on as they had time and interest. I encouraged them to continue working on this if they finished some of our work early. I think a couple of them felt a little frustrated by this because it meant they NEVER had any 'nothing to do' time. Gotcha! The last three weeks of term we had a Christmas Extravaganza, following on from two weeks of talking about celebrations in general. I'm still amazed at the sheer amount we crammed into our time together. Here's some of it.
  • Using a Christmas lights template we created posters that highlighted the ways we each 'light up' our school. (E.g. I'm a good friend and support people when they're feeling sad. I'm like to include people in my games in the yard.) This particular cohort found the self-reflection needed for this REALLY hard, so we sat as a group and showered each child with positive reflections. They then chose their favourites and we helped them write the sentences.  We decorated the lights with glitter! I'm not sure which was brighter - the glitter or their faces during the brainstorm?
  • We used our measurement and ordering skills to make beautiful Christmas trees. I didn't take any photos of them which quite saddening because they were gorgeous. General gist is that I provided each child with 12 slips of precut paper. They had to order them longest to shortest and then lay them out like a Christmas tree. It was quite a challenging task for a few of our class so we were very proud of their finished products. Here's the image that inspired this project anyway: 
This is from Mrs Lee's Kindergarten blog.
She has some great ideas, go check her out.
  • We made gingerbread cookies. I found an amazingly simple recipe that works really well for school settings because there's no waiting around for bicarb to do its thing or anything overly complicated. (It works even better when the oven door closes which ours didn't do to start with, but that's a whole other story that doesn't warrant telling because I'm the idiot who didn't see the tray in the way.) Anyway,  the recipe we used is here. (I altered it a little by swapping golden syrup in for the honey because I'm not madly keen on honey.)
  • We made cinnamon Christmas tree decorations. Oh my goodness, I loved cooking type activities with this class. The opportunities for multi-sensorial learning just abounded. LOVED IT! The recipe I used can be found here.  Each child took home a little bag of about 15-20 hand cut decorations. I had to be VERY clear that these were NOT for eating... They looked just like the gingerbread we made. 
Some of the decorations after baking.
  • We played Christmas maths games, did Christmas riddles, sang until we were hoarse, and wrote pages and pages about our Christmas memories, wishes, and plans. 
  • We made a range of cards for different people and in different styles: some by hand in whatever style each child chose; some by hand with specific instructions; and some on the computer using shapes to create silhouette images.
  • We sewed finger puppet and put together bon bons. (Never again... They were too hard, and too fiddly. Not even I enjoyed that one.)
  • We learned how to play Jingle Bells on chair drums. I was so proud of the class for this one, and it was somewhat of a process so I'll blog about it separately. 

Year 3/4
My co-teacher and I had planned our programme to continue most of our teaching and learning programme pretty well until the end of term so Christmas didn't take over this classroom quite as much. I also wanted to focus a little more on celebrating the kids' personal progress and successes than an event that for many of the children means little more than presents and good food. Here's a quick overview of some of our activities.

  • We made posters with painted finger print Christmas lights along the top underneath which each children wrote a positive memories on every other poster. (That was tough work!)
    Interesting way to get my name in lights... :)
  • Along similar lines I asked each child to provide me with three positive adjectives or comments about every other person in the class (children and teachers).  At the time they assumed that we were focussing on finding the positive in others and developing our descriptive writing. Ha! I was actually collecting the content for the end of year gifts I made for them. I'll tell you about those in a later post.
  • We followed up our unit of work on  procedural texts with a session on critiquing procedural texts for creating origami Christmas trees. 
  • We did a couple of gridding activities with Christmas shapes.
  • We made Christmas trees that highlighted warm and cool colours.
    A couple of the kids' completed work.
  • We made cards for our families.
  • We had two massive Christmas soft toys (a Santa head and a reindeer head) that went home (with journals) with different children each night.
  • We made coasters for our families. (I LOVED the coaster project so stay tuned for a whole post about those.) Here's a sneak peak though...
Nearly finished...
So... Just a bit different to last year! Both years have been amazing though; I love my job.

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