In the Netherlands, Saint Nicolas comes bearing gifts on December 5th, Sinterklaasavond, or Saint Nicolas’s Eve. December 6th is the feast of Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children. Saint Nicolas arrives by steamboat from Spain with his helper Zwarte Piet. Saint Nicolas rides a white horse and there is a parade from the dock in Amsterdam to the Palace where Saint Nicolas asks the princes and princesses if they have behaved well through the year. If they’ve been good, the children of the royal family receive presents.
Children all over the Netherlands leave their shoes out the night before Saint Nicolas’s Eve and wake to find that he has left treats for them in exchange for hay or carrots for his horses. In addition to the Saint Nicolas traditions, families also give gifts to one another on Sinterklaasavond but the identity of the gift giver is a secret. The giver tries to surprise the receiver by using rhymes and riddles that often poke fun at the receiver. Small gifts can be wrapped in big boxes and clues might be left around the house for children to follow to find a sack of presents left by Saint Nicolas.
The Netherlands is probably the source of our Santa Claus, since Dutch settlers brought Sinterklaas with them to America. As you study Christmas Around the World, create a chart of gift bringers and their helpers. Some of the information you might choose to capture:
- the name of the gift bringer, such as Santa Claus
- the name of any helpers, such as Santa’s elves
- the animals, such as reindeer, that help or travel with the gift bringer
- where the gift bringer comes from — Santa Claus comes from the North Pole
- the method of transportation used
- whether the gift bringer is male or female
- when the gifts are brought
- where the gifts are placed
- what kids leave for the gift bringer — in the U.S., milk and cookies are often left for Santa
Once you’ve completed the chart, sort all the gift bringers into groups: you’ll find that the most common are some version of Saint Nicholas or Father Christmas, but there are many variations.
Christmas itself is a more quiet holiday in the Netherlands, and is known as Kerstfeest. Christmas in the Netherlands mainly revolves around food and family. On Christmas Eve families go to church and return home to a large feast in the early hours of the day, eating traditional Dutch Christmas foods, like kerststol. On Christmas morning, families might go to church again. On Christmas day, families enjoy sitting around the Christmas tree and telling stories to each other or catch up on missed sleep from the night before. December 26th is known as Second Christmas and many families dine out on this day and enjoy large, lavish meals together.
Some traditional Dutch foods include these:
- Kerststol, or Christmas fruit stolen
- Kerstkransjes, or Christmas wreath cookies
- Jan Hagel cookies
- Banketstaaf or banketletters, or almond paste filled pastry logs
- Speculaas, or spice cookies
- Oliebollen, or donuts
- Appelflappen, or apple fritters
Banketletter or letterbanket is the name for a special cookie made in the shape of letters. You can easily find recipes for this treat online, or you can make this simple version:
- Give students small amounts of refrigerated pie crust (the rolled type, not the type in pans) and marzipan (also available in rolls in grocery stores at Christmastime).
- Each student can roll the marzipan into a snake, wrap the pie crust around it, and form the first letter of his or her name. Get help from the kitchen to bake the letterbankets.
- Alternatively, use the Dutch tradition as inspiration for using clay to form letters. If you choose to use Model magic or another self-hardening clay, you can hang the letters on your class Christmas tree.
Twente, a region in east Holland, has another unique tradition for Christmas. Midwinter horns and ox horns are blown at different times, usually on Christmas Eve or every night as a call for residents to attend church after dusk during Advent until the Epiphany in early January. The horns have different sounds created by blowing the horns into wells or by blowing them into the air. Students can learn about how water changes instruments with our Water Drum Lesson Plan. Students can hear the midwinter horn being played here.
Healthy eyes are part of overall health, so eating right, exercising, and getting enough rest are important for healthy eyes. Recent research confirms, however, that certain foods and nutrients are especially good for the eyes; in fact, people who eat these foods throughout their lives have less age-related vision loss as they age. Help your students develop good eating habits that will protect their eyes from now on — and get some math and social studies practice at the same time.
The foods that make the difference:
- leafy green vegetables
- citrus fruits
- oily fish like sardines and salmon
- nuts (increasing numbers of students have allergies to nuts, but those who are not allergic can benefit)
Clearly, these are healthy foods in any case, but they may be new to many students. These foods contain Omega-3 acids and lutein, nutrients that researchers have found are important for eye health.
Introduce the eye with an interactive experience on your smartboard or computer center:
- The Children’s Museum of Manchester has a simple cartoon introduction to the parts and functioning of the eye.
- The National Eye Institute offers a more detailed interactive diagram.
- The Exploratorium has a virtual dissection of a cow’s eye.
Then collect some data and create visual representations of it — understanding visual representations of information is a key skill for the 21st century.
Practice gathering data while encouraging the consumption of these super healthy foods. Create a bulletin board display of the charts called “Eye See Data” or “Eye See Graphs.”
- Ask student each morning who ate the listed foods, count, and mark the number on the calendar. At the end of the unit, week, or month, use the numbers to create a line graph. Did the class consumption of these foods increase?
- Have a classroom tasting. Bring a variety of leafy greens such as spinach, chard, kale, mustard greens, collard greens, and cabbage. Have students taste the various greens and chart who likes or dislikes them. Give each variety a pie chart showing its popularity. Finish with a vote on the best one, and create a pie graph showing that preference.
- Give students incentive charts and stickers to take home. Have them create bar graphs showing how many friends and family members like each of the listed foods.
Where do people eat these eye-healthy foods? Everywhere! From the Dutch herring rollmops (pickled herring) to Vietnamese sardines in tomato sauce, from Southern style collard greens to Portugese kale soup, from Spanish orange cake to South African citrus salads, you can find traditional recipes for all these foods on every inhabited continent.
Have students research the foods on the list, searching for traditional recipes from many different places. As recipes are found, add stickers to the class map to show the locations. Once a country has a sticker, students may not add another but must keep looking till they find a new recipe from a country that does not yet have a sticker.
Use Google’s Map Maker to create a map of traditional foods. This can be as simple as adding a marker and typing the name of a dish, or as complex as creating a report for each dish with photos and music, so it’s good tech skills and writing practice for every grade.
Challenge students to try the recipes at home, or create a recipe book for students to give parents for a holiday gift. Get some tech practice by making this a computer-generated project. There are lots of ways to do this:
- Use a free Microsoft Office cookbook template to build a cookbook if you have the software on your classroom computers already.
- Use the Family Cookbook Project‘s free software to create a PDF cookbook you can download.
- Create a Pinterest board. Pin the recipes from the sites where they’re found, or you can upload student drawings and type in the entire recipe to make a self-contained recipe board. Share the link on your classroom website so parents can try out the recipes with their kids.
Both the Chart It and the Map It options lend themselves to the creation of infographics. If you’re working with upper grades, click through and use our Infographics Lesson Plan as a culmination of the unit.
One of the things that changed when the Old World of Europe and Asia met the New World of the Americas was what the people ate. Peppers, corn (though the English used the word for something else before importing our corn to their country), potatoes, tomatoes, chocolate, peanuts, pineapple, cranberries, sweet potatoes, vanilla, and zucchini were all New World foods. Old World foods included apples, cucumbers, onions, oranges and other citrus fruits, rice, wheat, sugar cane, lettuce, almonds, cinnamon, carrots, and grapes.
Here we share a few of our favorite lesson plans and classroom activities for grasping this important concept.
For the youngest students, prepare a table with a map of the Americas at one end and a map of Europe on the other. If you have projects on the Pilgrims and Native Americans or on explorers, group the projects at either end of the table.
Bring foods or pictures of foods representing both the New and Old Worlds and have students sort them into stacks on the New World and Old World maps. If you use pictures, you can create either an interactive bulletin board or a center once you’ve presented the lesson. Of course, if you bring foods, you’re ready for snack time!
Ask students to think about where tomato sauce might have come from. If they think of Italy, they’re right — except that while the tomato sauce we’re most familiar with was an Italian invention of the 1700s, tomatoes are a New World food. Pizza, which is an Italian invention from the late 18th century, could never have existed without the tomatoes of South America.
Have students choose some favorite foods and use the Food Timeline to identify when and where they originated. Then use one of these options to map the foods, making sure to distinguish between Old World and New World foods:
- Add pictures of the foods to the classroom wall map.
- Use Google Maps to create individual or group maps showing where specific foods originated.
- Have student create reports on their foods, post them on a bulletin board, and use yarn and pushpins to link the reports to their locations on a world map.
The Ngram Viewer is a wonderful tool at Google Books which searches out the frequency of words at time depths from 1500 to 2008. In the screenshot at the top of this post you can see how Old World foods were most popular in books in English at the beginning of this time, how New World foods began to be mentioned in the 1500s, and how they gradually increased in popularity.
The Ngram Viewer is very easy to use. Have students type a term into the search box. By default, the viewer is case sensitive, but you can deselect that as shown above. We can see in this screen that chocolate was being written about shortly after it was taken to Europe by explorers, but that it became much more popular after English speakers began to live in the Americas, with a big jump during the 20th century. Try the same search within the corpus of Spanish (that is, the books in Spanish) and you will see a very different pattern.
The Ngram Viewer is a fun tool to use and it allows students to create charts in moments. Use it to practice the use of charts and to work on technology skills and visual learning.
Have students explore the use of the names of various Old and New World foods and look for patterns. Ask them to think about what they already know about the use of these foods and to conduct research on them. Then ask each student to choose one food to report on or two foods to compare.
This new song and video from Trout Fishing in America is a perfect choice for Hallowe’en. Enjoy the video, learn the song, and then pick and choose from this list of activities:
- The song begins with a list of scary things: clowns, shadows, scratching noises at windows… Ask students to list things they find scary.
- The second verse describes telling someone about the scary things and not being believed. Have students write a story about this experience. Younger students could write about what it feels like to worry about monsters even though they don’t exist, but older students could imagine a case in which there really is something to fear and the narrator of the story can’t make anyone take action.
- This song is like the traditional “jump story” in which the teller of the tale tells a suspenseful story in a quiet voice and then shouts to make listeners jump. Another example is “The Teeny Tiny Woman.” Compare “Boo!” and “The Teeny Tiny Woman” — click through for more about it. For older students, form groups and have each group write a jump story and then tell it to the class.
- Have students list the visual elements of the video that make it scary.
- The video is made with shadow puppets. Click through to learn more about this art form, and to try it with your class.
- The scarecrow in the video literally loses his head. People who are scared sometimes are said to lose their heads. Have students interview people in their families to create as long a list as possible of expressions like this.
- There are other characters in the video, and some might be monsters. Click through to find ideas for lessons about monsters.
- The word “Boo!” is written in big, puffy letters in the video. Have students fill a sheet of paper with the word and then decorate it with scary things, either drawn or added in collage form. Create a bulletin board with the scary projects.
- Ask students what scary sounds are in the video. Have students identify the instruments they hear and discuss how the musicians make the sounds seem scary.
- Listen to other pieces of music that are often considered scary, such as “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Grieg, “Danse Macabre” by Saint-Saens, or “Night on Bald Mountain” by Mussogorsky. Challenge students to identify characteristics that these pieces share with “Boo!”
- Being scared may not be fun, but feeling scared when you know you’re safe is fun. Create a class bar graph showing how many students enjoy scary movies, roller coasters, spooky books, or ghost stories.
In it, a penguin who has always wanted to be cool and his counselors, who are very proud of how cool they are, are taken in by a couple of tricksters. The idea of wanting to be cool may have more immediacy for today’s students than the idea of wanting to be thought wise.
Enjoy the book as a read aloud for your younger students, or use it as a lesson starter for older students.
Here are some cross-curricular activities for the book:
- Use a Venn diagram to compare this book with The Emperor’s New Clothes.
- Click through to the less plans for the traditional story for more activity ideas.
- The story begins with an emperor penguin who was teased about his clothes when he was a kid. Specifically, they made fun of his bow tie and his checked pants, but his “before” picture also include horn rimmed glasses and an old-fashioned Dad-type belt and sweater vest. Discuss the idea of whether clothes affect how people are thought of or treated. If your school has a dress code or uniforms, this is a good time to talk about it. It’s also a good time to talk about teasing and bullying. How about wearing bow ties or Bow Tie Stickers for a week to promote awareness of bullying?
- The cool clothes in the book have patterns such as paisley, chevrons, and skulls as well as stripes and dots. Spot all the patterns, learn their names, and use them in art projects.
- The rogues in the story have “a special formula.” Have students find ads for “special formulas” and create a bulletin board. How many seem truly to be new technology and how many seem as though they might be trickery?
- The rogues shop online for themselves . This is a good chance to remind students never to share private information online without their parents’ permission, never to share passwords, and about any school rules regarding internet use on campus.
- Author Lee Harper explains, “I’ve set my story in an imaginary kingdom where emporer penguins, walruses, albatross, seals, and polar bears all live — and shop — together.” Have students identify the animals in the story and find where they actually live. Add the information to your classroom map. Use Google Earth to learn more about the animals.
- Check out our penguin classroom ideas.
Los tres cabritos is Eric Kimmel’s Tex-Mex take on the traditional story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. In this story, Chupacabra, the “goat sucker,” a monster traditionally found in Puerto Rico but also part of folklore in other Hispanic communities, lives under the bridge across the Rio Grande which the three goats want to use to cross into Mexico.
Each goat tells Chupacabra to wait for his older brother, as in the Scandinavian tale, but each goat also plays music for Chupacabra to dance to. The oldest brother, however, can make the monster dance with his music. The biggest brother plays his accordion till Chupacabra ends up exhausted, like a punctured balloon, and the goats all get safely into Mexico.
The book is in Spanish, so it’s a great choice for Spanish language classes.
Here are some cross-curricular activities for this book:
- Use a Venn diagram to compare this book with Three Billy Goats Gruff.
- The three main musical instruments in the story are the violin, the guitar, and the accordion. A harmonica is also pictured in the book, when the narrator says he always packs his harmonica when heading to Mexico. Bring the instruments or pictures of them to class. Compare them and put them in order by size. Sort them by the way the sound is made: the violin and the guitar are stringed instruments, while the accordion and harmonica are free reed wind instruments.
- Chupacabra is a traditional monster. Use some of the ideas from our Monster classroom theme to study this creature, or check out the student project page, Chupacabra Home Page.
- The cabriots had a fine time in Mexico, and were never again afraid of Chupacabra, “or so they said,” according to the story. The narrator, however, always makes sure to pack his harmonica, just in case. Ask students to finish the sentence, “I always make sure to pack my ___________ when I go to __________, just in case.” Have students illustrate their sentences. Challenge older students to write a story, using their sentence as the final sentence of the story.
- There is a pinata in the illustrations of the book. Why not make and/or play with a pinata in your class?