Bring some holiday spirit to your classroom with these fun tech lessons!
Google’s Santa Tracker
Google’s Santa Tracker has a game for every day till Christmas. Students can choose the clothing colors for Santa’s elves, share a texting conversation between Santa and his reindeer, prepare and send a phone message from Santa to a friend, play games of skill, and explore Santa’s village. On Christmas Eve, Santa will unveil the dashboard of Santa’s sleigh.
This is a super fun center for your classroom computer, and it gives practice with basic keyboard and mouse use. Most activities do not require reading, and there are no Santa spoilers, so you can enjoy this with kids of all ages. Santa lets “big kids” create mp3 greetings for friends, and offers a nice collection of things to celebrate, from la Navidad and Kwanzaa to Winter and the Season.
On the way to the solstice (that’s a holiday, too!), track seasonal changes with Journey North. There are ideas and activities that won’t require every student to have a computer, which is nice if you don’t have the ideal level of access, but students can still see how data can be collected, organized, and shared through the use of modern technology. You can communicate with other observers of seasonal signs, add information to the sum of knowledge, and use live cams to observe a number of different animals.
Joining the Citizen Scientists who support Journey North, whether you make a class project of it with a Seasonal Showcase or just set up a computer center and let kids explore on their own, can provide deeper understanding of the seasons as well as real world opportunities to use technology for science.
Interactive Reindeer Orchestra
Care2′s Reindeer Orchestra is pretty silly, but it offers some intensive keyboard and mouse practice, number recognition, and a bit of musical fun, too. Set it up as a center at your classroom computer. Challenge students to make their own tunes. Have students write them out on paper as a series of numbers and leave them for others to play.
If you teach music, let students use the reindeer with sheet music. Ask them which key works best!
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.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is a classic pictures book written by Charles M. Shultz, based on the comic strip Peanuts. You can read the book with your class or watch the video and be sure that you’ll have a fine seasonal experience without any scary moments.
Here are three lesson plans we like for upper elementary, to help incorporate this classic Halloween story into your curriculum.
The story has three main plot lines, each surrounding a specific character in the story. Linus, Charlie Brown, and Snoopy are the centers of the three different plot lines in the story. Most students think of a story as a single plot line, so using a plot line worksheet to examine the three plot lines of the story will help students grasp the idea completely.
After investigating the different main plot lines of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown , ask students to come up with their own plot lines for a Halloween story. Then group students into groups of three. Ask the students to write their own stories and to include all three plot lines in their group. It will make some zany stories, but is a lot of fun!
Points of view
In each main plot line, there are multiple perspectives on what’s happening in the story. For instance, in Linus’s plot line of waiting for The Great Pumpkin, Linus has one idea of what’s happening while Sally has another perspective. Sally thinks Linus is silly waiting for The Great Pumpkin but decides to go along.
When Snoopy rises up out of the pumpkin patch, Linus is convinced it’s The Great Pumpkin but Sally sees it is just Snoopy. Talk about each perspective with your students and how the different characters have different experiences of the same events in each plot line.
Divide students into groups and give each group one character from the book to work with. Let each group work out how their character saw the story, and have a volunteer from each group explain the events that took place from that character’s point of view.
Snoopy pretends to be a World War I flying ace and gets into aerial dog fight with the Red Baron. Although Snoopy’s dog house is not a real Sopwith Camel and Snoopy is not a real fighter pilot, his imaginary adventures are based on reality.
The Red Baron was the nickname of German Fighter Pilot Manfred von Richthofen, and students can learn more about him and about World War I at these websites:
Snoopy then goes to join Schroeder, who plays some WWI songs:
- “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary“
- “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag“
- “There’s a Long, Long Trail“
- “Roses of Picardy“
Use these songs to discuss the history of WWI to explain what the war was like for the young men who fought in it, starting off with the first two songs that are jubilant about going to war and leaving home. Talk about how many of these young men had never left home before and fighting was an exciting opportunity. Then play the second two songs and talk about how the war wasn’t what people thought it would be and that many young men never returned home. Snoopy’s reactions to the songs are a good visual explanation for younger students about what these songs mean.
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.
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?
Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saens may be the perfect introduction to classical music for children, and the Maestro Classics edition is specifically intended for that purpose. The CD and the accompanying booklet have lots of background information about Saint-Saens, who was a musical child prodigy. Kids will enjoy hearing about his public performances of Beethoven at age 6.
They’ll also enjoy the Carnival of the Animals, a collection of pieces of music referencing various animals. The links in the list below go to lesson plans and resources for learning more about the animals in question:
- wild donkeys
- the swan
Each selection is quite different from the others, from the lovely cello piece “The Swan,” a popular ballet solo, to the clattering bones of “The Fossils.”
The Carnival was composed in February 1886 for a chamber group of flute, clarinet, two pianos, glass harmonica, xylophone, two violins, viola, cello and double bass. The recording reference here is played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, with a glockenspiel instead of a glass harmonica.
The glass harmonic or armonica was invented by Benjamin Franklin. It works by the same principle that lets people play tunes by rubbing their fingers around the edge of a glass. Explore this safely in the classroom with a glass xylophone.
Here are some discussion questions and activities to use with this piece:
- Write up each of the Ogden Nash verses (in the booklet that comes with the recording) and analyze them at the appropriate level for your class, identifying rhymes, memorizing them, or looking up unfamiliar words.
- What makes the lion’s music sound like a lion? What’s elephantine about The Elephant? Challenge students to get specific about the characteristics of each piece that remind them of the animals.
- Listen for specific instruments, such as the cello in The Swan or the piano in Kangaroos.
- Listen and read about Saint-Saens and add events from his life to your classroom timeline.
- Have students learn and sing “Clair de la Lune” with the singalong. Then have them listen for the tune in Kangaroos. They can also hear “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and the can-can in other parts.
- Have students draw the animals as they listen.
- The Boston Philharmonic has a resource guide with masks of the animals and pictures of the instruments as well as some fun activities.
- L.A.’s Music Center has a resource guide with extensive lesson plans.
- SmartBoard lessons
- A coloring book in PDF form from Music Matters Blog