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How to Teach Religions on World Religion Day

Did you know the third January of each year is World Religion Day? It’s a perfect time to foster tolerance and diversity. We offer tips and advice on navigating religious studies in the classroom.

Religion is important to many

It’s estimated that seven billion of the world’s nearly eight billion people adhere to some kind of religious faith or spiritual belief system.  Religion is an important part of many people’s lives, and to ignore its study is to cut out a major part of our understanding of societies and cultures.  Even for the non-religious person, knowing about the many religious beliefs around us is important to help explain history and the motivations for people’s behavior.

What is religion?

Religion is a set of ideas about our world and our place in it.  It addresses questions such as: Where have I come from?  Who am I?  What is my purpose?  These are all questions raised by children and young people in their formative years.  The non-religious among us also hold a set of beliefs about the world and each individual’s place in it, therefore traditional non-religious worldviews can successfully be studied within the context of religion.  Atheism, for example, is a belief that a supreme being does not exist.  It is an existential belief similar in scope to the way a Christian, Jew or Muslim believes God does exist.

The big three monotheistic religions

Almost everyone is familiar with “the Big Three” faiths — Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.  But did you know these religions, though they appear quite dissimilar to the casual observer, spring from a common source?  All three trace their foundations back to a BCE figure called Abraham.  He is revered in all three faiths as the originator of a new kind of understanding about God, namely monotheism.  4.3 billion Christians, Muslims and Jews claim Abraham as the beginning of their spiritual lineage.

Eastern religions

Faiths which have their origins in east, south and southeast Asia include Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Confucianism.  Hinduism, which has no specific founder and is believed to have originated in the Indus River valley, is considered among the oldest of the world’s religions with roots and customs dating back more than four millennia.  With about 900 million followers, Hinduism is the third-largest religion behind Christianity and Islam.  Like some other oriental religions, Hindus are polytheists — they believe there are multiple gods who perform various functions.  However, Hindus also believe there is one supreme god whose three main forms are Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the sustainer) and Shiva (the destroyer).

Another popular eastern religion is Buddhism which dates from the 6th or 5th centuries BCE. Buddhism is a non-theistic religion; in other words, adherents have no belief in a creator god.  Buddhism, founded by the sage Siddhartha Gautama, is considered a philosophy and a moral discipline.  It’s thought there are about half a billion Buddhists worldwide.

There are many religions, or perhaps we should more rightly call them philosophical systems, which have their roots in ancient China.  Confucianism is maybe the most well-known.  Confucius (551 to 479 BCE) was a philosopher whose teachings focus on ethics, good behavior, and moral character.  Like some other religions from the Far East, such as Taoism and Shinto, one aspect of Confucianism is ancestor worship.

Other religions

Here are some religions you may not be aware of:

  • Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest religions of the world.  It is a pre-Islamic religion of ancient Persia (modern Iran)
  • Taoism is also very old.  It is a Chinese philosophy based on the writings of Lao-tzu, advocating humility and religious piety.  Here’s a unique lesson plan related to Taoism from The Art Institute of Chicago
  • Sufism, a mystical branch within Islam, is explored in this KidsKonnect worksheet set about the 13th century Sufi poet Rumi

Folk religions

Some less familiar belief systems which are based upon tradition and culture still exist today in many lands.  Although the practice of folk religions can be influenced by organized religious doctrines, it does not adhere to authorized accepted truths.  Folk religion does not have the organizational structure of established religions, and its practice is often restricted to a certain geographic area.  Many people within the Han ethnic background practice the Chinese folk religion Shenism which includes elements of Taoism, Confucianism, Chinese mythology, and Buddhist beliefs about karma.  This blending of elements from various sources is typical of folk religions.

Folk religions are sometimes called tribal religions when they are practised by a particular people group.

  • The warriors of the Shuar people of South America practice a ritual where the head of a slain enemy is cut off and then shrunk.  It’s believed this traps the soul of the dead enemy inside the shrunken head preventing it from taking revenge against the killer.
  • In remote areas of the world, some ritual ceremonies involve the consumption of mushrooms. This practice is common among the descendants of the Aztecs, Mayans, Toltecs, and other indigenous peoples who live in rural areas of Mexico and Central America.  The mushrooms contain psycho-active elements which can produce wild experiences, including vivid hallucinations, which are mistaken for visions of the supernatural.
  • In Kenya, the Luo people have traditionally worshiped a sacred python named Omieri, which they believe lives in the waters of Lake Victoria but appears during droughts to summon rain to save the crops. 

Teaching about religion vs. religious instruction

Worldwide, the teaching of religion in state schools varies widely.  Many countries have compulsory religious education, some offer parents the option of withdrawing their children from religious education classes, and some state schools have no teaching about religion.  In our Western pluralistic society, there are many shades of religious education in state schools with most (as in the U.S.) avoiding the subject except in the context of social studies curriculum, and others making religious studies compulsory.

The teaching of religion also varies greatly in sectarian and parochial schools.  These schools are free to teach a chosen faith as the “right” one.  Often, sectarian schools seek to instill its brand of religious practice into students, but will also teach students about other faiths in a comparative way.  Some sectarian schools have a greater emphasis on making disciples of a particular faith, while other sectarian schools are satisfied with tolerating all religions.

Ask the experts

You might want to consider inviting faith leaders into your classroom to tell students about their religious beliefs.  If you do this, it is wise to include clergy from at least the “big three” — Christianity, Islam and Judaism — but you may also consider inviting an atheist, agnostic or humanist to speak.  If you live in an urban area, it’s probably not hard to find leaders of Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh communities who would be willing to visit your classroom.  This might be harder in rural areas, so consider connecting online with leaders of faith communities.

Keep parents/guardians informed

Let the parents and guardians of your students know ahead of time what and how religions will be studied.  In this way, parents can nuance what you are teaching in the classroom with their own beliefs.  Some parents may want their child to opt out of those lessons dealing with religion, so be prepared with an appropriate response.  Let your school administrator know what you will be doing with regard to teaching about religions, and follow the school’s guidance on the issue.

Teachers and administrators may find this article from ADL helpful when assessing options for instruction about religions in U.S. public schools.  The National Education Association also offers some advice here.

So, whether you are teaching students that all religions (or no religion) are equally valuable, or that your private/parochial school’s religion is the true one, Help Teaching has many resources you can use, as do many other reliable institutions.

Online Resources

Help Teaching

Here are some of our recommended resources:

Other educational content providers

KidsKonnect.com has countless worksheets and activities on various religions

And more…

The National Geographic Society’s resource library has many interesting resources for teaching about religions including

The BBC has produced six short videos based on Bible stories for elementary-age students.  Each is told with a humorous twist.

The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding offers a set of resources for community educators called American Muslims 101.

Teach about religions can be an exciting and rewarding experience for the teacher and the student. 

How to Teach Kids About the Holocaust

On January 27, 2021, the world observes Holocaust Remembrance Day to remember the millions of Jewish people and other minorities who were systematically persecuted and murdered by Nazi Germany. Learn how to teach this dark (but important to know) period of history to kids.

What was the Holocaust?

Auschwitz-Birkenau, Buchenwald, Treblinka: these and the names of the other Nazi concentration, labor, and extermination camps raise the spectre of a living hell of hopelessness, human degradation, and gripping fear.  The Holocaust was an unprecedented, systematic, and total genocide perpetrated by Nazi Germany and its collaborators, with the goal of completely wiping out the Jews and other “undesirable” minorities. 

The primary motivation for the genocide was the Nazis’ anti-Semitic, racist ideology that positioned them as superior to all other races.  Between 1933 and 1941, Nazi Germany followed a policy that stripped the Jews of their rights and their property, and subsequently branded and concentrated the Jewish population. This policy had broad support in Germany and much of occupied Europe.

In 1941, following Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, the Third Reich and their collaborators launched the systematic mass murder of Jews.  By 1945, nearly six million Jews had been executed according to Adolph Hitler’s “final solution”.  The Nazis also murdered a quarter of a million handicapped persons and over 200,000 Roma.  Soviet civilians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and those the authorities deemed “asocial” were also killed.  When totaling all civilians killed, not as collateral damage due to military conflict, but those murdered in cold blood by the Nazis and their collaborators, the total dead reaches a staggering 11 million.

Most of Europe’s Jewish population was exterminated by 1945.  A civilization that had flourished for millennia was no more.  The dazed and emaciated survivors were bereaved beyond measure.  They gathered whatever strength which remained and rebuilt. They never sought out justice – for what justice could ever be achieved after such a heinous crime?  Rather, they turned to rebuilding.  Their new families were forever under the shadow of absent loved ones.  Their new life stories were forever twisted by terrible physical and psychological wounds.

The human tragedy of the Holocaust would be unimaginable if it hadn’t, in fact, happened.

What is Holocaust Remembrance Day?

International Holocaust Remembrance Day, is an international memorial day held every January 27.  It commemorates the tragedy of the Holocaust that occurred during the Second World War.  This day of remembrance was so designated by the United Nations General Assembly on November 1, 2005.  January 27 was chosen because that was the day in 1945 when Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration and death camp, was liberated by the Soviet Army.

The January 27 International Holocaust Remembrance Day should not be confused with Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Holocaust Day, (known in Hebrew as Yom HaShoah).  This memorial day occurs on the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan (which falls in April or May).  This day is observed in Israel and by many Jewish communities in the United States and elsewhere.  The date is tied to both the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which began 13 days earlier in 1943, and to the Israeli Independence Day, which happened eight days later in 1948.

Holocaust survivors

It’s estimated that approximately 67,000 survivors of the Holocaust are living in the United States and about 400,000 survivors worldwide. With most eyewitnesses to Nazi atrocities now in their 80s and 90s, it’s imperative that our society keep their story alive to that it never happens again.  You can do this with your students by using some of the resources highlighted below.  Help Teaching has scanned the many websites which offer Holocaust content, and the best are listed here.

Teaching about the Holocaust

If you are nervous about teaching this very sensitive subject, you are not alone.  Teaching Holocaust history calls for a high level of sensitivity and a keen understanding of the complex subject matter.  The photographic and film images can produce emotional reactions in students (and adults, too).  The heart-wrenching stories of survivors may have an unforgettable impact on students.  Here are some articles you might find helpful:

Holocaust Resources

There are countless resources out there for all grade levels.  Here are a few.

From Help Teaching

From KidsKonnect

Online resources

These groups and institutions offer resources to help you teach about the Holocaust:

Online events

Here’s a sampling of the many live and recorded online events planned for this year:

Hollywood films about the Holocaust

A word of caution: Always preview any film you are going to show to students for appropriateness of content for the given age group.  The films recommended here best shown only to high school students.

  • Eight lessons on Schindler’s List from Facing History
    • Steven Spielberg’s 1993 epic starring Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Kingsley remains at the top of the list. (Rated “R” for violence, nudity, language; here is a critique of the film’s elements)
  • Defiance study guide from the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation
    • Jewish brothers in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe escape into the Belarussian forests, where they endeavor to build a village, in order to protect themselves and about one thousand Jewish non-combatants (Rated “R” for violence, nudity, language; here is a critique of the film’s elements)
  • Denial discussion guide from the ADL
    • Denial recounts Deborah E. Lipstadt’s legal battle for historical truth against British author David Irving who sued her and her publisher for libel after she declared him a Holocaust denier in her 1993 book (Rated “PG-13” for language; here is a critique of the film’s elements).  For resources specifically addressing this issue see below.
  • The Book Thief activity guide from the Unitarian Universalist Association
    • Based on the novel by Markus Zusak, this film tells the story of a young girl living with her adoptive German family in the 1930s and 40s.  After her foster father teaches her to read, she begins “borrowing” books and sharing them with the Jewish refugee sheltering in their home. (Rated “PG-13” for violence; here is a critique of the film’s elements)
  • Life Is Beautiful discussion questions from ReadWriteThink
    • Director/actor Roberto Benigni’s Italian-language (with English subtitles) recounting of Holocaust atrocities is injected with a story of hope, joy and a love more precious than words.  The film won three Oscars in 1999.  (Rated “PG-13” for violent content; here is a critique of the film’s elements)
  • The Hiding Place curriculum created by the Holocaust Museum Houston 

The true story of the Ten Boom family, members of the Dutch Resistance during World War II who found shelter for dozens of Jews, including many children. Corrie Ten Boom and her sister were caught and sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp.  (Rated “PG” for mild violent content; here is a critique of the film’s elements)

Holocaust denial

Sadly, we must note that in recent decades, Holocaust denial has become more widespread and sophisticated worldwide. The Miami Herald reports one in ten young American adults thinks Jewish people caused the Holocaust. Another one in ten doesn’t believe the Holocaust happened.  However, encouragingly, 80% of Millennials in a survey commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, responded they felt it is important to continue teaching about the Holocaust.  In October 2020, Facebook placed a ban on posts espousing Holocaust denial.

Holocaust denial is a form of historical revisionism which denies that the murder of six million Jews ever happened.  This phenomenon gained some popularity after World War Two among former supporters and participants of the Nazi regime who refused to accept responsibility for the crimes of genocide.

The general aim of Holocaust denial is to challenge and ridicule the history of Jewish suffering during the war.  Holocaust denial is the most extreme form of antisemitism.  Here are some classroom resources which specifically counteract this dangerous retooling of history:

Image source: www.freepik.com

Observing Martin Luther King Day

On the third Monday of January each year (in 2021, that’s 18 January), Martin Luther King Day is observed and celebrated through service in the US. Learn more about MLK and his contribution to the Civil Rights Movement here!

Who was Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Born on January 15, 1929, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Christian pastor, a leader of the civil rights movement in America, Nobel laureate, and anti-war activist.  King was the conscience of a nation as he stood up in the face of institutional racism leading millions to demonstrate against the injustices of American society.  King’s embodiment of the non-violent methods used to protest racial discrimination changed the course of history.  He remains an inspiration to generations of people regardless of their racial and ethnic background.

His birth name was Michael, as was his father’s.  After a trip to Germany, where the elder King became impressed by the life of the Reformation priest Martin Luther, Michael’s father changed his name to Martin.  Soon the younger King would also adopt the name.  That’s not the only thing Martin, Jr. would imitate from his father’s life.  After undergoing seminary training, the young MLK would eventually join his father as co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was famous for many accomplishments, but perhaps his greatest legacy is not in his achievements but in his methods.  Nonviolence was the hallmark of King’s success at leading a movement for civil rights for African Americans.  King fused his belief in the Christian doctrine of love, espoused by Jesus, with the non-violent political resistance demonstrated by Mohandas K. Gandhi.  King said this powerful combination gave him the method for social reform he needed.

Civil Rights Movement

King went to segregated schools in Georgia, and this experience of discrimination led him to become a strong proponent for civil rights for African Americans.  While serving as a pastor, he was also a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  This prepared him to take on a leadership role in one of America’s greatest non-violent demonstrations — the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955.

Montgomery bus boycott

The boycott began when a Black woman, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat in the “whites only” section of a bus.  This year-long political demonstration when Black passengers refused to ride on the city’s bus services because they were treated as second class citizens to white passengers captured the nation’s attention and catapulted King to fame.  During the boycott, King was arrested, his home was bombed, and he was subjected to personal abuse, as were other protesters.  Yet his unwavering commitment to non-violence in the face of police aggression set in motion a political movement the country had rarely before seen.

Greater leadership

By 1957, King became president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference which bolstered the burgeoning civil rights movement.  For the next decade, MLK would travel more than six million miles giving speeches, leading demonstrations, and at times being imprisoned, physically threatened, and beaten.  He led voter registration drives, organized the peaceful March on Washington where he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and gave advice to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

Accomplished author

MLK wrote many books including Stride Toward Freedom, his first book.  It recounts the story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  The famous 1967 Massey Lectures which King gave through the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation are collected in The Trumpet of Conscience.  In the lectures, King addressed the Vietnam War and civil disobedience.  In 1963, he wrote the movement’s seminal work “Letter from Birmingham Jail”.  In a triumph of oratory, the letter is a scathing indictment of white church leaders who preach the love of God but do nothing to stop the injustices God despises.  King said that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws and to take direct action rather than waiting forever for justice to come through the courts.  The letter contains one of most memorable King quotes: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Nobel Peace Prize

King was awarded five honorary degrees in his lifetime, was named “Man of the Year” by Time magazine in 1963, and received, at age 35, one of the world’s most prestigious awards — the Nobel Peace Prize.  In his acceptance speech, King said, “…man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

Tragic Death

On the evening of April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, King was assassinated by a lone gunman.  He was just 39.

Honoring King’s Legacy

Martin Luther King Jr. Day (officially Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., and sometimes referred to as MLK Day) is a federal holiday marking the birthday of the civil rights leader.  It is observed each year on the third Monday of January.  King’s birthday is January 15.  Known as “a day on, not a day off”, the holiday is an opportunity for adults and children to spend their day off from work and school performing acts of service.  Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill into law to create the federal holiday honoring King.  The national Martin Luther King Day of Service was started by U.S. Senator Harris Wofford and U.S. Representative John Lewis, who co-authored the King Holiday and Service Act.  This federal legislation was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994.

Resources for Learning about Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement

Help Teaching has created many educational resources for this holiday.

KidsKonnect.com has a library full of MLK-related activities

Check out these free resources from BusyTeacher.org.

These groups and institutions can also help you teach about MLK Day:

Learning at home and online

Watch the short video; then do any of the activities created by Discover EducationTry making these I Have a Dream mobiles from the National Constitution Center

Recommended Videos

Recommended Books

Service activities online

Webinars and online educational events

Or skip the video and download a pdf of the slides from the presentation

Image source: Photo by Ilse Orsel on Unsplash

Interesting Facts & Stories from Inauguration Days Past

On Wednesday, January 20, 2021, at noon, President-elect Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the next president of the United States.  Learn all about Inauguration Days from the past here!

Biden will be sworn into office as the 46th commander-in-chief.  Inauguration Day is typically a day of pomp and circumstance, carefully planned out to reflect tradition and the orderly transfer of power.  (This year’s activities will be limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic — see below).  However, through the years there have been some moments that stand out as atypical of the normal routine.  Here are some interesting facts and history from Inauguration Days past.

A Change in Date
For well over a century, the new president was sworn in on March 4. This extended lame-duck session led to numerous problems for incoming presidents, so the date of inauguration was established as January 20 by the passage of the 20th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

A Change in Location
The first president who took the oath of office in the nation’s current capital of Washington D.C. was Thomas Jefferson in 1801. Previously, George Washington took his first oath in New York. His second oath, along with John Adams’ one and only, were administered in Philadelphia.

The Oath of Office

There have been numerous occasions when the oath of office had to be re-administered. The most recent and infamous example was in 2009. On that day, the oath was incorrectly read by Chief Justice John Roberts and repeated by President Barack Obama. Because the oath was not read and repeated exactly as stated in the Constitution, Obama and Roberts had a do-over “out of an abundance of caution”. The oath has been repeated six other times in history due to a variety of issues. Four presidents – Rutherford  Hayes, Woodrow Wilson, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan – restated their oaths publicly because Inauguration Day took place on a Sunday, meaning only private ceremonies were held. Chester Arthur and Calvin Coolidge both took the oath privately following the sudden death of the sitting president, as did Lyndon Johnson in 1963 after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  Lyndon Johnson’s swearing-in is the only time a president has taken the oath while flying in an airplane.

The Inaugural Speech

The first inaugural speech was also the shortest (just 135 words). The longest speech is surrounded in intrigue as many believe it led to a tragic event. William Henry Harrison’s almost two hour, 8,500-word speech took place on a cold, wet day. In 1841, President William Henry Harrison chose to forgo a coat and hat, and rode on horseback instead of in a covered carriage.  Many have attributed Harrison’s death from pneumonia just thirty days later to these poor choices, but modern historians dispute this theory. They instead point to poor handling of sewage in the area around the White House water supply that would have had devastating effects on Harrison’s gastrointestinal system.

Tragic results of Inauguration Day

There is, however, one death that is properly attributed to poor Inauguration Day weather. That sad designation belongs to Abigail Fillmore, wife of President Millard Fillmore, who, in 1853, remained at her husband’s side throughout his successor’s (Franklin Pierce) inauguration despite brutal wintry conditions. She developed pneumonia and died shortly after.

Coverage of the Inauguration
In 1845, James Polk’s inaugural was the first covered by telegraph. The first inauguration to be photographed was in 1857 when James Buchanan took the oath. William McKinley was the first president to have his inauguration filmed by a motion picture camera, and Harry Truman was the first to be televised. Bill Clinton’s second inauguration was the first to be live-streamed on the Internet.

Inaugural Balls
Every four years, much is made of the parties and inaugural balls. Fashion experts critique the outfits, gossip columnists cover the attendees, and pundits analyze the cost.  The first inaugural ball celebrated the beginning of James Madison’s presidency in 1809.  Tickets were just $4.  In the 21st century, admission for two to the inaugural balls can cost upwards of $10,000!

The 2021 Inauguration’s Special Circumstances
Inauguration Day has a long list of traditional and customary practices that presidents and their staffs have followed for years.  But nothing about the 2020 campaign and election season has been traditional.  The COVID-19 pandemic will affect how this inauguration will be handled.  Although a public ceremony is scheduled for January 20 at the U.S. Capitol, festivities will be limited to prevent the spread of the virus.  The live audience will be limited to members of Congress.  Public health measures such as mandatory face coverings, testing, temperature checks, and social distancing will be used for the ceremony.

Inaugural organizers are inviting communities around the United States to light buildings and ring church bells at 5:30 p.m. ET on the eve of the inauguration in a moment of “unity and remembrance” for those lost to the pandemic.  A lighting ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool will be held simultaneously.  Most traditional inaugural festivities will be conducted virtually.  The parade, should it take place, will be historically limited, and other functions such as inaugural balls may not be held.  The Biden Inaugural Committee has urged people not to physically gather in Washington for ceremonies.
You can sign up to receive details of the inauguration from the official Presidential Inauguration Committee 2021 website.

Resources for Teaching about Presidential Inaugurations

Free education resources

Video Resources

C-SPAN has also compiled videos of inaugural speeches.  Here are some of the more notable ones:

  • Franklin Roosevelt’s first address, 1933 (“…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…”)
  • John F. Kennedy, 1961 (“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”)
  • Ronald Reagan’s first address, 1981 (“Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”)
  • Bill Clinton’s first inaugural ceremony, 1993 (which includes footage of Maya Angelou’s poem “On The Pulse Of Morning” written specifically for the occasion)
  • Barack Obama’s first address, 2009 (“The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.”)

Activities and worksheets

  • KidsKonnect has a variety of worksheets related to the Presidents and their inauguration including a packet about the 20th Amendment which set the January 20th date for presidential inaugurations
Image source: Luke Michael on Unsplash

New Year Customs from Around the World

Every year, people around the world mark the passage of time with New Year’s celebrations.  December 31 and January 1 find many more people than usual (even kids!) staying up well past their bedtimes. Learn more about this annual celebration here!

Around the world

Different cultures have different ways of celebrating the transition from the old year to the new.  It’s worth noting that some cultures which use a different calendar in addition to the Western civil one (also called the Gregorian calendar), may still mark the transition from one year to the next on January 1, but the cultural celebrations happen as the new year begins on their traditional calendar (for example, Chinese New Year and Islamic New Year).

What the heck is Hogmanay?

Hogmanay is what the New Year celebration is called in Scotland.  The word’s exact origin is unknown, but it may have come from the French word hoginane meaning “gala day”.  The name might also have come from the Anglo-Saxon haleg monath meaning “holy month”.  Some claim it came from the Scandinavian hoggo-nott meaning “yule”.  A traditional part of Hogmanay is “first footing”.  That’s when someone visits friends or family immediately after midnight to become the first person to go into their house in the new year.  First footers traditionally bring a lump of coal to ensure the house remains warm in the coming months.

No sour grapes allowed, but lentils are okay

When the clock strikes midnight in Spain, people reach for grapes.  Tradition has it that you should eat one grape each time the clock chimes.  In Romania, people dress up as dancing bears at the New Year to chase away evil spirits.  In Brazil, eating a bowlful of lentils at New Year is a guarantee of good fortune for the year ahead.

Ring the bells

At midnight on December 31, Buddhist temples and individuals all over Japan ring bells 108 times to symbolize the 108 human sins in Buddhist belief, and to get rid of the 108 worldly desires regarding sense and feeling in every Japanese citizen.  In Seoul, South Korea, the large bell in the Bosingak pavilion (originally constructed in 1396!) is rung just once a year at midnight on December 31.

Smashing stuff

In Denmark, people smash a plate on a friend’s doorstep to bring good luck over the next twelve months.  No one knows the origin of this strange tradition.  In Johannesburg, people like to begin the year without any unwanted items, so at the new year they chuck out old furniture by dropping it out of a window.

Speaking of dropping things…

In Times Square in New York City, the countdown to midnight finishes with a giant ball drop, when a glowing ball is lowered down a big flagpole to the cheers of a million people crammed into the streets below.  The ball is twelve feet in diameter, and weighs nearly 12,000 pounds.  It’s covered with more than 2,600 Waterford Crystal triangles.  The ball has been lowered every year since 1907, except for 1942 and 1943, when the ceremony was cancelled due to World War Two.   There are many ways to watch the ball drop live

Who is first (and last) to celebrate?

The Republic of Kiribati is the first nation to ring in the new year.  This Pacific atoll nation straddles the 180th meridian.  Even though its easternmost islands lie west of the Hawaiian Islands, an odd eastward thrust of the International Date Line gives Kiribati this privilege.  Kiribati is the only nation on earth which is situated in all four hemispheres.

The uninhabited Baker Island and nearby Howland Island, both U.S. possessions in the Pacific, are the last to say goodbye to the old year.  American Samoa is the last inhabited place on the globe to welcome the new year.

Fireworks

Although restrictions on large crowds due to the pandemic may limit fireworks displays, many are still planned and can be enjoyed from afar.  Sadly, the most famous fireworks display, held annually in Sydney, Australia will be toned down for New Year’s Eve 2020 due to pandemic restrictions.  In a normal year, the Sydney celebration would attract more than a million spectators to the city’s harbor, and one billion viewers on television and internet streaming.  Due to its time zone, Sydney is one of the first major cities in the world to enter the new year. 

Most major cities have fireworks displays each year including Dubai, Singapore, Niagara Falls, Berlin, and Rio de Janeiro, where fireworks are launched at the city’s famous Copacabana beach.  Again, fireworks displays in many of the world’s great cities this year have been cancelled or curtailed due to the pandemic, but some will be streamed online.

Virtual celebrations

Kids can zoom into the New Year with the many virtual “Noon” Year’s Eve celebrations offered by children’s museums and other non-profit groups.  Here are a few:

How can I celebrate New Year in my classroom?

Since most schools are closed for the winter holidays during the week between Christmas and New Year, it is difficult to celebrate the new year in your classroom on January 1.  However, you can celebrate the new year as schools reopen a day or two later.

Turning over a new leaf

For all students, the new year affords an opportunity to start over.  This can be particularly helpful for those students who have had a rough time academically and behaviorally in the autumn term.  Giving them a chance to reset, form new goals, and develop a new attitude about learning may be just what they need to succeed in the New Year.

Roses, thorns and buds from 2020: This prompt helps kids reflect on the past and move forward to what’s ahead.  Have each student share a highlight of 2020 (rose), a challenging or sad moment (thorn), and one thing they’re looking forward to (bud) in 2021.  This can be done in group discussion or as a written assignment.  Connecticut Children’s Medical Center has more great ideas.

Writing

Start a Journal: The new year is a great time for students of all ages to start writing a daily or weekly journal.  Create a Journal Center for students who are just beginning to write (K through 2).  In the center, place copies of a blank frame for drawing and a template for writing a journal entry that will be kept in a student’s folder.  The date and a prompt is posted in the center.  Beginning writers go to the center, copy the date, read the prompt, draw a picture, write, or dictate to an aide, a classroom volunteer, or an older student assistant from another grade.  Students may choose to share journal entries during time for sharing with the class.

Older elementary students will enjoy hearing Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin read out loud. This daily journal of a personified worm, reveals some of the good news and bad news about being a worm.  The book models journal writing with humor.  After reading, lead a discussion about the book asing questions such as: What do you think of the things the worm wrote about in his diary? What would you write about in your diary?

Check out Reading Rockets for more tips on journaling.

Making Predictions

Kids have great imaginations, so engage them with an opportunity to think about what the new year will be like in the area of science and technology.  What new inventions might be created?  What discoveries might be made?  What improvements to our lives might be coming?  You might want to start with a class discussion of some of the advances which are on the horizon in the areas of space exploration, undersea research, computers, and transportation.  Popular media such as Forbes, Interesting Engineering, and National Geographic usually offer summaries of trends in many areas this time of year.

New Year’s activities for elementary children

KidsKonnect has a thick bundle of New Year worksheets and activities available for download.  This packet includes:

  • New Year Facts
  • New Year’s Info by Numbers
  • Unique Traditions
  • Mapping New Year
  • New Year Ball Drop
  • Ancient Celebrations
  • Symbols and Meanings
  • New Year Around the World
  • My Resolution

From all of us at Help Teaching, best wishes for a healthy and prosperous New Year!

Christmas History & Activities for Kids

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  Or so the song goes.  There are many ways you can celebrate Christmas with your students.  Let HelpTeaching assist you with resources, worksheets, activities, and links to educational content for every taste.

What is Christmas?

Christmas is a season of gift-giving, feasting with family, reconnecting with friends, and decorating homes with lights, wreaths, and trees.  For others, it’s all that and more. Christians celebrate Christmas because it marks the birth of their savior Jesus Christ.  Christmas means different things to different people.

History of Christmas

The first recorded Christmas celebration was in Rome on December 25, 336 CE.  That’s more than 300 years after the time when Jesus was born.  In the Roman calendar, December 25 was the winter solstice, which was considered a Pagan holiday.  A fourth-century sermon by St. Augustine explains why Christian leaders felt this was a fitting day to celebrate Christ’s birth: “Hence it is that He was born on the day which is the shortest in our earthly reckoning and from which subsequent days begin to increase in length. He, therefore, who bent low and lifted us up chose the shortest day, yet the one whence light begins to increase.”  The story of Jesus’ birth is found in the Bible.  Christians believe Jesus is God’s son, so that’s why his birth is so special.

Christmas remained a religious holiday in the West for many centuries gaining popularity in the middle ages.  The non-religious aspects of Christmas developed over time and in the last hundred years or so, many people on all continents celebrate the holiday in a more secular way.  Religious celebrations of Christmas are still held around the world.

Ho, Ho, Ho…

The jolly ol’ big guy in the red flannel suit is one of the most familiar symbols of Christmas.  The tradition of Santa Claus evolved from the true story of the Christian bishop who became Saint Nicholas.  The real Nicholas dates from the fourth century CE, and his legendary secret gift-giving gave rise to the traditional Santa Claus, a name based on “Sinterklass”, the Dutch rendering of Saint Nicholas.

Our modern image of Santa Claus came about through the blending of several images and stories in the 19th century.  Clement Moore’s poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (better known today as “The Night Before Christmas“) was published in Troy, New York, in 1823.  Moore’s description of Santa as a “chubby and plump” elf whose reindeer-pulled sleigh lands on someone’s roof became inspiration for cartoonist Thomas Nast’s illustration of jolly St. Nick in 1863.  The look of Santa in a red suit with a long white beard became seared in the American mind with the 1930’s Coca-Cola advertisements created by artist Haddon Sundblom.

Around the world

Different cultures around the globe have a variety of ways to celebrate Christmas.  Here are few traditions from around the world:

  • In Japan, despite only 1% of the population claiming to be Christian, people flock to Kentucky Fried Chicken for their Christmas meal.  People order their boxes months in advance or stand in line for two hours or longer to get their “finger lickin’ good” food.
  • Iceland celebrates not twelve, but thirteen days of Christmas.  On each of the thirteen nights before Christmas, Icelandic children are visited by the Yule Lads who put either candy (if they’ve been good) or rotten potatoes in their shoes while they sleep.
  • In Brazil, many Christmas traditions come from Portugal, as Brazil was once a Portuguese colony.  Nativity scenes, known as presépio, are very popular.  They are set-up in churches and homes all through December.
  • In Uganda, the proper name for Christmas is Sekukkulu. Churches are the center of the celebrations with church bells ringing and carols sung by candlelight.  A Christmas feast of matooke and grilled chicken is served.  Matooke is a starchy variety of banana which is harvested green, peeled, and then steamed and mashed.
  • In New Zealand, Christmas comes in the middle of the summer vacation season, so lots of people spend time on the beach, camping, or at their baches (holiday homes).  Kiwis often have a Christmas barbecue featuring grilled ham slices, venison, and shrimp.  The Christmas tree in New Zealand is the pōhutukawa with its bright red flowers blooming in mid- to late December.
  • In Lebanon, Christians build manger scenes called nativity cribs in their homes.  The crib is more popular than a Christmas tree.  Santa Claus is known as Baba Noël, and people eat sugared almonds drunk with cups of strong coffee.

Christmas activities

There are loads of ways to keep your little elves busy right up to the big day, and to keep them engaged after they get tired of playing with their new toys in the days after Christmas.  Take a look at Christmas: 12 delightful recipes for the best family time from the charity World Vision for recipes not just for food but for family enrichment, too.

Christmas cooking ideas

Christmas cooking is more than just baking cookies!  And it can be a great learning experience for children.

Christmas craft ideas

  • Try this Santa Candy Holder from SantaGames.net suitable for older elementary children
  • Learn how to make Christmas tree decorations from buttons at Gathered.how
  • Here are 7 easy holiday craft ideas for kids from Easy Kids Craft
  • Check out these 12 Christmas activities for toddlers and preschoolers at Teachingmama.org
  • Kids will love learning how to draw their favorite Christmas images at ArtProjectsforKids.org

Christmas, language arts, and math

Check out HelpTeaching’s Christmas-themed worksheets and activities here.  There are many seasonal worksheets and tests waiting for your students here.

Our friends at KidsKonnect have a sleigh full of Christmas worksheets and activities:

Christmas storytelling

Christmas has inspired so much great literature, and it will inspire your students to write creatively, too.

  • Perhaps the most popular and famous Christmas tale is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  Help Teaching has resources to accompany classroom or individual reading of this special story.
  • Kids will have creative fun making their own versions of Clement Moore’s classic poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.
  • You can keep the holiday rolling as kids explore the theme of the Twelve Days of Christmas
  • Children love Dr. Seuss, so why not include a reading of How the Grinch Stole Christmas to your holiday?  Use the accompanying worksheet to assess understanding of the story.
  • Storyline Online presents the Brothers Grimm tale “The Elves and the Shoemaker” free.  This 6-minute video aimed at 2nd – 3rd grade is produced by the SAG-AFTRA Foundation which streams free videos featuring celebrated actors reading children’s books alongside creatively produced illustrations.  They even provide a free, detailed teacher’s guide to the story packed with lesson ideas and worksheets.
  • The Indianapolis Public Library has plenty of Christmas read-alouds on video and free printed resources, including Christmas worksheets with Curious George and Pete the Cat.

Virtual Christmas

  • 61st Annual LA County Holiday Celebration. This free virtual Christmas Eve event will be streamed live 3-6 p.m., Pacific time
  • Thinking of hosting your students for an online holiday party?  Consider these tips offered by TeachingDegree.org.

Merry Christmas from all of us at Help Teaching!

Image Source: Freepik.com

Ideas for Teaching Kwanzaa to Kids

Every year, people around the world celebrate a seven-day festival called Kwanzaa.  If you want to emphasize character education with your students, then this is the holiday for you!

What is Kwanzaa?

Kwanzaa is the African American and pan-African festival which celebrates family, community and culture.  Created in 1966 by activist and author Dr. Maulana Karenga, the holiday’s rituals promote African traditions and “Nguzo Saba”, the seven principles of African heritage that Karenga described as a “communitarian African philosophy”.

Karenga’s goal in creating Kwanzaa was to “give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society”.  Despite this, people of all ethnic backgrounds can celebrate Kwanzaa, as the principles highlighted in the festival are universal.

When is Kwanzaa?

Though it is celebrated in late December, Kwanzaa is not an “African” Christmas celebration, but dovetails nicely with the Christmas ideals of joy, hope, love and giving.  It also fits well with the values taught during Hanukkah.  Because it’s a celebration of ideals, people of all faiths can feel comfortable celebrating Kwanzaa.  Unlike holidays in the world’s major religions which are often tied to the lunar cycle, Kwanzaa is always December 26-January 1.

What does the word “Kwanzaa” mean?

“Kwanza” is a Swahili word meaning “first”, drawn from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” or “first fruits”.  Choosing a word from Swahili is significant as it is the most widely spoken language in Africa, spanning national boundaries, and thus establishing Kwanzaa as an inclusive holiday.  Kwanzaa does not originate in any of the 55 countries on the continent.

What is celebrated during Kwanzaa?

Five common sets of values are at the center of the festival: ingathering, reverence, commemoration, recommitment, and celebration.  The seven principles of Kwanzaa use Swahili words:

  • Umoja (unity)
  • Kujichagulia (self-determination)
  • Ujima (collective work and responsibility)
  • Ujamaa (cooperative economics)
  • Nia (purpose)
  • Kuumba (creativity)
  • Imani (faith)

Each of the seven candles signify the principles, and one is lit each day.

The symbols of Kwanzaa include crops (mzao) representing the historical roots of African-Americans in agriculture and the reward for collective labor.  The mat (mkeka) lays the foundation for self-determination. The candle holder (kinara) reminds people of their ancestral origins in African countries.  Corn/maize (muhindi) symbolizes children and the hope of the younger generation.  Gifts (Zawadi) represent commitments of the parents for the children.  The unity cup (Kkimbe cha Umoja) is used to pour libations to ancestors.  Finally, the seven candles (mishumaa saba) remind participants of the seven principles and the colors in flags of African liberation movements — 3 red, 1 black, and 3 green.

How is Kwanzaa celebrated?

In addition to candle lighting, gifts are exchanged during Kwanzaa.  On December 31 participants celebrate with a banquet of food (“karamu”) — often cuisine from various African countries.  People greet one another with “Habari gani” which is Swahili for “how are you/ how’s the news with you?”  Celebrations include music, dance, poetry, and storytelling.  January 1 is a day dedicated to reflection and recommitment to the seven principles and other central cultural values.

How can I celebrate Kwanzaa in my classroom?

Well, since most schools are closed for the winter holidays during the week between Christmas and New Years, it is difficult to celebrate Kwanzaa in your classroom on the exact dates of the festival.  Why not celebrate it during the week leading up to your school’s holiday break?  Obviously if you are a homeschool, you can do Kwanzaa starting on December 26.

Since Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday, it can be celebrated by all students regardless of their family’s beliefs.  Your classroom library should include books about Kwanzaa, but if not, ask your school’s media center director for Kwanzaa resources.  Scholastic offers reasonably-priced Kwanzaa books for kids.  The classic book for the holiday, My First Kwanzaa Book by Deborah Newton Chocolate, is available on Amazon, but it is quite pricey.  You may wish to opt for the YouTube version where a teacher reads the story aloud.
I highly recommend the film “The Black Candle” for older students.  This vibrant, landmark documentary, narrated by Maya Angelou and directed by M.K. Asante, Jr., uses Kwanzaa as a vehicle to explore and celebrate the African-American experience.

Kwanzaa activities for elementary children

Help Teaching has many Kwanzaa-themed worksheets and activities in Language Arts, Math and Social Studies. 

Kwanzaa song

Preschoolers and kindergarteners will enjoy this song sung to the tune of Three Blind Mice!

(Author Unknown

Red, green, black,

Red, green, black,

Kwanzaa’s here,

Kwanzaa’s here,

The decorations are quite a sight,

We light a candle every night,

The holiday is filled with light,

Kwanzaa’s here.

Make a kinara

An important symbol of Kwanzaa is the kinara, a candelabra which holds one black, three red, and three green candles.  Red, black, and green are the colors of the Pan-African flag, which symbolizes unity among African people all over the world.  Each candle on the kinara represents one of the holiday’s seven principles.  Your students can make their own kinara, or one for the classroom.

Supplies needed: 

6 small cardboard tubes (toilet paper tubes are perfect)

1 long cardboard tube (paper towel roll works)

Green, red, and black paint

Yellow or orange tissue paper

Elmer’s (white) glue

Instructions:

Paint three of the small tubes red and the other three green.  Paint the long tube black.  When the tubes are dry, glue them side by side forming a line, the green tubes on one side, the red ones on the other and the black tube in the middle.  Crumple up a piece of the tissue paper and push it into the top of each tube so that it looks like a flame.

Benne Cakes

A food from West Africa.  Benne means sesame seeds.  This would make a fun project for your class.

Ingredients:

oil to grease a cookie sheet

1 cup finely packed brown sugar

1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened

1 egg, beaten

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup toasted sesame seeds

Method:

Preheat the oven to 325°.  Lightly oil a cookie sheet.  Mix together the brown sugar and butter, and beat until they are creamy.  Stir in the egg, vanilla extract, and lemon juice.  Add flour, baking powder, salt, and sesame seeds.  Drop by rounded teaspoons onto the cookie sheet two inches apart.  Bake for 15 minutes or until the edges are browned.  Enjoy! (from Mr. Donn’s Site for Kids & Teachers)

Additional educational resources

Official Kwanzaa Website

Seven Interesting Facts about Kwanzaa at PBS.org

African Burial Ground National Monument, New York 

NC State Univ. African American Cultural Center

Kwanzaa Facts & Worksheets from KidsKonnect.com

Loads of craft ideas from Artists Helping Children

Try this Kwanzaa interactive from PBS’ “Arthur” series

Virtual Kwanzaa Celebrations

St. Louis County Library

NJPAC (New Jersey Performing Arts Center) 

Creative Suitland of Prince George’s County, Maryland

Anne Arundel County Public Library

Image source: Happy Kwanzaa from Freepik.com

How to learn about and celebrate Hanukkah

Whether you’re Jewish or want to teach your students more about this popular observance, we unpack the holiday and list activities and worksheets that you can use today!

Although it doesn’t rank among the most important of the Jewish holidays, Hanukkah is one of the most widely observed Jewish celebrations. This eight-day “Festival of Lights” illuminates what is, for many in the northern hemisphere, the darkest, coldest season of the year.

Hanukkah brings light, joy, and warmth to our homes and communities.  The holiday’s central ritual of lighting candles of a menorah each day literally brings light to the darkness.  Metaphorically, the presence of light is reflected in an emphasis on charitable donations and, for some Jews, a commitment to social action and social justice.

What are the origins of Hanukkah?

Hanukkah (sometimes spelled Chanukah) recalls the second-century BC victory of a small group of Jewish rebels (led by Judas Maccabeus and his brothers, known together as “the Maccabees”) over the armies of the Seleucid Empire.  The Maccabees seized control of Judea and founded the Hasmonean dynasty, which ruled for over 100 years.

Hanukkah means “dedication” in Hebrew, because the major accomplishment of the Maccabees was a rededication of the Jerusalem Temple, which for many years had been used for the worship of Persian and Greek deities.  The Maccabees were also responsible for expanding the boundaries of Judea and reducing the influence of what they considered pagan Hellenism.

The miracle of Hanukkah, which is reflected in the lighting of candles and eating foods prepared in oil, comes from the story that when the Maccabees rescued the Temple from the Seleucids, they could only find one small cruse of oil that bore the seal of the priests.  All the others had been profaned.  There was only enough oil to light the Temple’s menorah for one day.  Instead, by a miracle, the oil lasted eight days and nights – long enough for the priests to prepare and consecrate new oil.

Why does the date of Hanukkah change every year?

Hanukkah always starts at sundown on the 25th day of the month of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar.  All days on the Jewish calendar start at nightfall.  The secular date of Hanukkah changes every year because the Hebrew calendar is based on the lunar cycle.  Hanukkah can occur anytime between November 28th and December 26th.  This year it begins at sunset on December 10, 2020.  In 2021, Hanukkah begins on the evening of November 28.  The annual festival of lights happens in 2022 starting on December 18.

Free and Pro Hanukkah worksheets and activities

Help Teaching has surveyed many Hanukkah-related educational resources for you to download and use.  Here are the highlights:

Our own Hanukkah-themed resources include: 

There are many others listed in our Winter Holidays worksheet collection that cover ELA, math, sciences, games and puzzles, and more.

Fun Hanukkah activities

Hanukkah is a special time to enjoy with friends and family, and fun games and activities are part of the tradition. 

  • Hanukkah Mad Lib: Children will have fun spinning the dreidel and doing some Hanukkah Mad Libs which will provide hours of laughs while helping kids expand their knowledge of parts of speech.  If you don’t want to buy the book, make your own Mad Libs, or try this free one from My Jewish Learning.
  • Listen and Learn: Older children and adults will enjoy listening to stories of the season on “Hanukkah Lights” from National Public Radio carried on stations across the country.  For more than 15 years, NPR has offered original stories inspired by the Jewish festival of lights. Hosted by NPR’s Susan Stamberg, and Murray Horwitz, each year Hanukkah Lights marks the age-old Jewish celebration with contemporary fiction. Previous years’ episodes are available free and on-demand.
  • Get cooking: Food is a delicious part of Hanukkah. Holiday treats include latkes, sufganiyot, bimuelos (fried dough puffs) and keftes de prasas (leek patties). You and your kids will enjoy watching the PBS program “Sara’s Weeknight Meals: Jewish Holidays” airing on many stations across the country.  Find out where and when or watch on YouTube. Sara Moulton serves up two traditional Hanukkah dishes that are tricky to prepare.  Step by step, she takes us through the process, starting with Braised Brisket, and on the side, her Aunt Rifka’s recipe for matzo balls they call ‘flying disks’.  Sara and her nephew visit the farm and food incubator Stone Barns in Westchester, New York, to get fresh winter vegetables for her Root Vegetable Latkes. 
  • Games: These involve making your own simple cutout crafts from construction paper or card stock
    • Play “Pin the Candle on the Menorah”.  Have your kids draw and color a giant menorah on posterboard, then make cutout candles to stick on while blindfolded.  Kids take turns until all eight candles are placed.
    • Make a “tick, tack, toe” game out of dreidels and menorahs using hand drawn and cut out pieces and a hand-drawn game board.  Many crafts stores sell foam Hanukkah stickers which can be used as game pieces
  • Crafts:
    • Make a Star of David and Menorah sculptures out of popsicle sticks and a little glue.  Color the sticks beforehand.  You could use pipe cleaners instead of sticks.
    • Organize a plate of fruit into the shape of a menorah
    • There are more great craft ideas listed here.

You will find 101 Hanukkah activities for kids of all ages at care.com.

Printable worksheets

Printable worksheets are a great way to engage students in learning a new topic. KidsKonnect is a growing library of high-quality, printable worksheets for teachers and homeschoolers.  They have loads of Hanukkah Facts and Worksheets that include a fact file and activities for a range of ability levels.

Hanukkah online and multi-media resources

My Jewish Learning is offering a live community candle-lighting over Zoom every night of Hanukkah. 

ReformJudaism.org has a platter full of Hanukkah resources, videos, recipes, and activities for all ages.

Making your classroom more holiday-inclusive

This can be a challenge, particularly in today’s pluralistic society.  Here are a few ideas for celebrating holiday ideas upon which most families can agree no matter their faith or absence of it.

  • Move the spotlight off the individual student and onto others by underscoring the spirit of giving
    • Students can study figures from history who spent their lives focused on the needs of others
    • Children can also make gifts for each other, their parents/guardians, or other family members
    • Have your students taking part in a food drive or toy drive as a method to teach about the spirit of giving
  • Create multicultural celebrations
    • Acknowledging the various beliefs of students in your classroom can extend beyond the month of December
    • Celebrations of the major holidays of various faiths could occur throughout the year at the appropriate time
    • Why not make a commemoration of a holiday an opportunity to give a history lesson on the development of the holiday?
    • You can have your students investigate the cultural significance of the celebration
    • Learning about various faiths does not signify an endorsement by you or the school of that belief system
  • Limit celebrations to foundational ideas
    • A vital part of multiculturalism is to teach children about various points of view
    • By focusing on common ideas such as charity, celebrations become more universal without the added layer of religious debate
  • Maintain anti-bias goals
    • Holiday celebrations are a great way to have students examine the similarities and differences of our shared society
    • Shedding light on these differences, and celebrating them in a non-judgmental manner, is a great lesson for children to learn
  • Finally, keep parents/guardians informed
    • Let the parents/guardians of your students know ahead of time what and how religious holidays will be commemorated
    • In this way, parents can nuance what you are teaching in the classroom with their own beliefs
    • Some parents may want their child to opt out of the holiday celebration, so be prepared with an appropriate response which honors their beliefs
    • Let your school administrator know what you will be doing with regard to religious holidays, and follow the school’s guidance on the issue

Teachers and administrators may find this article helpful when assessing options for instruction about religions in U.S. public schools.

Hanukkah may be a Jewish holiday, but this festival of lights can be celebrated by all.

Hanukkah sameach!

Image source: Hanging Stars Vectors by Vecteezy

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