Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thoughts on the coming holiday season...

In a recent post, I mentioned that the time between Halloween and the second or third day of the new year is exciting times for many children.  From the pre-schoolers to the sophisticated high school crowd, their hearts beat a little faster and excitement is in the air.  Sometimes the teacher has to remind the students that they still have to study and learn.

At the intermediate grades life for the teacher becomes very difficult at times.  First, is there a Halloween celebration at the school?  On the school day before Halloween, kids got to dress up in their costumes and come to school.  And some schools have "parades" where one class will go from room to room showing off the individual costumes.  Parties (cupcakes and koolaid) just before the kids went home for the day.  Big relief for the teachers.  Some schools have voted to ignore Halloween but it is hard to do.  I always worried about some kids with little or no costumes.  

The holiday stress continues however for many teachers.  I use to buy a box of pencils with each student's name embossed on them.  Although you could get a classroom deal from the company it still was costly to my wallet.  And you HAD to buy several boxes extra with "My Special Student" embossed on it for sure as you would know, just before the winter break I would get one or two new students.

Also, I made it a rule that the kids could not give me a present.  "School Policy" I would intone but sometimes that didn't always work.  I'd find a package in my car as I would head home some days from some family.  Mostly a tie--and yes, you HAD to wear it to school.  We wore ties in those days--mandatory. Women teachers quite often received some sort of perfume which they HAD to wear.  Much teasing in the teacher's room at noon.

I've already wrote about the Gingerbread Boys and Girls that my wife and I made along with a number of my neighbors.  Each gingerbread item had the child's name in icing on the top.  That was overall the kids' favorite gift.  

But I also had the boys and girls make gifts to take home.  We weren't the richest of neighborhoods around this school and I knew many of the kids would have little money to buy something for the mom or dad.  

My best attempt was to buy sheets of beeswax from a local hobby shop.  It comes in green, red and white and after the first year I picked the color.  The kids each got a sheet of wax--it comes in a kinkly style and you measure it in half, fold and break it into two parts.  Then you lay the wick along one edge and carefully roll the wax sheet softly along that edge.  If done well, it looks pretty good, burns well and is a success with mothers.  The key words here are "carefully" and "softly", both are not commonplace with fourth or fifth graders.  At the end of the project each child was to have two candles to take home.  By and large it worked and I would receive a few nice notes from Moms thanking me in getting her child to make something.  I still remember some of my kids saying that they burned the candles at the Christmas dinner--the look on their faces said it all.

But there were dangers involved.  The candles were fragile and if you held them in your hands, they would melt and all you could do is start over with a fresh sheet of wax.  More then once I had to dry some tears and tell them, no problem, we can do it again.  Also taking them home on the school bus was sometimes a hazard.  But by and large it was a success.  Better yet, it only took one afternoon from our studies to do them, wrap and make a card.  It was time effective.

My other holiday project was not that time effective but I could work it in all during the day.  What I did one year was to take 35mm slide pictures of EACH of my kids playing on the playground....around the tetherball, foursquare, kickball, whatever they were doing.  I got each child individually photographed.  

What I liked about this project was that it had some learning involved.  Each child had to be measure in height.  It was "back up against the wall and tape, and someone had to use a triangle to mark and record the height.  A little bit of science here.  Then in a corner of the room, we'd tape butcher paper up and project the slide of each child using an old push-pull slide projector that nobody used.  The job was to get the picture the right height by moving the projector back or forward.  Then the kids were to outline and color in the picture of themselves.  Some used crayons and some used colored chalk.  I learned quickly to get a spray to fix the chalk or it would smug.  My kids could go back to the corner and work on their "picture" when they got their school work done.  Amazing how improved their work got done.  

But the project was deemed a success.  It was clean, easily rolled up to wrap and a number of parents told me it was one of the best things their child had done.  It wasn't hard and I think the kids learned from it.  Several got into shading, a few tried different styles.  It was cool.  Unfortunately it was the last year that I taught grade school and never tried it again.

In todays world you could take pictures using a digital camera and then project the images using a video projector.  

There are some schools who have banned holiday activities for a variety of reasons.  My personal feelings is that it is a part of society no matter what religion or group you belong to.  It is in the stores, on TV and on the radio.  You can't ignore the elephant in the room, can you? So make it into a learning lesson and discuss, study, and enjoy how children around the world celebrate their holiday.  

The holidays, they are a cummin.  If you are a new teacher, find out what is required or traditionally done or not allowed so you are on top of things.  

Did you ever thank one of your teachers during the holiday season for helping you learn?  Select a teacher today and thank them for all they do with our kids.

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