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Brighten Up the Holidays With Cross-Curriculum Activities

Looking for a way to brighten up the holidays? Education World offers more than a dozen across-the-curriculum activities that teach skills while celebrating the season!

In Loogootee, Indiana, students in Karen Slaven's second-grade class learned all about the holiday customs and activities of children around the world. Slaven posted her holiday project idea to Global SchoolNet's Internet Projects Registry. She was looking for PreK-3 classes willing to share information about holiday and winter activities, customs, and celebrations in their part of the world.

"We had 29 schools from around the world participating," Slaven told Education World. "Included were schools in the United States, Canada, France, Spain, Australia and New Zealand."

Participating classes composed class letters to Mrs. Santa Claus, reports Slaven. The letters told Mrs. Claus of special holiday activities in their communities and asked her questions about getting ready for Christmas or taking care of Santa, the reindeer, and the elves. Each class's letter was shared with the other classes involved in the project. That way, all the children had the same opportunity to learn about the ways in which the holidays are celebrated in different parts of the United States and the world.

Slaven worked with Pat Hale, the librarian/media specialist at Loogootee Elementary West, to set up the project and to organize and develop the project's Web site, Mrs. Claus's Workshop. (Note: Although the Web site Karen Slaven designed is no longer available on the Net, her project idea is one that teachers might use or adapt.)

"The site included student writing and art projects involving reindeer, an interactive quiz developed by second-grade students, a slideshow of true facts about reindeer, and literature links to quality books for kids," says Hale. "It also had fun recipes, games, and links to other holiday-related sites."

"The project also involved the students' parents," adds Hale. "Some parents did not realize the potential benefits of using the Web in the classroom. This project was an opportunity for them to see what a safe and creative experience it can be. The parents answered letters sent to Mrs. Claus."

"This project was multidisciplinary, with special emphasis on social studies, holidays, letter writing, and language development," adds Slaven. Among the activities that teachers might use to extend the project are these:

  • Geography and language. When classes receive emails, the origins of messages will be marked on a world map. More information about any location can be learned by e-mailing the classrooms and asking questions.
  • Literature. Students will be exposed to a variety of related literature, including stories about reindeer such as Jan Brett's The Christmas Reindeer.
  • Art. Mrs. Claus's Workshop offers art project ideas including directions for making clothespin reindeer.
  • Math. Students will compare the height and weight of reindeer to that of more common deer, horses, and cows. They will create graphs.
  • More geography. The native habitat of the reindeer is around the Arctic Circle, which includes Lapland. Given a map, the students will locate this area and label the geographic names of surrounding countries, oceans, and continents.
  • Technology. As Mrs. Claus receives letters from the participating classrooms, information relating to holiday customs in those classrooms will be posted to the Web site.

Projects such as this one can lead to lasting relationships between classrooms around the world, adds Hale. "Our school has a traveling buddy project that involves schools around the world. We have developed close friendships with other classes, especially with a classroom in New Zealand."


Education World offers a sack full of activities for use across the grades and the curriculum. We've tucked away something special for students of all ages, all subjects. Just dig through the selection below and find the activity idea that suits your students' needs!

Art -- holiday projects. Be sure to see this week's Education World LESSON PLANNING story, Ho! Ho! Ho-liday Art Projects Even Santa Would Love!

Language -- holiday greetings. Challenge students to use Internet and library resources to match each country name below with the holiday greeting you might hear in that country. (Looking for an Internet resource to help? Try How Merry Christmas Is Said Around the World page.

1. Filipino (The Phillipines) a. God Jul
2. French b. Feliz Navidad
3. Welsh (Wales) c. Maligayan Pasko
4. Italian d. Nadolig Llawen
5. Swedish e. Joyeux Noel
6. Chilean (Chile) f. Sung Tan Chuk Ha
7. Korean g. Buone Feste Natalizie

[Answers: 1.c, 2.e, 3.d, 4.g, 5.a, 6.b, 7.f.]

Language -- word search puzzle. Challenge students to complete the Christmas Word Search.

Math -- make a bar graph. Invite students to use the information below from the Greeting Card Association to create a bar graph that will show the increasing sales of greeting cards over the years. (For younger students, round off all figures to the nearest billion.)

Year U.S. Retail Sales
1998 $7.5 billion
1995 $6.3 billion
1992 $5.3 billion
1989 $4.2 billion
1986 $3.7 billion
1983 $2.7 billion
1980 $2.1 billion

Citizenship -- giving of yourself. Looking for "gifts" your students can make for their parents, relatives, neighbors, and friends? Talk with students about how they don't have to have money to give nice gifts; they can give of themselves! Create a "Gift Coupon" form on which students can give the gift of time or labor. Students might give coupons that are good for "shoveling snow from the sidewalk," "washing the car," or some other task that might be appreciated.

Geography -- Where are gifts made? According to a Census Bureau report, many holiday gifts are made outside the United States. The list below shows some of the places from which many of this year's holiday gifts might come. Students can cut out from a store ad or sale circular (found in most Sunday newspapers) pictures representing five of the holiday gifts below. They should glue those pictures to the places on the map where those kinds of toys/goods are made.

Toys/Goods Where Are They Made?
Wheeled toys (e.g., tricycles) Taiwan
Dolls China
Stuffed toys China
Electric trains China
Models (assembly kits) Japan
Puzzles China
Jewelry Italy
Skis France
Golf clubs Japan
Tennis rackets China
Basketballs China
Soccer balls Pakistan
Ice skates/roller skates China
Sports footwear China
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Science -- holiday weather. Will it be a white Christmas? What cities in the United States stand the best chance of having a white Christmas? Use the Average Snowfall in Inches chart to find out which cities have the most snowfall in December. Students should name one of the cities in each of the eight states that will have 20 inches or more of snowfall in an average December. (Answers. Those states (and cities) might include: In Alaska -- Juneau, Talkeetna, Valdez, or Yakutat; in California -- Blue Canyon or Mount Shasta; in Maine -- Caribou; in Michigan -- Alpena, Marquette, Muskegon, or Sault Ste. Marie; in New Hampshire -- Mt. Washington; in New York -- Buffalo or Syracuse; in Oregon -- Sexton Summit; and in Pennsylvania -- Erie.)

Reading comprehension -- crossword puzzle. Read to the class any one of the versions of The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore. Then invite students to complete The Night Before Christmas Crossword Puzzle. (This crossword is appropriate for upper elementary and older students. You might print it out for use, as some of the links on the page to parody versions of this classic Christmas poem might be inappropriate; upper elementary students might work in teams to complete the puzzle.)

Math -- percentages and graphing. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, sizeable jumps in sales of many goods occur each year between November and December. The figures below indicate the increases in sales of goods in different kinds of retail stores between November and December (1996). Teachers might challenge students to complete one of the following activities based on the chart below: Create a graph showing the percentage increase or the sales figures for each type of retail store. Calculate the estimated November sales figures for each type of store based upon the provided December sales figures and percentage increase.

[Answers for November Sales (est.): Radio, TV, & Computer = $4,692,000,000; Sporting Goods & Bicycles = $1,656,000,000; Books = $934,000,000; Jewelry = $1,834,000,000; Apparel & Accessories = $10,860,000.]

Radio,TV, & Computer $ 6,710,000,000 43 %
Sporting Goods & Bicycles $ 2,749,000,000 66 %
Books $ 1,644,000,000 76 %
Jewelry $ 4,476,000,000 144 %
Apparel & Accessories $15,204,000,000 40 %
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Cooking -- following directions. Follow the directions to create holiday recipes. Among the recipes you might try are Hanukkah Doughnuts (or Sufganiyot).

Language -- writing. Invite students to write a paragraph in response to the question, If you could give one holiday gift to the world, what would that gift be? For younger students, you might adapt the question by changing world to family.

Art -- create a holiday riddle book. Invite students to collect holiday-themed riddles and jokes. Then invite each student to illustrate one of the jokes. Gather the jokes and illustrations into a class riddle book. To get you started, here are a few holiday riddles:

  • What does Santa say when he works in his garden? (Hoe, hoe, hoe!)
  • Why did the woman put bells on her scale? (She wanted to jingle all the weigh!)
  • What song did the Christmas tree sing when Santa arrived? (Fir He's a Jolly Good Fellow)
  • What has long ears, flies, and helps Santa pull his sleigh? (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Rabbit)
  • What did the musical dog get for Christmas? (A trom-bone!)

Science -- critical thinking. What are the hot toys this holiday season? What makes those toys special? Challenge students to work in teams to invent a toy that they would like to find under the tree! What is special about that toy? What does it do?

Math -- figuring inflation. See a list of the list of value of each of the gifts given during "The Twelve Days of Christmas." What is the value of those gifts this year? Invite students to figure the total value of the gifts based on the rate of inflation over the last 12 months. (Figure a 3 percent increase from year to year, or refer to a Consumer Price Index table.) You might ask students to figure a final total for the twelve days. You might even have them add your local sales tax to that total. (Shipping and handling charges not included!)

Don't miss Education World's December Holidays archive page. There you will find dozens of ideas for teaching about the holidays as well as craft activities, resources, and more.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © Education World

Last updated 11/29/2011