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Celebrating Holidays in the Classroom
Episode 624th October 2023 • The Teaching Toolbox - A Podcast for Middle School Teachers • Brittany Naujok & Ellie Nixon, Podcast for Middle School Teachers
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In this week's episode of the podcast, we explore the joys and challenges of celebrating holidays in middle school classes.

Holidays can be a great way to bring students together and create a fun learning environment. However, there are also some potential downsides to consider.

In this episode, we'll delve into the pros and cons of celebrating holidays in the classroom and provide some tips and tricks for making the most out of these occasions. This episode is sure to provide valuable insights and ideas for celebrating holidays in a way that is inclusive, educational, and fun for all. So, sit back, relax, and let's get started!

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Transcripts

Celebrating Holidays in the Classroom

Brittany: [:

Hey, it's Brittany and I am here with Ellie.

Ellie: Hey.

Brittany: Welcome to this episode of the podcast where we're going to explore the joys and challenges of celebrating holidays in the middle school classroom. Holidays are a great way to bring students together and create a fun learning environment. However, there are some potential downsides to consider. In this episode, we're going to delve into the pros and cons of celebrating holidays in the classroom and provide some tips and tricks for making the most out of these occasions. This episode is sure to provide valuable insights and ideas for celebrating holidays in a way that is inclusive,

[:

educational, and fun for all.

So sit back, relax, and let's get started. How do you celebrate holidays with students, Ellie?

Ellie: Well, I have to say that I tended not to spend a whole lot of time celebrating holidays once I got to middle school. When I taught elementary school, we were in self-contained classrooms a lot of the time, and parties were a little bit more than norm. So, you know, sign up for different treats and bring things in and that kind of stuff.

Because we could set our own schedules and we had time if we wanted to, to do the games and have food and things like that. But once we got to middle school, my celebrations were more just, uh, kind of incorporating the seasons or a particular holiday into the math work that we were doing. So a lot of our like celebration days were a little bit academic. So maybe the day before a holiday break, we might have a fun math period where we do things like holiday related puzzles, like maybe

[:

logic puzzles, 'cause I have, you know, a Halloween logic puzzle.

Or Winter Logic puzzle..maybe do some mystery graphing so that we could kind of review, coordinate plane and things like that, but also get a fun picture out of it.

So we might do things like that for Thanksgiving or for the winter holidays. During a holiday month, we might use color by numbers that actually incorporate some of the holiday colors or maybe some questions that are related to some of the holidays of that season. But we didn't really go all out with celebrating all of the different holidays. How about you?

Brittany: Pretty much the same. My first school was, sixth grade elementary, and so we celebrated a lot of the holidays. It was a charter school that was a public school, but it had a very heavy religious aspect to it. And so Halloween was a no-go. But Thanksgiving was celebrated quite a lot with

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logic puzzles, color by numbers, writing prompts.

One year we had a parent who really wanted to throw a feast, and so we said, “If you do it all, you handle it all, we'll do a feast.” And so that parent put it all together and we did a big feast

Ellie: Oh, that's nice.

Brittany: for 60 kids. So, that was fun. Christmas, uh, we definitely celebrated at that school with the same types of things….logic, puzzles, writing prompts…

Ellie: Mm-hmm.

Brittany: color by numbers. Different types of, uh, activities. We also had kindergarten buddies.

Ellie: Oh yeah.

Brittany: And so we would get together with our kindergarten buddies and read Christmas stories or make crafts, make, uh, Christmas presents for parents and that sort of thing

Ellie: Yeah. Now that you mention it, we had that too

Brittany: always fun.

Ellie: Like the years that I taught, reading and language arts, it was nice. There was a kindergarten center right next

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to our middle school. It was a little bit of a walk, like five minute walk. But we did have kindergarten buddies there. And yeah, we used to do things like that too. And I think when I taught in elementary school when we were fifth grade, we had some lower level, like lower grade buddies as well. But yeah, I completely forgot that we had that but it was a fun time to make, you know, make crafts and do things like that, that the kindergartners then might take home, for their parents and that kind of thing.

We always had Halloween parades, though. I feel like no matter what school I was at, no matter what grade level, we usually ended up having some type of Halloween parade, elementary school and middle school, or at least you know, the opportunity to dress up. Even if we didn't have a party, there was an opportunity to dress up.

Although requirements for dressing up changed as the years went by. and sometimes it was more, uh, character related, like a character from a book or something like that, rather than some of your more typical Halloween costumes.

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Brittany: See, I never got to do a Halloween parade until my very last school.

Ellie: Oh wow.

Brittany: And then finally allowed Halloween parade and Halloween dress up there. And, uh, . That was, that was a lot of fun. We all dressed up and did a big Halloween parade around the school. I don't know who was watching the parade…

Ellie: Yeah.

Brittany: were all in the parade. But,

Ellie: Well, when we were

teaching elementary school, parents would come and they would, you know, stand along and watch the parade go by.

But on days like that, it would make it harder to keep things academic because kids are a little bit wound up. So, you know, if you could tie in the holiday or tie in the activity with something that was academic, but still a little bit more fun, then that's what I like to do.

Yeah.

Brittany: Yes, definitely. Yeah.

Ellie: Hmm.

Brittany: Yeah. And at the, at the elementary school that I taught at, taught at the first school, uh,

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Christmas month, the month of December was pretty much all month long, was different activities and stuff.

Ellie: Hmm.

Brittany: We, we did secret Santas, we did white elephant. We did things all year… I mean, all month long.

So that was a lot of work. so that might be a con,

Ellie: Right?

Brittany: we'll get to those in a minute.

Ellie: Yeah. So it sounds like neither of us really went like super overboard with celebrations, but do you think something like going all month long and having all those things, was that overboard to you? Or was it still okay, but maybe just a little bit much?

Brittany: It was a lot of fun. Looking back, I would say it was probably overboard.

Yeah.

Being in the moment. It felt and expected,

Ellie: Hmm.

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Brittany: For that school and for that environment. But looking back, I really feel like it was too much. It was too much expected of parents in terms of buying things.

Ellie: okay.

Brittany: Even though we did try to, you know, we would send letters home and say, please, you know, keep it, keep it simple. Keep it cheap. You know, a note is fine.

You know, a soda is fine for a present for Secret Santa or a candy bar is fine. But they wouldn't do that. They would, you know, they would go above and beyond and stuff, and so it was just…just kept getting more and more

Ellie: Hmm.

And that can make it hard…

Brittany: over the top.

Ellie: …for the family who can't do that.

Brittany: do that. yeah,

Ellie: And, and you don't want the kids to feel badly about that.

Brittany: yeah.

Did you ever celebrate Easter?

Ellie: Not really. Oh, I was gonna ask if you felt like you lost

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any of the academics during that December month, that holiday month. Did you feel like you lost much academically during that time? Or did it not take up that much of your time that, that you lost any?

Brittany: I feel like it wasn't very academic at all.

Ellie: Mm,

Brittany: We would try to get in some writing activities, but in terms of like history and science,

Ellie: mm-hmm.

Brittany: we didn't get much done. Yeah. In terms of math, we didn't get much done. Right, it was a waste of a month academically, which is sad, you know? And then you go on a two or three week break for Christmas vacation, and so you just had a wasted three weeks of school and then you have a two or three week waste. And you know, kids come back from Christmas vacation and they're a little forgetful of what you've done or where you are. And so it was

[:

even a bigger lapse for our students. And so it was harder to get back on track.

Ellie: And then sometimes there's a little bit of celebration for the new year

when you come back. Again, I tried to make that academic of like, here's your color by number with a review of all these skills and you can make some resolutions in there and add some New Year's resolutions. but I'm back to Easter.

Brittany: We had goal, no, we had goal sheets for New Year's. That's about all we did for New Year's. But yeah,

Ellie: But back to Easter, no, I don't think we ever really celebrated Easter. 'cause there, you know, there are kids that don't celebrate Easter. There are kids that don't celebrate other holidays. Which is one, I think one of the reasons I tried to not make things too holiday centered, but maybe more seasonal centered. And did you have off for Easter?

Brittany: We did, we usually made it a four day weekend.

Where we took the Friday off and then the Monday off,

Ellie: Well we usually had in our schedule

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to have Thursday, Friday, Monday off, but those were always potential, makeup, snow days and

Brittany: Hmm.

Ellie: so many of the years they ended up just being made up. And so we would only have Friday off. Yeah.

Brittany: I would usually do an Easter egg hunt in my classroom and I would put in the Easter egg little papers that said like, you know, you can get 10 points of extra credit, or you can sit by a friend for a day, or you know, you can get a toy from the treasure chest or something like that. And so I would let the kids in like after recess and they would get to do an egg hunt.

Ellie: That's fun.

Brittany: But I personally am not very religious, and so a few years back someone talked to me about, you know, the understanding of Easter egg hunts and

[:

their place in religion, and I've come to realize that I really shouldn't have been doing those in terms of the kids who don't celebrate Easter and how that was disrespectful to them. And so I feel bad having done that for so many years. You know, it was a fun activity and, you know, I don't think a lot of kids took it as disrespectful, but when they went home to their parents and told their parents what happened…

Ellie: Did any parents ever complain about it or…

Brittany: No, I had very supportive parents at that school, and like I said, most were very, right-wing religious parents.

Ellie: Okay.

Brittany: But we did have a small minority that we're not. So yeah, I just, I just worry

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about the ones that I might have hurt. Yeah.

Ellie: Right. So are there other holidays that you would avoid, do you think, or that you tended to avoid?

Brittany: We usually did not do anything for Mother's Day or Father's Day…

Ellie: Mm, mm-hmm.

Brittany: in case of kids who might have not had a mother or a father

Ellie: We did tend to..

Brittany: might have

Ellie: in elementary school, more for Mother's Day, but middle school we did not. But yeah. That's a very good point.

Mm-hmm.

Brittany: What about you? Any ones that you avoided?

Ellie: Again, I, I didn't put too much focus on any of them, so in some ways I, I semi avoided most holidays.

You know, like, I mean, we kind of, you know, we did Halloween 'cause the school did Halloween and so you know, we would do the activities that were related and, and Thanksgiving I might, you

[:

know, just do something small. Maybe a small activity that wasn't math. And Valentine's Day, I might incorporate the colors of Valentine's Day into things. But we didn't have a Valentine's Day party, so I didn't technically avoid, but I also didn't technically super engage in any particular holiday. And I, and I try to just go more with the seasons or the colors or things like that. Because it's tough. There were students that didn't celebrate any holidays whatsoever. And so if they weren't celebrating anything and there was gonna be something going on in the classroom, then they had to go somewhere else. You know, their religion said that they couldn't even be in the room, so they had to go somewhere else and maybe be in the library and, and then it was like they were excluded from doing what was happening…

Brittany: Oh yeah,

Ellie: …in the classroom. So, For, partly for things like that, I tended to not focus very much

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on any particular holidays, which sounds kind of sad, as I say it. I'm like, yeah, we didn't do holidays at all…not exactly that. But with each passing year, I think I just tended to stick more to, to seasonal if I could and throw some holiday questions into different activities.

Brittany: So what do you think is too much or overboard?

Ellie: I guess you know, celebrating everything all the time. With big food parties and things like that, which with allergies and things like that, that have started creeping up more and more and more. We had a lot more restrictions on what foods we could even bring in. But you know, all always having a big party and maybe losing your entire class period. every holiday, entire month..

Yeah. Yeah.

Brittany: Yeah. I think the allergies and the food is a big issue now. There's so many schools that don't allow food…at all…

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And so that makes celebrating holidays kind of hard if you wanna incorporate food or a party or

Ellie: Yeah,

I remember way back like, okay, I don't know if you call them Muddy Buddies,…do you call them muddy buddies? The chocolate and

peanut butter on Chex Mix. So we call it dog chow, but

Brittany: Or reindeer poop, or,

Yeah.

Ellie: So, I remember years ago, so…probably my fifth or sixth year teaching… when a student brought that in, it was the first time I'd ever had it, but it was peanut butter in the classroom. I mean, you can't do that now. There's no peanuts. No, you can't have that. But back then it was no big deal. There was nobody with an allergy…I love that stuff. It's so good.

Anyway, that's not part of the topic, but we could always discuss foods that you would bring in if you had the opportunity.

Brittany: Let's mark that one down. I think another thing that's can be like too much or overboard is now you

[:

have like that national day calendar and every day has like seven different holiday

Ellie: Yeah, right. You could celebrate every day of the year.

Brittany: …so it's like it's National Rubber Ducky Day, it's National Pizza Day, it's

Ellie: Okay. I would like that day

Brittany: it's national. You broke a pencil day.

Ellie: gosh.

Brittany: Yeah, it's just,

Ellie: way overboard.

Brittany: Yeah, but I do see a lot of teachers or a lot of resources out there for those random holidays,

Ellie: Wow. Now, if I could work it in into the exact, academic thing that I'm studying at that time. that might be fun to throw in a couple here and there, but for me it would have to really tie in because…things you have to get done.

Brittany: If it’s got a good like close reading activity with some writing prompts and you know, something like that. Maybe we could do it. But

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Ellie: I think it might be a little harder in math to get. The exact holiday lining up with the exact math thing that you wanna be talking about on that day.

Brittany: Day

Ellie: Well, yeah,

Brittany: …is an exception. Pie Day. Mole day

Ellie: Right? Right

Brittany: Yes.

Ellie: Now I'm hungry.

Brittany: So are there holidays to just totally avoid?

Ellie: I think it depends where you are.

In some cases. It may depend on your population, your student population.

yeah. I think that's a call that people have to make depending…

Brittany: Regionally…yeah, definitely. I mean, if you've got, like I had, which was an extremely right-wing religious group, then you're obviously not gonna celebrate, you know, the Muslim holidays, but you're gonna celebrate the Christian holidays and uh…

Ellie: Sure. [:

And vice versa.

Brittany: And vice versa. Yeah. If you've got a Muslim population, then you wanna study those, or Indian population, you wanna celebrate those, so, yeah.

Ellie: Yep. So it's gonna depend. Depend where you are and what…

Brittany: And if you've got a, a very mixed culture,

Ellie: And you might study all of them,

Brittany: You might study all of them, or you might avoid all of them just to not offend.

Ellie: Right, yeah, it can be tough.

Brittany: Yeah.

Ellie: Absolutely. All right. To sum it up, if you celebrate holidays in your middle school classroom, take some time to plan carefully. Think about your population, think about where you are, make those celebration times not just fun, but maybe academic as well, and definitely as inclusive as possible.

Brittany: If you have any questions, send us a DMM on Instagram at Teaching Toolbox Podcast. We're here to help. Thanks for tuning in.

Ellie: See you next time.

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