Barbara Sandstrom | December 2019

Feeling the Festivities

Psst… do you feel the buzz in the air?  The strings of lights. Shoppers rushing around. Storefronts and home fronts decorated in holiday style. Hints of magic and festivities of the upcoming season are everywhere. December is a feast of celebrations! Our classrooms bustle with accomplishing academic goals before the holiday break and creating special holiday artwork. And let’s not forget attending Christmas program practices and performing, having students make gifts for their families, and planning a Christmas or holiday party.  But what if our focus changed? Why not think beyond the norm and discover other holidays or create new ones? After all, December’s unique… it’s the first month of winter and the last month of the year!

Fresh Insight

In the EducationCloset 2017 article, To Celebrate or Not to Celebrate?, Deirdre Moore caused me, once again, to reflect on the “holiday party” tradition infused within our schools and challenged me to search for new ways we may be able to honor holidays, cultures, and celebrations that occur around the world.

Previously, I tried to alter the concept of a holiday party (and what it looked like) for my students. It bothered me that when party time occurred, some of my students had to leave due to family traditions and beliefs. My goal was to have an environment where everyone had the opportunity to participate. So the students and I talked, and we brainstormed a list of other activities that took us outside the norm. We came up with such fun things! Exploring the local hands-on science center, going bowling, painting with a local artist, and blazing trails through a geo-caching treasure hunt… These were great adventures, very enjoyable, and met the goal of involving all students.

However, when Deirdre wrote in her article that maybe “it was time we acknowledged what is being celebrated in the homes of our families and the possibility of schools or teachers coming up with a way to provide context within the traditions our diverse student body experiences”, it triggered a mindset change. So, with visions of fresh insight dancing in my head, I’ve revisited my practices and developed a discovery lab centered on holidays and celebrations.

The Holiday & Celebration Discovery Lab

I like providing my students with time to explore, meet challenges, and solve problems. It gives me a time to observe authentic learning in action! (As well as the choices students make when they are in this acquiring flow.) I found myself wanting to present students with a creative and flexible way to investigate holidays and celebrations. Celebrations observed within their families, our school, across the country, and around the world. Thus, my discovery lab idea was born.

I devised eight tasks that have students tapping into their current knowledge and understanding, gathering information, categorizing, analyzing, risk-taking, imagining, communicating, planning and designing. Additionally, I wanted students to have the opportunity to work independently or within a group of 2-3. I would also designate few days each week during December for Discovery Lab time. The month-long work would result in a Holiday Fair the last day before the holiday break. The students were the hosts of the Fair and invited special guests. Parents and principals were the usual invitees but some students went as far as to extend invitations to community members and legislators too.  Each team would be responsible for sharing what they discovered, presenting a new holiday or celebration they believed should be added to the calendar, and convincing the guests through their work.

With this discovery lab model, I hope to ignite curiosity and enthusiasm around the different cultures and traditions that sweep across our world. And within students, foster a bond of understanding that contributes to bringing about a genuine, kindhearted and respected learning space with the end result of ultimately making the world a better place.

About the Author

Barbara Sandstrom is an Arts Integration specialist and founder of I 2 I Institute: Imagination to Innovation in Mandan, North Dakota. She has 26 years experience in education as a teacher and administrator. Her passion for the arts has caused her to explore ways in which schools, organizations, and communities can utilize arts-based strategies to meet their mission and goals.