No matter how much you adore celebrating the holidays at home, when it comes to teaching art, the holiday season can be downright chaotic.
Don’t ban your glitter just yet. Here are a few suggestions on how to make sure you don’t have 150 paper gingerbread houses on your drying rack in January.
Before I offer a few projects suggestions, it’s important to establish one very important criteria: the decision to create holiday-inspired projects or not. The decision may not even be yours.
While Christmas is a popular holiday, it’s not celebrated by everyone. Your focus may have to shift from choosing between which Santa Claus or Elf on a Shelf project to do, to teaching about additional cultural celebrations.
When I taught art, the classroom teachers created a rich curriculum in which students learned about multiple cultures and a variety of winter celebrations. I was able to build on that in the art room, which helped create a rich learning environment for all of our students.
Here are a few books that focus on the three most common global holiday celebrations during December: Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa.
Children are whisked around the world on a cookie journey that includes stops in India for crispy kulkuls, Malawi for mbatata, and Brazil for brigadeiro. This book is a multicultural celebration of Christmas.
The Story of Hanukkah by David A. Adler and Jill Weber
The story of the courageous Maccabees is retold in simple yet dramatic text, accompanied by vibrant paintings of the battle, the Temple of Jerusalem and the oil which miraculously burned for eight long nights. (from Amazon)
The Shortest Day by Wendy Pfeffer and Jesse Reisch
The beginning of winter is marked by the solstice, the shortest day of the year. Long ago, people grew afraid when each day had fewer hours of sunshine than the day before. Over time, they realized that the sun started moving toward them again on a specific day each year. In lyrical prose and cozy illustrations, this book explains what the winter solstice is and how it has been observed by various cultures throughout history. Many contemporary holiday traditions have been borrowed form ancient solstice celebrations. (from Amazon)
The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola
In Mexico, the poinsettia is called La Flor de Nochebuena (Flower of the Holy Night). At Christmastime, the flower blooms and flourishes, like exquisite red stars lighting up the countryside. (from Amazon)
The Sound of Kwanza by Dimitrea Tokunbo and Lisa Cohen
Hear the words, sing the songs, dance to the beat, and shout “Harambee!” as you jump into this joyful celebration of the sounds of Kwanza! Through lively verse and colorful illustrations, this festive book celebrates the history and meaning of Kwanzaa.
Here’s an excellent resource from the National Museum of African American History that shares the history and traditions of Kwanzaa when holiday art projects aren’t required…
Another option is to opt out of holiday projects entirely. While this may seem hard to do, hear me out.
I’m going to reference my own children’s experience at their preschool and will try to embark on the wisdom of Loretta, the preschool director. When I asked her why she doesn’t allow seasonal crafts at the school she said something like this…
Children are so overwhelmed with the numerous activities around the holidays. The intense focus on celebrations and traditions can be overwhelming to small children. As soon as kids step outside the school doors, these celebrations are everywhere; at home, in town, the community. If schools can be a consistent place with familiar daily schedules and functions, then we can optimize the opportunity for our students to be learners.
Before Loretta voiced her viewpoint, I had never considered the impact of the holidays and the possible overwhelm it can bring students. If adults are overwhelmed, it makes sense to consider that children might be, too.
This resonated with me so much that when it was my turn to decide what art projects to teach during the holidays, I stuck with elevated winter themes – elevated meaning the addition of glitter. It wasn’t focused on any particular holiday but rather what winter looks like in parts of the world.
Well, of course you are.
One of the biggest stressors of the holidays doesn’t come from the selection of a project…it’s actually completing the project.
A few things tend to get in the way…
Teachers not showing up for art class because of a cookie decorating party or performance in the multi-purpose room. Classes leaving halfway through art class or arriving late. Missing children because of illness or early family vacations.
The list can go on and on.
One of the best ways to combat half of this is to be really proactive. Talk to the second office manager to find out about all scheduled performances or special events. Office managers know EVERYTHING.
Take notes and communicate with the teachers who may have a conflict with art class. They may not be able to change the schedule, but at least you’ll know and you can use the time to your advantage instead of fuming.
Be very considerate of classroom teachers. They often bear the brunt of not showing up on time, skipping or arriving too early. They have a lot to deal with and their schedules are often as disrupted as yours. Work together, be patient and give each other some grace.
It really helps to take it s-l-o-w over the holidays and reduce the efficiency expectations for your students. They may work fast, but you can consciously slow down (your voice, your delivery, your prep) and they may start to mimic you.
Taking the energy down a level often can begin with your own energy, so take a deep breath, move slowly and just enjoy.
The BEST tip I can share that will significantly help your anxiety over finishing projects before break is to use smaller sheets of paper. This literally ensures a quick finish to a project more than any other hack or suggestion.
Don’t be afraid to break a lesson into two shorter chunks even if it means that children will have some free time to do random sketches. Take a deep breath and know that your students are getting value from all types of art experiences.
Here are a few of my favorites:
I love this lesson because it really has nothing to do with the holidays but exposes children to materials that are special and not used everyday. I love using Sargent’s Metallic Liquid Tempera Paint for this project as well as craft store rhinestones. The addition of these two special materials really elevates the project and showcases the opulence of Gustav Klimt’s art.
This project uses a variety of printmaking techniques that are really exciting for kids to learn. It has that special quality that is fun to incorporate into the festive season without being specifically holiday. You can easily move this project into January without the kids losing interest.
It’s not an easy-prep project so you may only want to do it in combination with easier projects for your other class periods. Remember staggering high prep with low prep offers a chance to get your footing on a busy day!
Just the right amount of technique, ease and cuteness paired with a most decidedly seasonal project but not holiday focused. I think Goldilocks would be pleased.
Just my favorite non-holiday yet brilliant and most beautiful project ever. I love the metallic blue, the pops of red and the simple drawing technique that really allows all children to shine.
An absolute perennial favorite every December. I don’t know many art teachers who have not created this project but if you haven’t…I’m excited for you! Originally published in Arts and Activities magazine, this project is just about as perfect as they come.
Children can choose their colors to make it as festive or seasonal as they wish.
Creating art is a beautiful gift of self-expression and you are giving that to each of your students.
Don’t let one uninterested student or a late arrival class derail you from your intentions.
You got this!
Patty will be going live on Facebook December 2nd at 3:30pm to talk, share and give you a couple of tips of creating the best projects this season.
Want to really enjoy the holidays? Then you must make this…