Teaching Multiculturalism Through Holidays

Like many people, I adore a good holiday. The traditions engender excitement within me, and most often at the heart of the celebration is a meaning I can connect with. Within the classroom, and as a teacher, I enjoy using them to teach about different cultures. Most children in the United States are familiar with the same set of holidays: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Veteran’s Day¬†and, to a lesser extent, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Because I like to use the holidays to expand the students’ worldview, I prefer giving them new information about familiar holidays or introducing them to entirely new ones.

Here are a couple of ways this might work:

  1. We might acknowledge Easter by discussing the many ways the holiday is celebrated around the
    world. For example, exploring the Ukrainian tradition of Pysanky Easter eggs and then attempting them on our own.
  2. Inviting students to share their Thanksgiving traditions. Do they eat turkey, ham, tofurkey or something else? I always like to tell the story of the college friend that invited me to her house for the holiday. We were served all the usual Thanksgiving Day foods plus pasta. Needless to day, her family was Italian. (Side note: I prefer to use Thanksgiving as an opportunity for the students to practice Gratitude, rather than an opportunity to focus on turkeys, pilgrims and Native Americans. We write thank you cards, have a Gratitude council and make lists of things we are thankful for.)
  3. Passover is often around the same time of year as Easter, and it is not as well-known a Jewish holiday as Hanukkah. It has its own story and traditions and is a lively celebration all its own, which are both historically and philosophically fun to learn about. You might assemble a Sedar plate to share with the class and have the children take turns hiding the afikomen for the class to find. On the other hand, the experience might be as simple as bringing matzo to share with the class. I am always amazed at how few students have tried it!
  4. Although the Western world celebrates the New Year every January first, many cultures celebrate at different times. We can learn a lot about a culture by comparing and contrasting our western New Year with any of the following: Lunar New Year, Nowruz (Iranian/Persian New Year), Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), or Diwali (the Indian New Year). And there are more where those came from!

I’ve come to think of holidays as a chance to teach mini multicultural units, and to that end, I’ve developed a kind of formula to make it easier to include them in my curriculum without too much disruption to any¬†other units we’re working on. My formula tries to hit as many¬†subject areas as possible while still maintaining the spirit of the celebration. Let me break it down for you:

  1. Books to read: Every holiday should come with a little light reading. Unfortunately, some holidays are better represented in the literary world than others. I defer to the internet whenever I’m on the hunt for titles. Someone, somewhere on Pinterest has probably done a roundup of books from even the rarest holidays. It’s inevitable. I’m still building my personal multicultural holiday library, so I generally turn to the¬†public library when I need titles for the classroom. I’ve also been known to read ebooks from the Epic app on my iPad, though it’s not my favorite method. If neither of those sources pan out, try looking on one of the following educational websites online, each of which has printable books that you can easily assemble for your students:
  2. Handwriting Page: Depending on the make-up of my class, this may be in print or cursive or involve transferring some holiday-related vocabulary from print to cursive. Earlier this year, I purchased Fonts for Teachers to make it easy for me to make handwriting pages. I highly recommend this product for teachers making their own handwriting/cursive work. This is also a great way to introduce or reinforce new vocabulary.
  3. Math:¬†I try to make the math as fun as possible. As an example, take¬†Holi, the Indian Festival of Colors. There are a couple of options I could use for math, but I lean¬†towards¬†the Indian Kolam, which offers both a lesson in¬†geometry/symmetry and culture. Other options would have been working with the rupees and paise, India’s national currency, Ayrabhata’s Method¬†(a method of solving an equation backwards), or¬†reading Demi’s¬†One Grain of Rice and discussing how exponential growth works.
  4. Writing:¬†Earlier this year, when the class celebrated Lunar New Year, we actually completed a Venn Diagram comparing the holiday to the American/Western New Year. Students then took that information and turned it into paragraph form. This is one way to incorporate writing. You can also write poetry. Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day? Teach your students how to write a limerick! Have them make little informative books about the holiday. My students love making books. They can make lists, write songs, poems, stories, cartoons, plays or obituaries for the dead (see D√≠a de los Muertos). The sky’s the limit!
  5. Word Search:¬†My students happen to adore word searches, and I think they’re a pretty good way to reinforce vocabulary associated with whatever holiday we’re investigating at the moment. They’re great for early finishers, too. I encourage you to have something like this in your back pocket, whatever works for your class, whether it’s coloring pages, dot-to-dot pictures or word scrambles. Each cultural unit needs a little something extra (sometimes two somethings) to keep those students in need of¬†constant stimulation busy.
  6. Geography:¬†I love including map work with my cultural units because it gives the students a chance to become aware of¬†things they haven’t before. When we mapped the countries that celebrate Lunar New Year, students noticed that Macau and Hong Kong were singled out on our map of China. This opened up discussion of English and Portuguese colonization–not the focus of our unit, but an important piece of history all the same.
  7. A Craft:¬†The craft, of course, is the highlight of the day, and the thing that the students are the most eager to do. While I have been tempted to make the entire day crafts, two things hold me back. For one, an entire day of crafts can be exhausting. And two, good crafts take a lot of time to prepare. I want my multicultural holiday days to be sustainable (as in an experience¬†I’m willing to repeat), so one craft it is. Here are two examples of crafts I’ve done. Chinese Lanterns for Lunar New Year: and a Mardi Gras Parade complete with miniature floats and “It’s a Grand Ole’ Flag” playing in the background. That was certainly a highlight of this year.

If this post hasn’t inspired you enough and you’re still interested, please do check out Kid World Citizen for some wonderful ideas about learning about different cultures all over the planet. Then come back and share how you’re expanding your students’ worldview one holiday at a time!


Classroom Fundraiser! World Wildlife Fund

Recently my entire class organized a bake sale to raise money to adopt a few¬†animals from the World Wildlife Fund. This was an activity I envisioned¬†as both a Community Service and a Practical Life project. I’ve been trying to figure out how to make Community Service part of my curriculum and this is definitely one of the ways I will be doing it in the future.

Initially, I approached the class with a number of charitable organizations they might want to support:

  • UNICEF–United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, which works with the¬†UN to defend the rights of children around the globe.
  • The Nature Conservancy–I suggested adopting an acre in the Northern Sierras or the Gulf Coast or possibly a Coral Reef.¬†This was my first choice, since we’re currently studying biomes and it would have complimented that unit perfectly!
  • Adopt a Classroom–I came up with this idea because I thought it couldn’t hurt to get my students thinking about others in their own country their own age needing help. Their experience of the United States is one of privilege. It’s important for them to know that’s not the case for everyone.
  • World Wildlife Fund–Our donation would allow us to¬†symbolically adopt an endangered animal.

We did a round of voting, with me assuring the class we could always support more than one organization if the enthusiasm was there. Not to mention the fact that it might be an organization they would like to support on their own. However, what with my class being animal-mad, I knew the World Wildlife Fund would sweep away all the competition. I offered it anyway. Since this was my first time attempting such an activity, their enthusiasm was key. The World Wildlife Fund won, hands down, with UNICEF being the closest runner-up.

With our charity chosen, the next step was to brainstorm fundraising ideas:

Ideas ran the gamut from penny jars to, as you can see, a charitable singing performance. Eventually, having eliminated a car wash (the drought) and selling chicks (we don’t actually have any to sell), we winnowed the list down to a bake sale. It was time for the planning to begin!

I gave the students a list of details that they’d be responsible for:

  • choosing a date and time
  • creating a sign up sheet for the bake sale
  • getting the word out (advertising the event)
  • creating a price list for the baked goods
  • choosing which animals to adopt

As much as possible, I wanted the students to participate in the planning and running of the bake sale, so that it was as much a¬†Community Service project as it was a Practical Life one. In order to chose the animals the class wanted to adopt, I printed the World Wildlife Fund’s list of available animals. The students perused the list and made top three selections in the first round of voting. I decided not to tell them that some adoptions came with stuffed animals and some didn’t, since I didn’t want that to factor into their decision-making process. We did, however, discuss the fact that the WWF categorizes the¬†animals¬†in three ways:

  • Extinct, Extinct in the Wild or Critically Endangered
  • Endangered, Vulnerable
  • Near Threatened, Least Concern

This was important to some of the students, but as you can imagine, the irresistible allure of the Snowy Owl (thank you, J.K. Rowling) overrode everything else. After our first round of voting, I created a shortlist and we voted again. Not knowing how much money we would make (and wanting the class to have a goal), I narrowed our shortlist to the top three:

If we raised $100, we would adopt the Red Panda…

If we raised $200, we would adopt the Red Panda and the Tiger…

And if we raised $300, we would adopt the Red Panda, the Tiger and the Snow Leopard.

Goals. Gotta have ’em.

There were, of course, disappointments but I encouraged students to think about sponsoring an¬†animal on their own if one they really wanted didn’t get chosen. They can do it for as little as $25.00. (Stuffed animal adoptions are more, but they didn’t know this at the time and I didn’t tell them.)

Planning went on apace. Signs were made for each of the classrooms around the school, and one large one for the bake sale table:

I paired the students up and asked them to create short speeches to inform the younger classrooms about the bake sale. They had to include the who, what, where, when and why and take any questions the students had. I was reliably informed that the questions were mostly animal-related.

On the day of our bake sale, the students decided they wanted to make one those arrow signs they could spin and twirl to attract the attention of parents in the parking lot. My lovely assistant Hannah helped them with the dangerous mat cutting and they created the arrow sign of their dreams.

Finally, the time to host the bake sale had arrived!

As you can see, we sold more than baked goods! Some students brought tangerines from the orchard behind their house. They also brought a scale so they could sell the tangerines by the pound. (I just about died with pleasure!) Another student brought her family’s honey. Students took turns being responsible for handing out baked goods, dispensing hot chocolate, recruiting parents from the parking lot, taking money and making change. As much as possible, I stood¬†back and let them run the show. Of course, they amazed me.

In the end, the class raised enough money to adopt two animals: A red panda named Molly and a tiger named Hunter. Their names were democratically chosen by the students. Look at their proud little faces:

All in all, I really can’t wait for our next student-planned fundraiser!

Montessori Matters: Mixed Age Classrooms

Montessori Matters Button

A student of mine recently asked me which of the three ages in my class I liked best. I demurred. I like them all, just for different reasons! Which naturally led to her wanting to know my reasons for liking each age. My answer?


I like the first years because they bring new eyes and new energy to the classroom. They’re excited about everything. It’s not just the classroom that’s new to them, it’s the people, the work, the teacher and the rules. The learning curve is sharp, even if they’ve been at the school their whole lives. As much as we strive for consistency, I’m a new personality to them and they’re new to me. It’s grounding¬†for them to go from being the oldest in their previous classroom to being the youngest in their new one.


My second years know the routine. They’re glad not to be new to the classroom anymore, but nothing is old yet. There’s still a lot for them to learn and be curious about. They often enjoy attacking¬†assignments or projects they did the previous year because it allows them to see how far they’ve come. And now that they’re older they can act as peer tutors to their younger brethren. They’re feeling some of the responsibility and maturity that goes hand-in-hand with all the progress they’ve made.


The third years have¬†been through the trenches¬†with me. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them learn, grow and develop in amazing ways. Often times they walk a fine line between being ready to move on and notreadynowaynotnowthanksverymuch. What’s amazing about third years is their ability to put everything they’ve learned into practical application. They do some¬†really fun stuff and, if I’ve done my job correctly, they do it under their own steam. I get to sit back and offer a little guidance here and there, provide a tool when needed, and watch it happen.

The honest truth is, my classroom wouldn’t be the same if¬†any of the age groups went missing. They’re all pieces of the puzzle that makes our classroom unique. There’s value in a classroom where¬†a first year can look at a third year and see¬†what they’ll be doing in the future. Similarly, what better way to demonstrate to a ten¬†year old how far they’ve come than to put them in the same classroom as an eight year old?

So really, truly, Susie*. I like all the ages in our class the best.

*names have been changed to protect the innocent*

Montessori Matters: Observation in the Montessori Classroom

Montessori Matters Button

Symbolic GrammarObservation is one of the most important tools in the Montessori teacher’s toolbox; in any teacher’s. We observe¬†without knowing we do it. In fact, I’d argue that observation is the human condition. It’s¬†impossible to be in relationship with others without observing those around us. It helps us determine how to¬†interact with the other beings in our environment; it helps us determine how to interact with our environment. Observation has become so integral to our survival that it has become second nature.

In the MBead Frameontessori classroom, Observation tends to be more deliberate. We observe individual students, pairs, small groups and large, entire classrooms, and the whole school. Even the relationship between the students and the environment comes under our scrutiny.¬†We’re even observing ourselves. Then we take our observations a step further: we use them to individualize curriculum, adapt the classroom environment, and stop conflict before it starts.

I don’t want to make it sound like every moment of a Montessori teacher’s day is spent on high alert, but we are constantly aware. ¬†I recently saw this quote on Pinterest and identified with it immediately:

Maria Montessori built her educational beliefs on observation. In The Montessori Method, she says,

To one whose attitude is right, little children soon reveal profound individual differences which call for very different kinds of help from the teacher. Some require almost no intervention on her part, while others demand actual teaching. (52)

The only way that we can determiMap Workne these “profound individual differences” is through observation. And the only way we can decide what kind of intervention is required? Yes, you guessed it. Observation¬†again. It is the backbone of our teaching method.

Here are a smattering of observations that a Montessori teacher might make:

  • James and Nick like to chat to each other during group time. Dropper WorkThey should probably¬†sit apart.
  • No one is using the rice pouring work. It may be time to switch it out with something else.
  • Kim is struggling¬†with the “sh” sound. It might be a good idea to review the “sh” phonogram before she reads next time.

Often our observations help us to prevent problems before they even start. That’s part of the beauty of a prepared environment. We take what we learn from your children every day and use it figure out¬†how to teach¬†them.¬†

Check out my other Montessori Matters posts!

Celebrating the Year of the Rooster with Room 8


Check out last year’s Lunar¬†New Year post!

Lately I’ve been reflecting on the awesomeness that is the multicultural curriculum in a Montessori school. To that end, I pretty much went all-out for Chinese New Year. (Side note: Generally speaking I try to call it “Lunar New Year”, as¬†there is a difference between the way Asian cultures celebrate the holiday. Our celebration, however, focused on Chinese traditions.) Holidays are a wonderful way to explore different cultures. Next year, we can focus on Tet and explore Vietnam, or Seollal and discover Korea. I can’t wait!

Chinese Zodiac Wheel

The first and most obvious way to get the students excited about Chinese New Year is to teach them about the Chinese Zodiac. Most of my students know from previous study what their animal is, but there are always a few learning for the first time. January 28 marked the end of the Year of the Monkey and the beginning of the Year of the Rooster. 

I have a few copies of the placemat that you can get at some Chinese restaurants. The students love discovering a little about their personalities. Many of them are dogs, so they were happy to learn they will make excellent secret agents.

Chinese and American New Year Venn Diagram

After brainstorming what we already knew and reading some books to add to our store of knowledge, we created a Venn Diagram comparing and contrasting the Western/American New Year and the Chinese New Year. This activity was inspired by a lesson I found on Teachers Pay Teachers, and which happily came with some similarities and differences already typewritten. After the group came up with ideas together, I gave the younger students the option of cutting and pasting. The older students wrote down the information in their own Venn Diagrams so they could write their own paragraphs later.

Cleaning for Chinese New Year

About halfway through the morning, some of my students started spontaneously cleaning the classroom. Cleaning is one of the traditions of Chinese New Year–the Chinese sweep out the bad luck to make way for the new year. This was possibly my favorite moment in a morning of awesome moments.

Lunar New Year Map

I created a map for the students to explore Asia and the countries that celebrate the Lunar New Year and its variations. As usual, map work brought up lots of fun discussions, like why Hong Kong and Macao are autonomous territories despite being part of China.

Chinese New Year Display

Of course, I had all my books and decorations out and plenty of citrus, including my absolute favorite, the pomelo! Unless they’ve been with me for a few years, Chinese New year is the first time my students have ever tasted this traditional fruit. We shared these two yellow globes at the end of our day.

Chinese Lantern

I usually make the Chinese lanterns that you can make by folding and cutting paper, but this year I wanted to do something a little different. I watered down some gold paint and let them add some pizzazz to red construction paper. Then we went to town with brads and gold curly ribbon. They’re still hanging up in my room!

A couple of other activities we did:

And, of course, everybody wore red!:

Red for the New Year

With that image in mind, I’ll leave with you with these words:

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Happy New Year!

5 Ideas to Hold All Those Valentines

Valentine’s Boxes

While I’m not one of those people who prepares for Valentine’s Day the moment Christmas is over, I have noticed that preparations are underway for the most loving of holidays. It just so happens that, while I’m currently fixated on Chinese New Year, I have been keeping an eye out for potential Valentine’s Day crafts. What’s caught my eye this year isn’t so much projects as receptacles for taking¬†those Valentine’s home. Here are some ideas that caught my fancy.

Heart Valentine Holder from Buggy and Buddy

Heart Valentine Holder from Buggy and Buddy

If, like me, you live in California, you may have to pay for your brown paper bags. Or you may have access to brown butcher paper. I love the simplicity of these bags. Even if you skipped the painting these bags would still look great.

Valentine’s Mailboxes from Blue Cricket Design

These envelopes require a little more dressing, which is fine because they don’t ask you to do much assembly. Here they use scrapbooking paper, but it’s not necessary. Go simpler with red and pink construction paper, and a little crazier with the hearts.

Heart Printed Paper Bags from Teach Me Mommy

Three words: Toilet. Paper. Rolls.

Paper Plate Valentine Bag Crafty Morning

Paper Plate Valentine Bag Crafty Morning

I like any project that involves sewing, even if it is a simplified form. For some of my students, this is a no-brainer, but for others, I like to constantly reinforce this practical life skill. How do they attach two separate items together? By sewing, of course!

Felt Valentine Envelopes from Snap Creativity

Felt Valentine Envelopes from Snap Creativity

Speaking of sewing, this year I plan to put my large supply of felt to good use. We’ll be making envelopes for our Valentine’s. The pattern for the envelope above is small, so we’ll enlarge it to suit our purposes. I know my class of sewers will have a blast. Maybe they’ll even use the envelopes again next year!

Check out my previous Valentine’s Day post!

Decorating Your Classroom with Style: Educational Posters


You might have noticed that we live in an age of accessibility, and one of the great benefits of this is the affordability of printed images. This makes it possible for almost everyone to bring art into their home or work environment without breaking the bank. And for Montessori teachers, for whom aesthetics matter greatly, this could not be better news.

Lately I’ve been seeing some wonderful posters that please both visually and informationally. Other posters enhance the reading experience. Yet others draw the viewer into the subject more thoroughly than they ever knew possible. I hope you’ll find something that draws you in, too!

A Pop Culture Primer on Parts of Speech from Pop Chart Lab

A Pop Culture Primer on Parts of Speech from Pop Chart Lab

I recently discovered Pop Chart Lab on a trip to New York. They specialize in infographic-style images (a visual compendium of all the wands in Harry Potter! Every shoe that Carrie Bradshaw ever wore!), but some of their posters draw the viewer in so that you might never leave. Once you start exploring the Parts of Speech¬†on this poster, you may never stop reading! And if you’re looking for a way to make those Language lessons relevant to your students, look no further! From Darth Vader to Severus Snape, this Pop Culture Primer on Parts of Speech (also from Pop Chart Lab) has got you covered!

Setting-The Great Gatsby-Literary Poster

Setting-The Great Gatsby-Literary Poster

With striking visuals, this Elements of a Novel set helps to explain what makes great fiction. I love the moody visuals used in the set, and also the fact that each element uses a different work of fiction as an example. These posters feel like just the thing to pique the interest of a reader. Or, well, me.

Earth Science Collection from The Colossal Shop

Earth Science Collection from The Colossal Shop

These simplified Ocean, Earth, Atmosphere and Space posters are helpful for understanding those larger-than-life concepts, and also echo the universe’s tendency to repeat patterns.

20 Women Who Changed Science. And the World. by Hydrogene at Redbubble

20 Women Who Changed Science. And the World. by Hydrogene at Redbubble

Who doesn’t love a chance to celebrate Women in Science? Each of these images is¬†available as a separate poster, but I like the way they look as a group. Couple with some simple imagery to represent each woman’s scientific contribution, these posters do their job–invite the viewer in and engage their curiosity. Who was Rosalind Franklin and why does her poster have strand of DNA on it?

The World's Tallest Mountains by Rebel Unit Berlin at Etsy

The World’s Tallest Mountains by Rebel Unit Berlin at Etsy

I love the way this poster overlaps the world’s ten tallest mountains.¬†And if there’s anything that my students get impressed by, it’s superlatives.¬†This artist also does the world’s longest rivers.

Backyard Birds of California by Kate Dolamore

Backyard Birds of California by Kate Dolamore

These charming bird guides are available for the United States and Canada. I usually have a bird guide and binoculars in the classroom, but this poster is a nice alternative. The watercolor paintings are sweet, realistic and labelled. Students would love to spot their living counterparts.

Emerald City by Steve Thomas

Emerald City by Steve Thomas

As an avid reader, I’m a huge fan of the new trend in literary travel posters. These artworks allow viewers to travel to Narnia, Wonderland, Hobbiton, Neverland and Oz. I’m particularly partial to Steve Thomas, whose Lord of the Rings posters aren’t to be missed.

The best thing about each of these posters is that they would look equally as attractive in your classroom as in your home. And since your classroom is your second home, these posters are worth the investment!

For more about the Montessori Classroom Environment, check out these posts: