Teaching about holidays around the world is very important as educators because it promotes inclusion, gives your students exposure to new vocabulary and experiences and helps build their social skills-especially perspective taking and empathy. One theme that I love to do at this time of year is a “Lights” theme because most all of the holidays around the world celebrate with lights. This was one way that I found to incorporate all of the holidays that I wanted to discuss. Let’s discuss some ways to celebrate different holidays around the world using some speech and language therapy activities by making holidays around the world activities easy to plan!
November: Thanksgiving, Day of the Dead + Diwali
Thanksgiving is of course the American holiday to discuss in November. I just did a blog post all about different Thanksgiving-themed books and activities that you can check out here (Link to previous blog post from November 19 when it’s posted). In addition, there are two other holidays in November that have a “lights” theme: Diwali and Day of the Dead.
Diwali is a festival of lights and one of the major festivals celebrated by Hindus. The festival usually lasts 5 days and is celebrated between mid-October and mid-November. It is particularly associated with Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, and marks the beginning of the fiscal year in India. It is one of the most popular festivals of Hinduism. Beyond the lights, gambling, and fun, Diwali is also a time to reflect on life and make changes for the upcoming year. I like to use these Celebrating the Lights that Link Us: Diwali Boom Cards with my students to help them learn more about Diwali.
The Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday that is celebrated in Mexico and elsewhere associated with the Catholic celebrations of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. These holidays are celebrated on November 1 and 2. The multi-day holiday involves family and friends gathering to pray for and to remember friends and family members who have died. It is commonly portrayed as a day of celebration rather than mourning. Celebrating the Lights that Link Us: Day of the Dead Boom Cards are great to use to talk about this holiday whether your students are in person or virtual.
December: Hanukkah + Christmas
There are so many fun activities to do with your students in December. Here are some holidays around the world activities for Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, which all celebrate with lights.
Kwanzaa is an annual celebration of African-American culture which is held from December 26 to January 1, culminating in gift-giving and a feast of faith, called Karamu Ya Imani. It was created by Maulana Karenga and first celebrated in 1966.
Hanukkah is a Jewish festival. It’s observed for 8 days and nights. It begins by lighting a candle on the menorah. Each night, an additional candle is lit until the entire menorah shines brightly at the end of Hanukkah. Other Hanukkah festivities involve playing a game called dreidel and eating oil-based foods such as latkes.
One of my favorite activities to use in the month of December is this Holiday Lights Chop: Articulation Craft because it targets vocabulary for Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah and is an overall fun craft for students to make! This is great to use with students in preschool through 2nd grade.
If you are looking for other activities for younger students you might want to check out this Holiday Preschool Speech and Language Packet: Learning through Play which focuses on both Christmas and Hanukkah. This is what I send home to parents for homework during the entire month of December and it works great! Each of the 8 included Learning Through Play handouts features a different holiday activity for either Christmas or Hanukkah. An intro letter encourages parents to use every day play to facilitate communication skills. Each page features one language idea, one speech idea, a target vocab list, and a concept to focus on.
Getting data during the holiday season can be especially difficult because students tend to seem especially “antsy” and full of energy during the month of December. Try using this Dough & Data Holidays: Google Slides & Printable Play-dough Mats. It is a NO prep activity and is great for getting data during PLAY! It’s developed for preschool to second graders. You can actually use this for in-person learning OR virtual learning because you can print out the play-dough mats and put them sheet protectors plus there is a Google Slides version to drag and drop the “play dough” pieces! There’s a data collection Google Sheets page for the clinician to pair with the play mat.
Do you need more options for virtual learning? Check out these Interactive Vocabulary Books: Winter Holidays Print + Boom Decks. These Interactive Preschool Vocabulary books are designed for teaching vocabulary concepts related to the Winter Holidays. The interactive books are designed to allow students to match pictures to each page of the book using velcro. These books are really great for minimally verbal students. They can show their knowledge without needing to verbally produce answers, just match. For kids just learning to express themselves in single words or simple phrases, pictures support that level of speech. If students are communicating in sentences they can make up their own language to describe the picture/scene. In addition to Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, this set also has a story on gingerbread for the holiday season.
Finally, if you are a clinician who works with older students, here are some other resources that you may want to check out as well for holidays around the world activities!
This Multicultural December Holidays Learning Packet was developed to use with 3rd graders through high school students with speech and language disabilities. It features a mixture of Holidays. During the month of December I will highlight a different cultural holiday each week. Then, we will use the list of other holidays and do some research on one of those holidays. The kids are SO interested in the holidays. Studying the different types of celebrations is a wonderful way to engage them and work on language skills and vocabulary!
If you work with students that need to focus on more functional academic skills, check out this Life Skills: Functional Christmas & Hanukkah Stories & Activities. This set includes holiday stories, communication boards, and activities for your Life Skills and Daily Living Skills classes. It’s a perfect speech therapy activity leading up to Christmas. It includes 3 different holiday books to use with your students. One book discusses the Hanukkah celebration, one book discusses Christmas and the last book reviews the process of picking out a Christmas tree. The activities in these books are meant for elementary, middle, or high school students with moderate to severe disabilities. The books all contain real pictures to support comprehension of the holiday seasons while working on vocabulary and expressive/receptive language skills. The Christmas books do have some pages about ‘Santa’. With middle school students we do try to use age appropriate instruction and move away from ‘Santa’ in some families. You can easily remove those parts of the story because there are no comprehension activities related to this part of the story.
Traditional holidays are fun to teach about and even more fun for our students to learn about! Keeping students learning and engaged at this time of the year is very important as we are all starting to get tired as we begin the countdown to winter break. I hope that you find some of the activities above useful to your therapy sessions!
Links to all holiday resources listed above:
What holidays or themes do you teach about during the holiday season?
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