There’s no busier time of year than December. So many more things seem to come on to our plate: the hustle and bustle of family events, nights out with friends, and of course holiday cooking and shopping. Somehow, we get it done, but it is feeling different this year. Busy just feels a whole lot harder now than it used to, doesn’t it? So many teachers I talk to have agreed that 2021 exhausted is a whole new level of exhausted. Everything we are used to doing has so many more layers to it now, so many more things to think about. There is definitely a heaviness in the air that feels new. Thank goodness it’s December though – the season of light and peace. Who better to remind us of that than our students?
I have always been a person who sees the best in every situation and cherish the time I spend with students. Like everything else, it’s felt heavy and hard lately. All the other pieces of education and the state of the world have been getting in the way. The weight of the world is on teachers’ shoulders right now. But I was so fortunate to recognize a moment recently that reminded me why we do what we do.
Recognize the Moment
For the last couple of months, I have been working in many classrooms with the classic story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It’s been so much more than reading the book. There has been work on character traits, developing new characters who win Golden Tickets, inventing and building new rooms in Wonka’s factory, and doing deep song analysis with the songs from the Broadway musical. We’ve been tapping into their “Pure Imagination”. Is there anything better? Embedding the arts and making the story come alive has infused light and energy into both students and teachers. Being a visiting teacher, I don’t always see the full benefits of the work. However, one day recently, as I was leaving a third grade classroom they presented me with a project they had been working on.
These students had done a lyric analysis for the song “Candy Man” and the lyric “He mixes it with love and makes the world taste good” resonated with them. They decided to create their own giant Wonka Bar, filled with things they think would make the world taste good. I smiled, and in my head thought this concoction would be the ultimate candy smorgasbord. Upon closer look, I was stopped in my tracks and instantly welled up in tears. What did they think were the ingredients that would make the world taste good? Kindness, respect, listening to each other, acceptance, being kind, loving each other, and so many more. These were the thoughts of eight year olds. All I could think was that yes, it was exactly what the world needed. If only kids were in charge!
This moment has really stuck with me. As we head into the holiday season, I can’t help but think about how this simple act could fit into more classrooms. As we all feel the weight of the world around us, we need to remember that our students, no matter their age, do as well. Sometimes it hits them more than we realize. We try to shield them from these confusing times, but it’s there. Our tension becomes their tension. So what better time than December to take a step back, acknowledge it, and use it to recognize the simple things that matter.
So how to do that? Make a list and check it twice. A list of simple joys. This is for both you and your students to do. Can you come up with one for every day? One for each day of the month, to remind yourself to slow down, take a breath and find joy. Everyone can and should have their own list. These are gifts to yourself.
Gifts to the World
Now, for the tougher one. What is one word that you would give as a gift to the world? Allow yourself, and your students, to really think about this. There may be many that rise to the top. Narrow it down. What do they feel strongest about? Again, they don’t all have to have the same word. Have them engage in discussions to really go into deeper levels of thinking and understanding for their choice. Once a student has chosen a word, ask them to illustrate it. What colors will they choose? What style of lettering? How will their design match the meaning of the word?
After illustrating their word, it’s time to make a new list. Each day, what is a simple gift you can give someone else that goes with that word? You might not be able to give your gift to the entire world, but you can find ways to give your word to your world. Brainstorm for about 10 minutes, coming up with as many ways as you can. You don’t need to find a months worth of gifts now though. Let the gifts come as you and your students go through your day and ideas pop into your head.
Wrap It Up
Now to wrap it up and put a bow on it… literally. Take all of your students’ gifts – their words – and wrap them up with love. Create a large gift display of some kind. Personally, I envision a wrapped box on the wall, with all the words coming out of it, spilling all over, with the lid and gift bow laying next to the box. Let your students see the visualization of the gift. Many of their words are very likely items that don’t have something material associated with them. This representation makes the gift real. It reminds them they have the power to give the gift and make a change. It makes it a gift to themselves as well.
Let the gift be on display for longer than the season. By doing that, watch those little gifts continue all year, when people least expect it. Small reminders to keep giving to the world. For even more activities that focus on kindness, we love some of the suggestions from Big Life Journal.
We all wish things were different right now. This is the way to start. Spreading small moments of kindness. Or as the Candy Man says, “mix it up with love and make the world taste good.” Let your students see they can do that. Let their gifts spiral and spark their belief, hope and imagination within their worlds. I can think of no better holiday gift.