Teaching Holidays Around the World, Plus Tips for Using Google Earth with Young Children

Do you teach Holidays Around the World?  Here is an EASY way to teach it, and combined with the wonderful tool of Google Earth, your kids will LOVE it!  My kids really did!  There’s no prep, and you won’t need to go to the library or book store to try to find ten different books on ten different holiday traditions.  (Those books are almost ALWAYS way too long for the children to sit through anyway!)  Sound good?  Keep reading!

Many years ago when I was a brand new teacher, one of the teachers I worked with gave a folder with some Christmas Around the World coloring pages.  There was one coloring sheet for each of six or seven different countries, and they featured a Christmas holiday tradition on each one.  She told me that one of the teachers at our school had drawn these pictures for the children to color, and that what I was supposed to do was to talk to the children about each country’s holiday traditions and show them the picture.  Then the children could color it as a follow up activity.  At the end of the unit, I could staple them together and send them home.

Here are some examples of some child colored pages of the new book.

Being a brand new teacher, and having almost nothing else in my bag of tricks, I readily agreed to this plan for my then first grade class.  So I colored and laminated my pictures.  Then each afternoon, I talked to the children a little bit about each country’s traditions, which didn’t take long because I sure didn’t know much!  We located the country on the map, and then released them to color their pictures.

But the best part was that I put on a record by Raffi (yes, it was an LP on vinyl!) with children’s Christmas songs on it and the children and I sang while we colored!  And nobody minded that I also wasn’t playing Hanukkah songs or giving equal time to other “religions.”  (Okay, to be fair, there was nothing religious going on.  We were coloring pictures of different culture’s versions of Santa, who was not born in a manger and is NOT the center of Christianity by any means.)

I remember those days with fondness, because they were easy and carefree afternoons, way back when “accountability” and “standards” were not necessarily the buzzwords of the day.  We could play games, do art projects, and go outside and have PE, give the kids an extra recess, and generally just have fun with the children in the afternoons and not have to stress over the loss of each passing minute and how it might best be used.  I gave my students an art project to do just about every day of the year, and we ALWAYS sang songs while we put them together.  I remember a visitor walking into my classroom, commenting, “Uh… they’re singing….”  Oh, my goodness!  If she could only see me now!  When are we NOT singing????  LOL!

This is what the student book looks like.  My 21 year old daughter Krissie colored it for me, LOL!

Fast forward to 2012, and we still need to teach social studies.  (Or at least, no one has told us at my school yet that we may only teach math and language arts.  Phew!)  Multi-culturalism is of course valued.  “Christmas Around the World” units are generally frowned upon, but “Holiday Traditions Around the World” are uplifted as properly multi-cultural and an important thing to teach.

This is an example of the pages on Denmark and Sweden.  The coloring pages are at the end of the book.

Given that, I recently decided that it was time to update my “Christmas Around the World” unit and turn it into a “Holiday Traditions Around the World” unit! 

This is the cover of my newest book!  It’s just $12.

In writing it, I gave it all of the characteristics of the unit I was looking for, but never found in any other single resource:

*  It includes one simple coloring sheet for each country’s holiday traditions.
*  It includes a printable student book for the children to take home if desired.
*  The text is written in simple terms that a young child should be able to understand.
*  It includes information about other children that should capture the interest of a young reader.
*  There are no more than three or four sentences on each page, to fit the attention span of the young child.
*  Each country’s page can be read separately (on its own day) or you can read the entire book on the same day.
*  The text emphasizes respect for multi-culturalism as each holiday is celebrated and uplifted.
*  Holidays include: Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Eid-ul-Fitr and Ramadan, and Kwanzaa, plus 10 other holiday traditions.
* The printed book and the downloadable book are completely identical, so if you want to get the download for immediate use, you are not missing out on anything.
* All of the countries in the book include:
Denmark and Sweden, Spain and Latin America, France, Italy, Holland, Israel, Germany, England, Mexico, Ireland, Us and Canada, Africa, Middle East, India, and China.

Writing the book was not difficult for me, although there was so much information out there on the internet that sometimes I thought the hardest part was trimming it down to just three or four sentences per country.  Please note that I took the information about the holidays from many different internet sources, and tried to write the information that most of the websites generally agreed upon.  Therefore, if you learned some information about the holiday that is slightly different than what we have decided to print, please feel free to pass your own information along to your students as you wish.  However, we have decided not to make any changes to the book unless there are any major errors that can be verified by several different independent sources.

As far as the illustrations are concerned, I would have enjoyed illustrating it myself, but I really don’t have enough time to do this efficiently, and illustration is simply not my area of expertise.  So my wonderful husband passed the project off to one of our favorite illustrators, Amanda Sorensen.  I think that she did a FABULOUS job of capturing the essence of each holiday!  And I know that the children will enjoy coloring all of the pictures and learning about the different countries this year.

This is what the student book looks like before it has been colored.

Given that our school’s Kindergarten still dismisses at 1:20 at this point in the year, we have very little time in the day to give to social studies.  So I am just planning on reading them the entire book to kick off the unit, and then I will go back and read them the individual page for each country that we are focusing on each day.  I am also planning on using Google Earth to show the children where each country is in relation to where ours, and have the children watch as we “fly” to that country, just like Santa and his reindeer fly from one place to another!

If you haven’t had a chance to try out Google Earth in the classroom, I highly recommend it!  It’s really a fascinating tool.  All you have to do is download the free application ahead of time and then play with it a bit until you figure out how it works.  It’s not hard; but do it ahead of time because you probably don’t want to “lose” your class while you stumble through it the first time.  It’s funny; we used to depend on maps and spend a lot of time teaching map skills.  Now I don’t even think that there is a map or globe in my room other than in my social studies big book!  These days, we use the internet.  I wonder how long it will be before we are required to teach kids how to use a GPS or a map app instead?  Paper maps themselves seem to be almost a thing of the past.

This is a screen shot of Google Earth’s view of North America on the planet Earth.

One thing that is great about Google Earth is that it gives you the ability to help children develop a schema of the world in their minds.

For example, children can easily see and understand that they live in a house in a neighborhood, and that neighborhood is in a town or city.

This is Google Earth’s street level view of my Kindergarten room and our playground!

That city is in a state, and the state is in a country.  The country is on the planet Earth.  On the Earth, there are lots of countries, of which ours is just one.

When teaching young children with Google Earth, always start with where you are:  here is our school.  (Make sure you click on the street level view by clicking on the little person in the top right corner.)  My students last year were AMAZED when I showed them the street level view of our Kindergarten playground!!!  You can walk down the street at the street level view and show them the neighborhoods near the school.  Some children may see their homes!  From there, zoom out to show them the birds eye view of the city.  From there, you can either show them some familiar places around their town, or zoom out again and show them the state.

This is a screen shot of my computer’s saved images of the Eiffel Tower on Google Earth.

So, they are going from small to large, starting with the school, the city, then the state.  Then go the country.  Once they are familiar with the idea of the country and the different states in it, then you can “fly” via Google Earth from one country to another.  If you want to get really efficient, then plant a “pin” ahead of time where you are going to go and this will save your locations as bookmarks so that all you have to do is click on them and Google Earth will let you fly right to them without typing in the name.  (Hint:  Google Earth seems to work much better for me if I put a real place into it, such as the Eiffel Tower in France rather than just the word “France.”  Then you can get an interesting picture to show the kids.)

Google Earth’s street level view of Yosemite Valley.

In navigating Google Earth, it is helpful to always try to double click on locations that you want something to “happen” on.  Otherwise, it can be frustrating when you click on a location expect Google Earth to fly you closer, and it doesn’t happen!  Also, once you find a place that you like, just click the little thumbtack icon at the top.  Name your thumbtack (pin) whatever you want, and it will save that location for you like a bookmark.  If you have all of the pinned bookmarks saved on your computer, you will be able to easily review each day all of the countries you have “visited” on the days previous to that one, and see how much your students can remember.

Google Earth’s street level view of Poipu Beach in Kauai, Hawaii.  Why Kauai?  Why not? 

Google Earth is also a wonderful tool for showing kids other things, such as real locations in story books.  Some good examples of this are Antarctica in the Tacky the Penguin books and the Boston Commons in the Make Way for Ducklings book.  It can also be used to help children visualize historical locations such as Plymouth Rock, or the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial when studying coins.  You can also show them landforms, such as valleys, mountains, rivers, and deserts.  You would just need to have a specific landform in mind so that you can type in the name when it’s time to search.

Click on the Pegman icon to enter the street level view.  You must first roll your mouse over that spot between the zoom bar and control wheels for the Pegman to appear, however.

PS. The printed Holidays Around the Word book and the downloadable book are completely identical, so if you want to get the download for immediate use, you are not missing out on anything.

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