Picture BooksA Fantastic Spring Picture Book List for Elementary Teachers with 20 Titles
March 9, 2023
How do you celebrate the winter solstice with elementary students? And why do we celebrate the winter solstice? Celebrating the winter solstice instead of Christmas can help to encompass all of your students, regardless of their traditions and beliefs. The winter solstice is something that everyone on Earth experiences and can create unity in your diverse classroom. This article was written as a step-by-step guide to help you plan the perfect winter solstice celebration for your elementary classroom.
To prepare your students for their winter solstice celebration, it is helpful to start by answering the question, “how does winter solstice work?” To put it most simply, there are three pieces that make the seasons, the most important piece being that the Earth’s invisible axis is tilted approximately 23.5 degrees off center. During the winter, that tilt positions a hemisphere so that it is pointed away from the sun, receiving indirect sunlight and experiencing winter (the other half of the Earth is pointed toward the sun and receives direct sunlight, experiencing summer). The seasons change as the Earth orbits around the sun because that tilt remains the same and each hemisphere experiences different amounts of direct and indirect sunlight over the year (for more information about how the seasons are made, read the article “A Helpful Introduction For Teachers Teaching the Four Seasons in School.”)
To help your students understand how does winter solstice work, consider introducing the topic with a picture book. There are several books that could help introduce this topic, here are three to get you started.
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The Longest Night by Marion Dane Bauer is a fictional story that is appropriate for all elementary grades. The animals of the forest notice that there is more night than day and they want to bring the sun back to warm the land. Many animals try to bring the sun back including the crow, the moose, and the fox, but it is the chickadee’s spring song that awakens the sun and brings its return.
The Shortest Day by Wendy Pfeffer is a great introduction to how does the winter solstice work for 2nd through 5th graders. It is lengthy, but filled with a lot of great information and lovely illustrations. There is an explanation about the Earth’s tilt and what weather to expect during this time of the year. Pfeffer also shares different clues that winter has arrived such as woodchucks hibernating, short and long shadows, and the need for warm clothes.
The Reasons for Seasons by Gail Gibbons is a good introduction to how the four different seasons on Earth are made. Although written for ages 4-8, the length of the story and the information may be more appropriate for 2nd through 5th graders. Gail Gibbons shares a plethora of information starting with an explanation about the tilt of the Earth and how the amount of direct or indirect sunlight creates the seasons. She also includes information about how the equator and the poles experience a different climate so their seasons look different than the temperate zones. There is a new and updated version that provides more accurate information, look for the copy that was sold starting in 2019.
After introducing the winter solstice and how it works to your students, it’s time to party plan! But how do you celebrate the winter solstice and what do you include? Starting with a theme can help you focus and create a cohesive and fun experience for you, your students, and your parent volunteers.
Consider these winter themes for your winter solstice bash:
Something that can make your theme even more amazing would be to tie it to your curriculum. If you follow the Next Generation Science Standards, there are many ways to use your curricular goals as inspiration for your winter solstice celebration. Also, if the party falls at the end of your unit, it is a great way to celebrate your students’ hard work and learning.
In the Next Generation Science Standards, Kindergarten students get to learn about weather and weather patterns (NGSS K-ESS2-1); celebrate the solstice with a “winter weather” theme. 1st grade students get to learn about the amount of daylight at different times of the year (NGSS 1-ESS1-2); celebrate the solstice with a “dark to light” theme. 2nd grade students get to learn about water and its different states (NGSS 2-ESS2-3); celebrate the solstice with a “snow” theme.
3rd grade students get to learn about weather and climates (NGSS 3-ESS2-2); celebrate the solstice with a “climates around the world” theme. 4th grade students get to learn about animal adaptations (NGSS 4-LS1-1); celebrate the solstice with a “winter animal” theme. 5th grade students get to learn about the seasonal appearance of stars in the night sky (NGSS 5-ESS1-2); celebrate the solstice with a “winter night sky” theme.
After you decide your winter solstice party theme it is helpful to put together a classroom holiday party letter to parents.This letter should include important information about how do you celebrate the winter solstice at your school party so that you and your parents are on the same page. Share the date and time with your parents and make sure not to waver from this commitment. Draft this letter in advance to give your parents the time they need to make arrangements for work or for younger siblings at home if they would like to volunteer.
Depending on the previous traditions of your school, it may be worth adding an explanation for why you are celebrating the winter solstice instead of Christmas this year. Use positive words like “unity”, “community”, and “encompassing” to help your parents see the positive effect this change can have on your students and classroom as a whole.
Other important information you could include in your letter are specific volunteer opportunities, how to sign up for those opportunities, and what your theme is. Some parents may be able to volunteer their time and help run games, activities, or help with food. Other parents may be able to send in snacks or craft supplies. Many of your parents probably want to help your party in some way; share with them how they can get involved. Your classroom holiday party letter to parents is a great place to share with your parents how to sign up to help.
After drafting your classroom party letter to parents, take time to put together a classroom holiday party sign up sheet. This can be as basic or as elaborate as you want it to be but remember to keep it organized in a way that’s easy for both you and your parents to use.
There are many different digital options that can be used for your classroom holiday party sign up sheet. One of the most popular options is SignUpGenius which offers both free and paid plans. The free plan includes unlimited sign up pages, email invites & reminders, duplicate & transfer sign ups, a URL link for each published sign up, admin management tools, the option to collect payments on sign ups, and the ability to hide names on sign ups. Paid plans offer all these perks and more but seem unnecessary for your purpose.
Having a digital option for your classroom holiday party sign up sheet is one of the easiest routes in this post-pandemic world for keeping your sign up sheet organized and easy for parents to use. It also gives you the freedom to be as specific or generic as you want when it comes to providing your parents with the answer to the question “how do you celebrate the winter solstice in your classroom?”.
A category to include on this sign up sheet are classroom winter party ideas for activities (see suggestions later in this article). After you brainstorm and decide on activities that you want to offer during your party, make a list of all the materials you will need and decide if gathering those materials is a task you want your parents to take on. Do you want them to supply the materials? Do you want them to run the activities? Those are questions to consider and the answers should be specified on your classroom holiday party sign up sheet.
An additional category to include on this sign up sheet are classroom winter games (see suggestions later in this article). Similar to the activities, make a list of games that you want offered at your party and write a list of all the materials you will need for them. Are you going to ask parents to provide the materials? Are you going to ask them to run the games during the party? Answer those questions while you’re planning and specify your needs on your classroom holiday party sign up sheet.
Another category to include on this sign up sheet are classroom holiday party food ideas (see suggestions later in this article). Some of the digital sign up companies allow you to add pictures and links to your sign up sheet – take advantage of these features to help your parents see your vision for the party. Make notes if you have any allergies in the classroom or if you want any specific substitutions. If you have a recipe that you really want made that includes peanut butter, sun butter or soy butter are good substitutions.
Depending on the amount of time you have and the interests of your students, an additional category you could include on your sign up sheet would be classroom holiday party craft ideas (see suggestions later in this article). For this type of activity, it is often helpful to provide the materials for the crafts or put links to a craft how-to in your sign up sheet in order to make the crafts as successful as possible. Consider having your parents sign up to run these types of activities for you, and depending on how elaborate your craft is or how young your students are, it may be helpful to have a couple of parents per craft.
When you are considering classroom winter party ideas for activities you can start with the common components of an indoor elementary school party. Consider indoor winter games, holiday party food, and holiday party crafts (see suggestions later in this article). One of the best ways to incorporate all of these experiences is to plan them as centers during your winter solstice party. Hopefully you will have help from parents that signed up on your classroom holiday party sign up sheet. I would suggest having two parents (at least) at your food and craft stations. One parent should be able to handle each game.
You can also think outside the box by considering indoor winter experiences as well. For your early childhood learners, sensory bins would make a wonderful center when considering how do you celebrate the winter solstice in your classroom. This Sparkly Winter Play Dough by Growing Hands-on Kids uses hair conditioner, cornstarch, glitter, and spruce essential oil (optional) to create snow inside that doesn’t melt and will stick together to make snowballs.
Alternatively, The Purposeful Nest makes moldable and non-melting Fake Snow for Pretend Play from hair conditioner and baking soda. By including small props and animals, your students can role play and pretend to be outside in the snow, whether it exists in your region or not. When using either of these fake snows, make sure to have a vinyl or plastic tablecloth underneath the sensory bins for easy clean up and ensure that your students wash their hands with soap and water before eating.
For children of all ages in elementary school, you could consider having an indoor snowball fight. This would probably be a good activity to take into a gymnasium or other large space. You can create “indoor snowballs” by balling up socks which makes them more spherical. This is a whole lot of fun but can get pretty hectic at the same time. Play some neutral music like a soundtrack from a winter movie or upbeat classical music so that it keeps from being biased toward any particular holiday. They will likely be tired after 5-10 minutes of snowball play; this would be a great activity to start the party so that they get their wiggles out before sitting down for food and crafts.
For older students, consider something more mature that helps them work together. There are tons of escape rooms available for purchase online that your students would love! You could also put together a series of winter-themed riddles that you pose to your upper elementary kiddos.
If you’re looking for movies to help you in celebrating the winter solstice instead of Christmas, consider these titles: Ice Age, Small Foot, Abominable, Frozen, Snow Buddies, Balto, Happy Feet, Penguins of Madagascar, March of the Penguins (documentary), To the Arctic (documentary), and Snow Dogs.
How do you celebrate the winter solstice with classroom winter games? You could create or buy a winter-themed Bingo game that could be played together as a class. This can tie into your specific winter theme (see suggestions in the beginning of this article). It can also tie to your curriculum if you just finished or started working on animal adaptations, winter signs, and more.
You could also play several rounds of winter “I Spy”. You could prepare for these classroom winter games by hiding a variety of winter-related things around your classroom and then have whoever gives the clues use preposition, or spatial, words like next to, above, below or other words you may be using in math or social studies.
You could put together or purchase an indoor scavenger hunt. Prepare for this activity ahead of time by deciding if this is a collaborative hunt where everyone works together, or if it is an individual hunt where everyone spreads out and works at their own pace. Then, you should put together clues to lead your students to the one or more winter-themed objects around the space. This could be extra special if you connect it to a story that you recently read about winter.
Consider taking your party outside for a portion of it with outdoor winter party games (suggestions towards the end of this article). Outdoor winter party games can help your students burn off energy and experience the season for all it is worth.
When contemplating classroom holiday party food ideas, take into account the allergies in your classroom as well as the school’s policy on food. In light of the pandemic, more schools have moved toward pre-packaged items. Check with your administrator if you are unsure of your school’s policy on snacks. Make sure to share with your parents how they can help you by including your classroom holiday party food ideas on your classroom holiday party sign up sheet.
To get you started with brainstorming, here’s a list of 10 winter-themed snacks that could work when considering how do you celebrate the winter solstice in your elementary classroom:
When contemplating classroom holiday party craft ideas, take into account the amount of time each craft will take, how easy it is to reset materials (if you are doing them in centers), and how your clean up will go. Creating centers with parents to help supervise can help save you a major headache! Make sure to share with your parents how they can help you by including your classroom holiday party craft ideas on your classroom holiday party sign up sheet.
To get you started with brainstorming, here’s a list of 10 winter-themed crafts that could work when considering how do you celebrate the winter solstice in your classroom.
If one of your answers to the question “how do you celebrate the winter solstice with elementary students?” was to move the party outside, here are some suggestions for you. It is very similar to planning a party inside with just a couple of extra things to consider. One factor in deciding how to have a party outside in the winter is whether or not you have the space to do so. It is helpful to have outdoor picnic tables that have been cleared of snow and leaves. These tables can hold your food and other party materials.
If you have the space, you will also want to consider if your students have the appropriate outdoor gear. If you are in a region with extremely cold temperatures make sure they all have hats, gloves or mittens, coats, snow pants, and winter boots so that they will not be cold outside during your party. You may also want to have extras on hand just in case they forget something at home.
If you have the space and your students have the gear, you can start to plan your outdoor winter party themes, outdoor winter party activities, outdoor winter party games, and outdoor winter party ideas for food. Check out these suggestions and add your own to the comment section to share your amazing ideas and finds!
Outdoor winter party themes can be just like indoor winter party themes just taken outside. Depending on what your region’s winter weather looks like, any of these suggestions could be used for celebrating the winter solstice instead of Christmas outside:
One big difference in hosting your winter solstice party outside is to ensure that you include the change in space in the classroom holiday party letter to parents. By sharing this information with your parents ahead of time they can send the correct outdoor gear with their children, setting your students up for success. Also, if you have parents that are considering volunteering it would be best for them to know you are planning on being outside so they can dress accordingly.
When considering how to have a party outside in the winter, you also need to think about the activities that you want to include. If you are in a region where you will have children with mittens then your activities will have to be designed to work with bulky hands. It is also helpful to have activities that keep them moving so that they don’t get cold.
You could use the previously mentioned classroom winter party ideas for activities in addition to these outdoor winter party activities. Letting your students work through a winter outdoor scavenger hunt is a blast and will keep them moving to stay warm. Consider this winter outdoor scavenger hunt from Naturally Teaching! You could also have them look for the colors of the rainbow while they’re outside. Following animal tracks in the snow is also a ton of fun!
Although trying to make crafts with mittens may be a challenge, painting snow with spray bottles can be done in gear and is a lot of fun. Prepare spray bottles or squirt bottles with liquid watercolor paint and water to spray on the snow. If you don’t have liquid watercolor paint, you can use tools to open dried up markers and place the cartridge into a jar of water to extract the leftover color. Mix the extracted color with water and put in a spray bottle or squirt bottle for your students to have fun! Whatever you use, make sure to use non toxic and non staining color (food coloring is non toxic but it stains).
Another craft project that can be completed outside with bulky hands is this Winter Tree Nature Art Project by Fantastic Fun and Learning. This craft piece uses construction paper, liquid glue, twigs, cotton swabs, and white paint. All of these pieces can be manipulated with bulky hands and incorporates outdoor exploration to find just the right twig. Think about how much wind you might have; if you expect to experience some, consider bringing binder clips for each student’s paper to keep them from blowing away.
Another craft project that can be completed outside with bulky hands is the Evergreen Fork Painting project by Babies to Bookworms. This craft piece uses construction paper, disposable forks, and green and white tempera paint. Again, consider the amount of wind you might have and bring out binder clips if necessary. Markers would be helpful to write names on the papers so they can be claimed at the end of the party. There are also a lot of different brands that are selling affordable compostable forks; consider using these instead of traditional disposable forks as they break down a lot faster and are better for the environment.
Outdoor winter party games can be a ton of fun! Since you are outside the excitement and noise level can be very different (and festive!) compared to what can be tolerated inside. If you chose to answer the question “how does winter solstice work?” together as a class, you could play Season Tag. This is a game of tag that includes different numbers of students starting as “it” and different speeds of movement to simulate the direct/indirect sunlight that occurs during each season. Read the article “A Helpful Guide to Teaching the Season Transition to Winter” for complete directions.
If you chose the theme of snow for your party, you could create these Easy to Make Snowball Launchers by Little Bins Little Hands. After prefacing that this activity will only take place outside, have your students assemble the snowball launchers from a pre-cut plastic cup (bottoms cut out) and pre-cut balloons (tip cut off and end tied). Share your expectations with the class including not launching at other students, waiting until you say “go” to launch their snowballs, etc. Having a well-defined launching line would be helpful; the edge of a sidewalk or the edge of the playground would work well.
If you chose the theme of winter animals for your party, you could play “Mr. Bear, Are You Awake?” This game is a fun and active opportunity for your children to stay warm similar to “What Time is It, Mr. Fox?”. For full instructions, visit Becky’s (Dragon’s) Guiding Resource Centre.
Outdoor winter party ideas for food are going to need to be considered a little more carefully than indoor classroom holiday party food ideas. You still need to take into account the allergies in your classroom as well as the school’s policy on food. Check with your administrator if you are unsure of your school’s policy on snacks. Make sure to share with your parents how they can help you by including your outdoor winter party ideas for food on your classroom holiday party sign up sheet and also inform them that they are going to be enjoyed outside.
One of the keys to selecting a snack that will be successful outside in the winter is if it is transportable or not. Most things that are eaten off of a stick are good choices or things that are eaten with a spoon. To get you started with brainstorming, here’s a list of 10 winter-themed snacks that could work when considering how do you celebrate the winter solstice outside with your students.
Changing traditions and moving forward can seem like a daunting task, but you have taken a great step in equality in your classroom by asking yourself the question “how do you celebrate the winter solstice with elementary students?” You have a found a commonality between all of your students by celebrating the winter solstice instead of Christmas which will bring unity and build community within your classroom. I hope you, your students, and your classroom parents have an amazing time at your winter solstice celebration and that you get a much-needed rest when it’s completed! Happy holidays!
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Do you have an amazing way that you celebrate the winter solstice instead of Christmas? Include your favorite activities in the comments!