Meeting the needs of students who don’t celebrate holidays may seem challenging, at first. With a simple plan , it’s easy to respect the family’s beliefs and avoid making the student feel singled out.
Each year, children enter our classrooms with learning disabilities or cognitive delays. Other students deal with challenges that are less obvious. Some are socially awkward, have food allergies, or are dealing with the recent loss of a loved one.
As teachers, we’ve learned to accommodate a variety of students’ needs in our classrooms. We model inclusion which in turn helps our students be more accepting and compassionate.
But, what about the child who is not allowed to be participate in activities that most children take for granted?
A few years ago a new student enrolled in our school. She was a petite, long-haired girl who worked diligently on all her assignments. It was soon apparent that although a bit shy, she was respectful, smart, and friendly– a teacher’s dream. These same qualities quickly won her many new friends. I was thrilled how smoothly this new student made the transition into our building.
Within a few days of the start of school, the student’s mother called to make an appointment. During that meeting, the mother told me that she and her family were Jehovah’s Witnesses. The mother politely explained their beliefs and her concerns about holiday celebrations in the classroom. She said her daughter was quite good at knowing what she could and could not do, but that it might create some uncomfortable moments unless I was also aware of these limitations.
Working with several Jehovah’s Witnesses families over the years, I’ve learned to check in with the parents early on and keep communication open.
I learned that those who practice this religion must refrain from many common activities. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses may not say the Pledge of Allegiance or sing patriotic songs. They are not permitted to join the Girl or Boy Scouts. And, they can’t celebrate birthdays or holidays.
Out of respect for the family’s beliefs, I wanted to work out guidelines for managing these situations. Planning ahead also helped avoid any awkwardness for the student.
Below are some strategies upon which the student’s parent and I agreed.
1. The student stood for the Pledge of Allegiance, but she did not place her hand over her heart or recite the pledge. This showed respect, but did not contradict her religious beliefs.
2. I made sure that the specials’ teachers also knew about my student’s religious beliefs. All of us either avoided holiday and patriotic activities, or the student was given an alternative activity. For example, while the group made ghost pictures, my student made a fall leaf design. And, any holiday-themed packets were given a generic cover. That way, the pages inside could be switched out as necessary.
3. During birthday celebrations, the student would refrain from singing Happy Birthday. While the treat was being passed out, I would quietly provide an alternate treat from the cabinet. Her mother provided snacks for these situations.
4. Classroom parties celebrating holiday themes were a bit challenging. Before each one I made contact with the parent and we problem-solved. Most often it was agreed that the parent would pick up the student right before the party start time. Whenever my student left early, I collected non-perishable goodies from the party and sent them home the next school day. This gave the student’s parents an opportunity to decide whether or not the contents were appropriate for their child.
5. Finally, I established a secret signal with the student. Any time the child thought an activity might conflict with her religious beliefs, she could either come up and let me know, or just silently alert me with the secret signal. By empowering the student, we were able to quickly resolve unexpected situations.
Whenever there wasn’t time to check with the parent, I erred on the side of caution. For example, when handing out seasonal pencil-and-paper activities, I used a cover page on top of the worksheets. This allowed me to swap out any ‘questionable’ content for a similar activity with no holiday reference. Of course, this approach also made it possible to differentiate any of the content to better meet the needs of my students’ ability levels.
Working with several Jehovah’s Witnesses families over the years, I’ve learned to check in with the parents early on and keep communication open. Every situation is different. What’s acceptable in one family, might not work for another.
In the end, it’s about making sure that all students have a safe and nurturing learning environment.
Other ideas? I’d love to hear about your experiences!
LOOKING FOR HOLIDAY-NEUTRAL ACTIVITIES?
Click the links below. These packets use familiar seasonal graphics and words, yet have no direct references to specific holidays on the student pages. These kid-friendly printables contain fun and educational activities that can be enjoyed by the entire class!
This packet includes six pages of ELA activities all based on a nonfiction selection about precipitation and the water cycle. Students will use context clues to complete a fill-in-the-blank cloze activity with a scientific vocabulary word bank.
Once students understand how snowflakes are formed, they will sequence the steps by numbering kid-friendly graphics filled with specific details. Finally, students will cut and paste the steps onto a Snowflake Timeline.
Students who finish early may enjoy the snowflake coloring page activity.
All activities have clear, easy-to-follow directions. The winter theme is festive, yet neutral enough to include children of every faith.
Scrambled Paragraph +Plus: How Snowflakes FormThis NO PREP activity packet contains an 8-sentence scrambled paragraph that can be put together only one way. Students use transitions and inferential clues to assemble this organized, logical paragraph.
The easy-to-use paragraph structure includes:
— a title,
— a topic sentence,
— three details with support- six (6) sentences, and
— a closing sentence or clincher.
What is a Scrambled Paragraph + Plus?
Scrambled Paragraphs + Plus contain one additional sentence on the student’s worksheet. Eight (8) of the sentences respond to the prompt, but one (1) does NOT belong in the paragraph.
Your students will love this print-and-go Spring-Tastic Easter Activity Packet, and you’ll love knowing that they are getting practice with figurative language, short nonfiction reading selections, multi-step math calculations, and more.
Activity pages look great in color or black/white, and they can be used individually or in any combination.
This packet includes:
– matching familiar idioms containing the words “egg” and “bunny” to their meanings,
– using a word bank to fill-in-the-blanks of short nonfiction selections about spring,
– calculate multi-step math equations to match flower pictures to their names,
– unscramble picture puzzles with a holiday theme,
– solve a riddle by guessing answers to interesting questions about spring,
– color eggs labeled with synonyms for word “spring,”
– solve a logic puzzle to figure out how many jelly beans were eaten by each child, and
– full-page answer keys.
Do you have any holiday-neutral lessons or activities you like to use? I’d love to hear from you!