Jingle All the Way – Ideas for December
“I can do this. I can do this! I’ve only got one more week…. ONE MORE WEEK!” Does that mantra sound familiar? I know that many of you are also psyching yourself up for one more week of high-energy kids who are sugared up from holiday parties and are a little crazy thinking about winter break. I thought I’d share some of my favorite December activities and ideas. Hopefully this gives you a few ideas to make that last week and last rush to the end a little more jolly!
I just found this awesome, Nutcracker inspired cup passing game on Pinterest from Eric Young. Here’s a link to his blog post about the lesson. I used a cup passing game with my students when I taught the folk song “I’ve been to Harlem” a few months ago. This new game set to the Nutcracker’s “Trepak” looks like a fun and easy extension for the cup game and would be great to teach to kiddos in a couple different grades. It would be especially fun if we used the Artie Almeida version first and then once the kids knew the form of the song we could transition to this activity!
Here’s the link on Pinterest in case you want to pin it yourself. Speaking of Pinterest, I have a whole board on my Pinterest devoted to the Nutcracker. Check it out when you click HERE.
Oh, and one more Nutcracker tip! Often you can find HD full productions of the Nutcracker ballet on YouTube. Check out this great recording I found and make sure you watch the Russian Dancers do the “Trepak” starting around 1 hour into the show. They’re pretty awesome! I know my kids love the flipping and gymnastic type dance at the end.
Jingle Bells Activities
I teach the song “Jingle Bells” with KDG and 1st grade and often I start with this book. It’s a cute little retelling of the Jingle Bell song/story. A family of bears gets in a “one horse open sleigh” and travels to see their friends. Along the way they run in to Santa. His reindeer all got sick with colds and had to stay home which means he doesn’t have a sleigh to visit every house and he needs some help to deliver all of the presents on time. The book is definitely cute but also has the real words to the song with other narration written in around the lyrics. It’s a fun place to start and makes a great segue into the song. Also, it’s cheap to buy. 😀
With KDG and 1st grade they can often sing the chorus with ease but get lost on the verses. So, instead of trying to get them to sing all the lyrics of the verses I have them just play jingle bells instead. Kids are told to keep a steady beat while I sing the verse and then they come in and sing the chorus with me. One thing I added was after the verse before the chorus I add an “OOOOOOOOOO” before we go on to sing “Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way!” I put a little fermata on the “O” and all students stop their steady beat to make an O with their arms over their head. It’s cute and shakes things up a bit. We can sing like this for a while so I’ll often sing all the verses while they keep the steady beat. They jump in when they hear me get to the chorus part.
My class set of bells come on a little handle with velcro. Kids can adjust them or wear them like a bracelet if they wanted to. I tell them to wrap it around their fingers. Then on different verses we’ll play the steady beat in a new place and no matter what we do the bells still play. Maybe verse one we’ll tap the steady beat with two hands on our legs, then we might clap on the second verse, then we might do alternating hands to finish. You can really do anything you want with this, but it breaks up the action and keeps it fresh for kids.
I also pull out the sleigh bells for these kids only I expect them to do a little more. I have them play a steady beat on the verse (so they can focus more on the singing) and then they play the rhythm on the chorus while they sing. This is a fun activity because it teaches them more about form and how the song can be broken down. As a final activity I have them think the melody in their heads (Gordon people, this is sort of like “audiating” right?) but not sing out loud. I could sit down an play the melody on the piano while students play bells and think the words in their heads. Then they come in on the chorus and sing/play like normal.
Check out the image on the left to see a little visual explanation of how we play and sing through this song. Just click to enlarge.
The 12 Days of Christmas
The Dreidel Song
This is another favorite activity for me and for the kids. We sing and learn the song and then talk about the history behind it. I use this PowerPoint to teach some of the backstory and history of Hannukah and of the Dreidel. Then I actually pull out a bag of dreidels to show the kids what one looks like and how it’s used for a game (but I don’t go into too much detail because I don’t want them to be too focused on the game, yet!). I bought a set of dreidels with the Hebrew letter and an English translation written on the side check them out here. These dreidels are a little tiny bit easier for my students to figure out, I think.
We talk about the dreidel a little bit, we sing through the song, we add silly little actions where the kids spin around on their spot for the chorus (like human-sized dreidels), and then we get ready to move on. I always make sure to talk about the cultural connections and history of the songs and I think that helps kids make connections to the outside world. I often teach this song with 5th graders. In their 4th grade year I show the “Sound of Music” and so when we get to the dreidel song/game I can make a connection back to SOM and some of the history we learned then. This game is also a great activity because later in their 5th grade year my students will watch “Fiddler on the Roof.”
I’ve been teaching in Kansas and Michigan and students don’t have too many opportunities to learn about Jewish people. I try and make as many connections as I can so that kids know more and empathize more. Last year I taught in Kansas City and in that city there was a shooting at the Jewish Community Center. You’d better believe that we had a very interesting and thoughtful conversation when we learned the Dreidel song.
I teach the dreidel song and then we take some time to play the game. Kids LOVE the dreidel game and I do my best to make this seem more like a game and less like gambling. I actually had a kid say, “So, this is just like gambling? You win or lose money depending on the spin” and I said, “No, this is just like Monopoly. In that game you can lose or win money depending on where you land. This is similar.” What do I do to keep it from feeling like gambling. I use math counters, buttons, or this year some colorful math/pattern links as the “gelt” that students can win or lose. We use white boards as something hard to spin the dreidel on and little plastic bowls to keep the links/tokens. Click the pictures above to enlarge and check out my student who won a lot and decided to make “a super swag necklace.” His word not mine.
A Few More Quick Ideas
I added Carol of the Bells to my repertoire this year because it’s such a recognizable melody and pretty easy for the kids to catch on to (click here for the blog post about it). I love that you can talk about ostinato and handbells (as opposed to other bells). You can even make more historical and cultural connections when you talk about the background information and how the song came to be. Did you know that it’s originally about a swallow? I actually made a little carol set about this song. If you want more information and backstory check out this link. The kids love it!
Fun media ideas: Check out this ad which features “Carol of the Bells” as played by NBA players with basketballs. Don’t tell the kids what’s play, just show the video and see if they can figure out which song is being “performed.” 😀 Also, if you want to teach Carol of the Bells, check out this awesome Muppet rendition.