Winter Solstice Observation Sites

Today is Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year.  With modern electric lights and heated homes, this day usually passes without much notice. But, thousands of years ago, this tipping point, after which the sun begins to linger longer each day, was an important time for celebration.  We can get a glimpse at the ancient infatuation with the calendar's briefest day by looking at artifacts and monuments from the annual solstice festivities.

Newgrange, Ireland is one of the world's most famous locations for observing the Winter Solstice.  Inside the 5000-year-old earth-covered mound is a long passageway into an ancient temple.  On the morning of the annual Winter Solstice, light shines through a roof-box down the passage and into the the buried chamber, flooding light over the room for seventeen minutes.

Stonehenge is an ancient monument in England where more than 1000 people gathered this morning to view the solstice sunrise, which aligns neatly between some of the landmark's giant stones.

Egyptian Tour
In Egypt, the Karnak Temple is an important Winter Solstice site.  At dawn, the sun shines through the eastern door to illuminate the sanctuary.  As the sun rises, it appears to emerge from the temple into the sky.

Astronomy magazine via RockArtBlog
The Western hemisphere also has ancient artifacts that reveal Winter Solstice observations.  In Phoenix, Arizona, the Winter Solstice sunset illuminates rock art created by Hohokam Native Americans.

LA Times
Several of the Spanish Missions in California were also built to align with the Winter Solstice sun.  This morning at San Juan Bautista, the solstice sunrise flooded the altar of the 200-year-old church.

After taking this virtual Solstice observation tour, you can read The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer to learn more about the special day. 


Free Christmas Bookmarks

One of the best things about having vacation from work or school is the opportunity to read.  Cold and rainy weather on days without deadlines creates the perfect setting for staying in with a good book.  To help inspire holiday break reading, check out these printable Christmas bookmarks.

These bright Christmas tree bookmarks from ZiggityZoom are perfect printables for holiday storytime.

Eat Drink Chic is offering these more traditional gift tags that could double as winter-reading bookmarks.  In fact, any of the printable bookmarks would make excellent gift tags or gift toppers, especially if you are giving books.

These cute snowmen bookmarks are available to print at Heather Ozee Designs.

At Shiny Happy Art, you can print these free angel tags, which can be used as bookmarks, gift cards, or even table place cards.


Instant Nativity

Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus, the son of the Christian God.  Reenacting the Bethlehem nativity scene of his birth is one of the oldest Christmas traditions.  Get your own instant nativity set from Marloes de Vries.
This full-color set that I discovered through How About Orange is ready to go.  Just print, cut, fold and enjoy.  There is also a blank set of foldables that students can color in with their own designs.  Kids can use the mini-puppets to act out the Christmas story.


Winter Holidays - Celebrations of Light

Now that the weather is chilly and nightfall is arriving so early in the evening, candles and lights are a welcome remedy to the darkness.  Since ancient times, light has been a huge part of many winter celebrations and holidays around the world.  Let students explore the role of light in familiar and foreign traditions this holiday season.

December 13th is St. Lucia Day, which is celebrated in eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Italy and some Caribbean countries.  Candles are an important symbol on St. Lucia Day when they are often used in wreaths, either as decoration or as a candlelit crown for the traditional Lucia procession.

Students can create their own candlelit crown with instructions from Kiddley.

Yule was first celebrated by the Norse, but its traditions have been incorporated into Christmas and other winter holidays.  In many cultures, festivals took place as long as the yule log burned -- often up to several days since the large, slow-burning logs were selected.

Visit Pretty Little Things to learn how to make mini Yule logs out of cardboard tubes.

Hanukkah is another celebration of light that is observed by Jewish people for eight days each winter beginning on 25 Kislev. Candles are lit on a menorah in remembrance of the miracle oil that burned at the temple in Jerusalem for eight days after it was reclaimed from Greece.

Creative Jewish Mom has instructions for this recycled cardboard menorah craft.
Younger students can practice ordinal numbers while counting the eight days of Hanukkah.

Christmas lights have been used to decorate trees for hundreds of years.  Visit White House history to learn about the first White House Christmas tree that used lights to decorate its branches in 1895 during Grover Cleveland's administration.

Challenge students to design a Christmas light decoration using repurposed materials, like this tomato cage Christmas tree I made.  To make your own, just flip a tomato cage upside-down and then wrap it with lights and garland.

Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year.  All around the world since ancient times festivals and celebrations have included lights on the day with the fewest hours of sunlight.

Make a solstice mobile with Cre8tivegirl's printable.

  Students can compare and contrast the celebrations after learning about each one.


Cabin Fever - Sixth in the Wimpy Kid Series

This week, the sixth Diary of a Wimpy Kid book was released.
With an initial printing of six million copies, Cabin Fever is the biggest book of the year.  The publisher's confidence is not surprising, since kids (and lots of adults) just can't get enough of Jeff Kinney's illustrated realistic fiction series.

If you'd like to get more than pleasure reading out of this kid-pleasing story, download the Cabin Fever Event Kit from Abrams Books Academic Resources collection.  You will also find the Diary of a Wimpy Kid Throughout the Year packet, which includes more learning activities to go along with the series.

After reading, let students act out their favorite scenes using printable masks from Wimpy Kid Club.

Find out about the Wimpy Kid book that you can read online, wimpy cupcakes, and wimpy printables here.

Hear wimpy music and see Cheese Touch cupcakes here.

Learn about a wimpy online game that matches the snowed-in Cabin Fever theme perfectly here.

And, if you've already torn through Cabin Fever in the last three days, don't despair.  There is going to be a seventh book.



Thanksgiving will be here soon.  Many students and teachers are running on fumes at this time of year.  Keep your eye on the prize while keeping the learning going with these fun ideas.

Combine math and art with Almost Unschoolers' pumpkin pie fractions.  The roundness of the Thanksgiving dessert favorite makes it a perfect manipulative for understanding and practicing basic fractions.
Then help students understand that there's more to the Thanksgiving story than three days off school  full of family, food, and football with their handprint pilgrim mural.  After printing the 26 adults and 27 children to represent the pilgrims who survived the first year in the New World, students can label them with names from their pilgrim stories.
Check out Pilgrims: A Nonfiction Companion to Magic Tree House for more information about the first Thanksgiving.

You can also include a musical connection with this catchy and amusing Thanksgiving song, "Turkey from Albuquerque."


Make Your Own Origami Yoda

Back in March, I wrote about Tom Angleberger's awesome Origami Yoda promotion, through which I acquired this super-cool signed-by-the-author origami Yoda
and this rad illustration.

My Yoda already made two guest appearances in book talks!  In August, my friend borrowed him to give a talk about the book--one of twenty chosen this year for the Texas Bluebonnet Reading List--to the librarians in our school district.  Then, last week, Yoda co-starred with me in this interview video, which I used to promote the book, and our upcoming book fair, to my students.
The script is available from the Scholastic Canada Book Fair site.  It can also be read by a pair of students.  If you want to skip the acting and get straight to building excitement about the novel, check out Scholastic's teaser video.

The book ties in perfectly with Scholastic's fall book fair theme this year: To the Book Fair and Beyond!  As we prepare for our fair at the end of this month, my classes are focusing on fiction and non-fiction portrayals of outer-space.  Since this book features a famous fictional space traveler, it was a fun story to kick off the theme with my 3rd-5th grade students.  After the book teaser, students got a chance to make their own origami Yoda using the simple, one-page tutorial from the Origami Yoda blog.
 There are also instructions for more detailed Yodas as well as other Star Wars favorites. 

If you plan to share Angleberger's novel with your students, also check out this fun idea.
This Vintage Chica used a clever turn of phrase to turn origami Yoda into Valentine notes.  The green, not-mushy nature of the geeky-in-a-good-way cards means they're perfect encouragements to send any time of year.  Students could make them for each other, substituting pal or friend or homey for Valentine


Free printable masks

With Halloween carnivals and class parties right around the corner, it's time to start planning a costume.  Masks are an easy approach to taking on a new role.  Check out these print-cut-wear masks for instant costume fun.

At many schools, students are only allowed to dress as storybook characters.  This Junie B. Jones printable mask certainly fills the bill.  Also check out my favorite character, Skippyjon Jones.  Click the keyhole to get into Skippyjon's closet.  Then click on teachers to find the mask and lots of printable activities.

If you are looking for more traditional Halloween characters, visit Goobitsa, Brian Gubicza's illustration site.

Find bunches of options at ClassroomJr.  Categories include animals, monsters, and masks from different cultures.

Let students explore their inner superheroes with printable masks from Disney, including Captain AmericaIron Man, and this cool Incredible Hulk mask.


Hoot Owl Stories, Crafts and Fun

Fall officially began this week (although, on the day our air conditioning didn't work, it definitely still felt like summer).  Despite the weather, the start of fall gets me thinking about squirrels and owls and other forest critters.  This week, my students and I read and learned about owls.  It was lots of fun.  Here are some of the owly stories and activities we did plus a few extras.

The grey and orange owl mask in the photo above is a free printable from AnimalJr.com, where you can also find spider, cat, and bat versions just in time for Halloween.  All four designs are also offered in black and white, so students can decorate their own.  I wore the mask and used an owl hand puppet to build excitement about the topic.

Owl Babiesis a beautiful 1992 picture book by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson about three owlets who don't know where their mother has gone.  Kindergarten listeners relate easily to the anxiety and eventual reassurance experienced by the owls in the story.  The dark setting in the illustrations helps students understand that owls are nocturnal animals.

  Little Hoot is another great owl-themed picture book written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Jen Corace.  Little Hoot just wants to go to bed at night when his friends do, but his parents have other ideas.  Students will relate to bedtime disputes, and they can compare and contrast their desire to stay up late with Little Hoot's wish to turn in early.

After the read-alouds, we used these popsicle-stick owl puppets for an owl counting song.  Templates for the little owls are available at Sunflower Storytime*, where you can also see adorable examples of them all made up.  Then visit Mel's Desk where you can find the words to the song, Hoot Owl Count.

Next, students got to make owls to take home.  I used the simple owl template and idea from Woman's Day.  Kindergarteners enjoyed the craft and especially loved getting to smell the sweet candy corn noses.

If you haven't had enough owl excitement, visit Feeling Inspired to get these free printable owl bookmarks and book plates.

Also checkout the Owlygraphic novel series by Andy Runton.
At Runton's site, you can find six free Owly comics in downloadable pdfs.  Each of these nearly wordless comic stories features Owly and Wormy's friendship and adventures.  Older elementary school students seem to enjoy this series.  Reading wordless stories helps students understand visual cues and sequence of events.  Teachers can encourage students to make predictions about what the characters are thinking.  Readers can even create text to accompany the stories.  See for yourself just how cute Owly and Wormy are in their online animation.

*This post originally included a link to the wrong site for the owl templates.  Thanks so much to Leah from Sunflower Storytime for pointing out my mistake!!