Students learn about traditions, holidays from around the world

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 23, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
ROCKWELL — Little eyes lit up as teachers placed small balls of sugar cookie dough in front of students at Rockwell Elementary School on Thursday.
As their small hands flattened the dough and reached for cookie cutters in the shapes of stars and bells, Catherine Gilbert quizzed them on what they learned while reading “The Baker’s Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale.”
In union, several children replied, saying “there is always more to give.”
Gilbert said the books, about a shrewd businessman who receives a visit from an old woman who insists a dozen is 13 rather than 12, teaches students about the spirt of generosity.
Although Amsterdam is known for being honest, giving customers exactly what they pay for, he never gives more.
But during a dream in which Saint Nicholas pulls gift after gift out of his bag to give to others, he realizes maybe he has more to give as well.
Gilbert, a language arts teacher, said her third grade students read the book while learning about different holidays and traditions around the world.
Lani Isley, 9, said she enjoyed reading “The Baker’s Dozen” and making her own cookies Thursday.
“It’s really a lot of fun,” she said. “I like that the baker learned a lesson to always give.”
Students also read several different versions of Stone Soup. The folk story is about how three soldiers trick villagers, who hide away their food in a greedy manner, into sharing.
After making their cookies Thursday, students got a chance to sample Stone Soup and wassail, a hot punch often enjoyed by the English as they carol from house to house.
Earlier this month, students also read books about Christmas traditions in countries like Poland and Germany as well as the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, a weeklong celebration of African-American culture and heritage.
Gilbert said it’s important for students to gain that exposure.
“We’re trying to prepare them for the future and provide lifelong awareness so they’ll be accepting of different cultures and traditions,” she said. “We are all different and they need to be able to embrace that.”
Across the hall, students in Amanda Henke’s third-grade class used gumdrops, M&Ms, lollipops and icing to make gingerbread houses, applying geometry skills to build the foundation.
Leading to the activity, students used dreidels — spinning tops used to play a game during Hanukkah.
Henke said students spun the dreidels 20 times, recording which symbol they landed on in a chart. After they finished, they made a bar graph with the data.
She said graphing will be an important skill as they move into high level math courses. The assignment was also a lesson in probability.
Diane Smith, Lani’s grandmother, provided the materials for the gingerbread houses, giving each student a kit. She thought it would be a fun way to wrap up class before the break.
“I just like working with the children,” she said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.