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Five Christmas Books as an Inspiration for Holiday STEM Activities

 

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There are so many Christmas books that make wonderful read-alouds.  Read-aloud time was always my favorite time of the teaching day.  I loved that kids could sit on the rug with me, relax, and just listen.  Of course, we always had some sort of discussion, but the children never thought of it as work.

Christmas Books to Read Aloud

Here are a few of my favorite Christmas stories to read aloud, along with suggestions for some fun STEM activities.  While I prefer the interaction of reading with the students, each of these books can also be found as a read-aloud on YouTube.  So, if you don’t have one of the books, don’t let it stop you from enjoying the story!

How to Catch an Elf

 

In this rhyming book, by Adam Wallace and Andy Elkerton, Santa and one of his elves deliver Christmas gifts to many houses.  In the past children have tried to catch Santa, but they can’t because he is too fast.  So, now they try to catch his elf.  Some of the traps that kids in the story have set include a tinsel net, double-sided tape, a maze, and an avalanche of food.

This Christmas book lends itself perfectly to a STEM project.  Have your students build a trap to catch an elf.  To do this, I place the students in teams of 2 to 4 students.  Give each group an elf.  You can run off a picture of an elf in the dimensions you want.   Cute little elves like the ones below can also be purchased.  You only need one elf per group, and you can use them year after year.  Have materials such as tinsel, double-sided tape, plastic cups, string, pipe cleaners, etc.  Ask students to imagine and plan how they will trap their elf, and then ask them to build!  You will be amazed at what they come up with!

The Biggest Christmas Tree Ever

In The Biggest Christmas Tree Ever, written by Steven Kroll, two mice from Mouseville are both looking for the biggest Christmas tree ever!  Clayton, the house mouse, and Desmond, the field mouse, each search for the tree of their dreams at the Christmas tree farm.  They both leave disappointed.  The second time that Clayton and Desmond go to the tree farm, they bump into each other.  Then, they decide to search together.  They find a tree that is so big it takes all of their family members, friends, and 100 wagons to get the tree to the front of Clayton’s house.  There, they decorate it and light it, for all to enjoy!

This book lends itself to building the tallest Christmas tree!   Use gumdrops and toothpicks to see which group can build the biggest tree!  Give each group the same number of gumdrops and toothpicks.  I suggest giving them 100 toothpicks and 50 gumdrops.  15 or 20 minutes should be enough time for the build.  I would go with 15 minutes if you want them to have a chance to rebuild their tower after observing others and discussing what they have learned.

 

Night Tree

The story, The Night Tree, by Eve Bunting has always been one of my favorite Christmas books.  This story is rich with descriptive words that help the readers feel like they are deep in the forest too.  Every Christmas Eve this family of four goes out in search of their Christmas tree.  When they find their tree they decorate it with popcorn chains, balls of sunflowers and millet, tangerines, and apples.  They put nuts and breadcrumbs under the tree for animals that can’t climb.  Then, the family sits down on a blanket to drink hot cocoa hoping to see some animals.

Or course, you can use the build the biggest Christmas tree challenge with this book.  Another suggestion is to research some animals in your area and find out what they eat.  Then, use those materials to make ornaments to hang on a tree either at home or in your schoolyard.

 

The Wild Christmas Reindeer

The Wild Christmas Reindeer, by Jan Brett, is another classic.  Students love the detailed illustrations.  In the book, Teeka must search for the reindeer in the tundra and bring them back to Winterfarm to get them ready for Christmas.  At first, Teeka has difficulty with the reindeer.  Once Teeka learned that she needed to use a kind voice, things began to change.  The reindeer helped each other and practiced long and hard.  They were ready for Santa and his sleigh.

Love, love, love this story!  We have several resources in our TpT shop that go along with this Christmas book.

For your little ones, we have a listening activity.  Students listen as the teacher reads a passage about reindeer needs.  They illustrate when the teacher pauses.

For elementary grades, we have a resource with a non-fiction passage about reindeer.  It is followed up with an activity that asks the students to build a sled.  A list of materials and constraints is provided.

For upper elementary grades, we have a super fun WebQuest.  After completing the WebQuest, small groups of students work together to create a life-size reindeer based on what they learned!  You’ll want to start this one early in December because it takes a lot of time.

And, we have one resource that is all things Wild Christmas Reindeer!  It has some ELA activities for syllabication and something for nouns, verbs, and adjectives.  There is a writing activity, a math worksheet with an answer key, and a craft!

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Snowflake Bentley

Jacqueline Briggs Martin wrote this award-winning book.  This book is based on the life of Wilson Bentley (1865–1931).  Willie’s love of snow started when he was a little boy living in Vermont.  He always looked forward to winter, and he spent his days catching snowflakes, placing these crystals under his mother’s microscope, and drawing them.  When he was a teenager, Willie’s parents spent all their savings and bought him a camera with a microscope.  He spent the rest of his life photographing these “treasures in the snow.”

Here is a documentary about Wilson Bentley.

 

I use this opportunity to teach about the water cycle.  After learning about how snowflakes are formed you can do this simple, fun activity to help your students learn about the water cycle!  Fill a water bottle with snow.  Draw a snowman face on in and place it on a sunny window sill.  Over time the snow will melt, and as the water warms up it will start to evaporate and condense on the top and sides of the bottle.  Then it will “rain.” 

Students can build a snowflake in several different ways.  They can show what they have learned by building them with six sides or points.  One way is to give students one large marshmallow to use as the center.  Provide them with toothpicks and mini-marshmallows and ask students to make a snowflake with a diameter of six inches.  Another way is to ask them to build a snowflake with pattern blocks.

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Here is a snowflake resource that we have that has a short nonfiction reading passage about snowflakes, some ELA activities, and the STEM activities mentioned in the blog.

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So now that you know about these great Christmas books and STEM activities that you can do with them, choose one and get started having a “stem”tastic time!

For more STEM challenges that are perfect for the holidays read Four Fun December STEM Activities!

And remember, it’s all science!

Sarah

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