Monday, November 26, 2007

Festivals of Light

"This Little Light of Mine, I'm Gonna Let it Shine!"

(my favorite song to sing with young children this time of year)

Every Montessori School is different, of course, and if you are home-schooling using the Montessori Method, how seasonal/religious celebrations are introduced will vary from home to home. Over the years I have found that when trying to avoid talking about the topic of Christmas (just one example) the more it turned up in the classroom. When everywhere you and your children go, there are lights and decorations screaming about the holidays, it can be difficult to keep the topic at bay. In the classroom although the decorations are not there, the children are and so is their excitement about the holiday their families celebrate.

Your school may have a policy in place when discussing holidays with children, always check with your director before introducing new non-Montessori materials.

That said, what I have to share here is one way of talking with your class about some of the many Festivals of Light that take place this time of year. Respectfulness is KEY when
presenting this material
. Be careful with the words you choose and how you handle the materials. Refrain from saying “all” and “every” because as we know, not
all and everyone belonging to a faith or belief always feel the same way about everything.

Young children are concrete learners. These materials can be introduced slowly beginning when the children return from Thanksgiving break. Which one you start with is up to you. Familiarize yourself with the materials and holidays BEFORE presenting as there are sure to be many questions. *Before sharing any of these materials a note home to parents is essential your head of school will most likely write this.

Also: Refrain from sharing your personal beliefs with the children, I know this may be difficult for some of you and I empathize because I write this warning based on personal experience. I once shared my personal belief and seasonal celebration traditions with the class at circle and the result was one little girl refusing to attend her family’s church because she wanted to join me at mine…needless to say, her parents were not happy with me. It’s easier to refrain entirely than share a little bit of something that means so much to you. If you want to share of yourself, remember to present your personal beliefs with the same respectfulness and word use you do the others.

The goal of this lesson is not to share about one celebration being better than another, but rather the commonalities the many celebrations share. (Related POST Cosmic Education)

Asking the children’s families to contribute is a nice way to continue with the sharing about our differences and similarities through-out the classroom community.

Honoring the Festivals of LIGHT

Lesson Plan

(Based on the Godly Play by Jerome Berryman & a Spirit Play presentation by Nina Pinfold adapted by MM for use in the Montessori Classroom/home)


Different symbols used by various world religions (with candles):

Menorah, advent wreath, Kwanzaa kinara, winter solstice candle/Yule log, a box of birthday candles

Candle snuffer



“This is the season of many festivals of light. Each festival has its own special symbol of Light.”

Point to each of the different candle holders displayed on rug

“The candles come in all shapes, sizes, and colors……some of them are used for counting:

Like the candles on a birthday cake…one candle represents each year of life.”

(Begin with the Festival of Light that happens first on the calendar, marking the classroom calendar with candle symbol for each Festival ex: draw a menorah for the first day of Hanukah, a Kinara for the first day of Kwanzaa, you get the idea)

Hanukah: show menorah and Shamash:

Count aloud as you place the 8 candles in the menorah (children will most likely count with you)

Other symbols: oil, star of David, dreydel

“To remember the 8 days that the oil lamp burned when the Jewish people reclaimed their temple from the Syrians. some Jewish families light the candles of the menorah, using a special candle called a Shamash.”

Christmas: show Advent Wreath with four candles

Other symbols: Christmas tree/Santa Clause/ the nativity

“To remember the 4 weeks of waiting and preparing for the birth of baby Jesus, some Christian people light the candles of the Advent Wreath.”


“Other candles are used for celebrating:”

Kwanzaa: Show Kinara and candles (using slow movements place each candle at this time you could explain the meaning of each the colors: the seven candles called mishumaa saba the 3 candles on the left are red (representing the struggle), the three candles on the rights are green (representing the future), the candle in the middle is black (representing the people)

Other symbols:1.) woven place mat called a mkeka (mm-KEH-kah) 2.) a large cup called a Kikombe cha umoja (kee-KOH-beh chah-oo-MOH-jah) 3.) fruits and vegetables called mazao (mah-ZAH-oh) 4.) ears of corn called muhindi (moo-HIN-dee) 5.) candleholder that holds 7 candles called a Kinara 6.) the seven candles (see above) 7.) gifts called zawadi.

“ In honor of their values and customs, some African American families celebrate Kwanzaa by lighting the 7 candles of the Kinara.”

Winter Solstice: A time when the night is the longest/day is shortest (light a simple candle or a yule log could be used also)

Other symbols: sun/earth / ever green tree

“Solstice is celebration of the longest night of the year—from this day on out the days will get progressively longer. Some of the people who celebrate Solstice honor the earth and believe Mother Earth will give birth to new life in the spring.”

After each the introduction:

Light the candles of the Festival of Light you are showing that particular day and admire.

Let’s enjoy the light together.”

Sit peacefully and enjoy the light together in silence for a moment.

Next: Slowly lower the candle snuffer over your light, holding it over the wick a moment and then slowly raising it. Watch the smoke curl up into the air and fade into the whole room. (this step could be done by a child also)

Name the Festival of Light you have just shared about then place the objects in the basket from which they came, put away on shelf, roll up rug. Explain that this material is available to the children to explore, but that matches will not be provided (a good time to review fire safety rules) and encourage the children to use their imaginations to light the candle flames.


Additional materials needed:

Tray with sand

Box with small white candles (2 dozen)


[More seasonal celebration materials]

After each the introduction of the Festival of Light(s):

Bring the box of candles and the sand tray to circle and place on the rug.

Pass the box of candles around circle so that each child has a candle of their own to hold.

Light one of the small candles from the flame of the symbol you are sharing about and place the lit candle in the sand tray.

(optional: Sing: This Little Light of Mine)

Each of YOU has a light…”

Call up one of the children (they bring their candle). [*Note: this child could be the leader of the day (if you do that at your school), or just a child you know needs some extra attention today…if possible you could do this part of the lesson with a small group allowing time to light EVERY child’s candle and place in the sand tray. I do not recommend doing this with a group larger than 5, the waiting can make for restless children and wiggly bodies around lit candles is not safe.]

Light the child’s candle from the celebration candle(s) and place it in the sand tray.

“Look how the light is growing. It all came from the Light here.”

Pause to admire

“I’m going to change the light so that it is not just in one place anymore. It can be in many places all at once. Watch.”

Slowly lower the candle snuffer over your light, holding it over the wick a moment and then slowly raising it. Watch the smoke curl up into the air and fade into the whole room.

“Now I will change each of your lights so that can be in more than one place.”

Go around the circle and change the light of each child. When all the lights are changed, end with the Festival of Light.

Name the Festival of Light you have just shared about then place the objects in the basket from which they came, put away on shelf, roll up rug. Explain that this material is available to the children to explore, but that matches will not be provided (a good time to review fire safety rules) and encourage the children to use their imaginations to light the candle flames. Collect the candles as a way to excuse the children.

There is a wonderful book called:Christmas Around the World by Mary Lankford

That gives a simple but through overview of many different word traditions and is a fun way to share with children about children all over the globe. A friend of mine used this book by bringing the globe to circle and asking a child to pick a continent (by spinning the globe and touching with their finger) then she opens the book to a page about a country on the continent chosen and shares how children living there celebrate.

Other Books I recommend using:

Kids Around the World Celebrate by Jones

Children Just Like Me Celebrations by Kindersley

Celebrate Christmas Around the World by Beth Stevens

Questions to close presentation with:

I wonder where the light goes when it changes?

I wonder how many candles we could light from this one light?

MM Notes:
This can easily be changed from a holiday theme lesson to an on-going cultural study in the geography area of your classroom. I've seen classrooms that have shelves dedicated to the seven continents and the many countries of our world. Perhaps you could introduce these types of materials with a focus on celebrations to develop over time. What a rich class you would have! Most of all enjoy yourself and the children. Ask questions and look up the answers together. It's a big place this planet of ours with many different people, languages, types of homes, foods to eat and celebrations! Explore and Enjoy.

~~MM original


plaidshoes said...

Great lesson. I need to revisit all that Spirit Play information I have! From your experience, how do the children respond to the "I wonder" questions? If I remember right, you aren't supposed to make eye contact while presenting and asking collections (with the Spirit Play program). Is it hard for the kids to take turns while responding? Especially in the 3-6 y/o classroom?

Montessori Mama said...

Dear Plaidshoes:
A traditional Spirit Play does end with aprox. 5 to 10 Wondering Questions. I modify the Spirit Play lessons to fit the needs of my 3-6 year olds when teaching in a Montessori classroom (and even in my church's Religious Ed classroom), it's just too many questions to be 'discussed' at one time. After a circle time presentation it is not unusual for the children to ask questions and honoring as many as time allows, is important. The teacher asking some general questions (like the ones I put at the end if this lesson) is often helpful to solidify abstract concepts and for the teacher to see if her students are gaining the intended purpose of the lesson. To answer your question, yes it is hard for 3-6 y/o children to take turns when responding and there are many ways for us to help them with this. [See future post :)] Limit questions and use a turn taking tool such as a share stone or talking stick is my quick answer. Thanks for the comment/questions/ and inspiration!

Where in the World?


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