Tomorrow, 25 April is Anzac Day, a day of national significance and a public holiday in both Australia and New Zealand. The day is the anniversary of the first major military campaign fought by Australian and New Zealand forces in World War I, but now commemorates all who have served in any military campaign or operation since. The acronym stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Ceremonies are held around the country and well-attended by past and present servicemen and women, their families and friends, and the general public.
While most children and teachers in both Australia and New Zealand are still on school holidays, they will undoubtedly discuss, and conduct ceremonies in recognition of ANZAC Day when school returns.
The book explains, in a way that is detailed but accessible for a young audience, the origins and significance of both Anzac Day and Remembrance Day. Explanations of the traditions and symbols ensure that children understand why it is important to observe these historical events and why we should never forget those who fought for our country and those who keep us safe today.
This is my response. I hope you enjoy it. (Composed in the pool this morning.)
Only in Australia
The carollers woke her Christmas morning. After the preparation whirlwind, she’d collapsed into bed, only to continuously toss and turn, re-making each list and checking it twice. She groaned – please, just a few minutes more. The carollers insisted. She tumbled out of bed and stumbled to the door. They eagerly accepted her gifts. Breathing in the day’s freshness, she had to decide – bed? Nah – the pool! As each stroke soothed and each lap refreshed, she welcomed the day’s events. When a cockatoo’s shriek punctuated the chorus, the kookaburras laughed. “Only in Australia,” she thought. “It’s good to be home.”
And now for a little more, if you so choose:
Note: I’ve been kindly shown that some of my ‘only in Australia‘ statements are not quite correct. As I am not one for spreading falsehoods, I have added, in pink, corrections of which I have become aware. Thanks especially to Pauline King and Debby Gies for getting the ball rolling.
Only in Australia do you see people wearing thongs and singlets in winter (“thongs” are flip-flops worn on feet, singlets are sleeveless shirts). (I now know Canadians also refer to flip-flops as thongs.)
Only in Australia are there mammals that lay eggs (the monotremes – echidna and platypus. One species of echidna is found in New Guinea).
Only in Australia are the emblem animals eaten (the meat of kangaroo and emu – both on the Australian Coat of Arms – is available in supermarkets and from restaurant menus). The animals were chosen for the coat of arms as neither can walk backwards – a symbol of a forward-moving nation.
Only in Australia can you see these biggest things:
The world’s largest living organism The Great Barrier Reef. Hopefully it will remain that way for generations to come.
Only in Australia would you not see an active volcano. (Australia, the world’s largest island or smallest continent, is the only continent without an active volcano, though there are many dormant and extinct volcanoes.)
Only in Australia do you have to travel overseas to travel internationally. (This is definitely not true – of course overseas and international travel are synonymous for any island nation, of which there are many, including New Zealand.)
Only in Australia will you hear “Fair dinkum” and “True Blue”.
Only in Australia, do we abbreviate everything, including names (is that why our years pass so fast – we abbreviate them too?) (Apparently, this habit is also prevalent across the ditch in New Zealand.)
Australia is home to a great diversity of, and many unique animals. Most native Australians are not found anywhere beyond its territories. I guess that’s not surprising since it is the world largest island or smallest continent country with vast expanses of ocean between it and other continents.
Australia is home to almost 70% of the world’s marsupials. Other marsupials are found in the Americas, mostly South America. Kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, possums, wombats, Tasmanian devils, numbats, bilbies, and quolls are among the species of marsupials found in Australia.
Marsupials are mammals that give birth to live young before they are fully developed. The young, usually referred to as joeys, continue to develop in the mother’s pouch for a number of months, suckling on their mother’s milk.
There is another group of even more unusual mammals: the monotremes. Monotremes are egg-laying mammals. The platypus and the echidna, the only existing species of monotremes, are unique to Australia.
When Europeans first saw a platypus, they thought it was a hoax with its bill like a duck’s, tail like a beaver’s, and feet like an otter’s. It has fur like other mammals but, unlike other mammals, it lays eggs.
The platypus lives in burrows on the banks of freshwater streams and small rivers in eastern Australia, including Tasmania. It spends much of its time foraging in the muddy river beds for crayfish, worms and insect larvae.
Female platypus usually lay two eggs. When the young hatch, the mother releases milk from pores in her skin. The milk pools on her abdomen and is lapped up by the young for about three to four months. There is no special baby name for baby platypus. They are simply called ‘baby platypus’.
The male platypus, with a poisonous spur on its hind foot, is one of only a few venomous mammals.
Platypus predators include crocodiles, eagles, dingoes, and introduced animals such as foxes and feral cats.
Echidnas, the oldest surviving mammals, live all over Australia in many different habitats. They usually live alone and are not territorial. Although it is rare to see an echidna in the wild, they are considered common. They generally hide away under vegetation, in logs, or in the burrows of other animals.
Echidnas eat termites and ants, and sometimes the larvae of other insects. They use their long snouts to forage in leaf litter, rotting logs, or ant mounds in search of food. Their long tongues are covered in sticky saliva for catching prey.
Echidnas are covered with spines along the head, back and tail. The spines are sharp and used for defence against predators.
Female echidnas usually lay one egg at a time. When the young, called a “puggle”, hatches, it makes its way to the mother’s pouch area to suckle milk. When the puggle starts to develop spines, at about 50 days, it is removed from the pouch. The mother continues to suckle it until it is about six to seven months old, at which time she deposits it at the entrance to the burrow, then walks away and abandons it.
Predators include goannas, Tasmanian devils, dingoes, eagles, and introduced animals such as foxes and feral cats. When threatened an echidna may run away or curl up in a ball.
Although all have spines, echidnas are not related to either hedgehogs or porcupines.
Here is a great article about these amazing echidnas.
I was prompted to think about the diversity and uniqueness of these Australian animals, especially the echidna, by this week’s flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications. She challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a prickly story. I thought there was no better opportunity to share with you some of our amazing creatures, particularly since just last week I was lucky enough to see an echidna in the wild for the very first time.
The uniqueness and diversity of Australian animals reflects our own individual uniqueness and the diversity among us. We have much to learn about accepting difference, appreciating diversity, and acknowledging the unique characteristics each individual contributes to the enrichment of our collective humanity. Together we stand. Divided we fall.
Here is my response. I hope you enjoy it.
She bristled, warning platypus to stop. He didn’t.
“Feeling a little prickly, are we?”
Kookaburra, oblivious, laughed at the “joke”.
She smarted. Couldn’t he see the hurt in his words? Like a spur in her side, that last barb, really stung. Mocking difference pushed them apart.
The bush quietened. Not a breath of wind. Not a leaf’s rustle. Not a bird’s chirrup. Were all waiting for the victor to be decided?
Suddenly, out of the undergrowth, rushed a devil, hungry for blood.
Platypus turned to echidna. She contemplated leaving him. But stayed. Spur and spines together: a powerful defence.
Author’s note: Tasmanian devils have been known to eat echidnas, spines and all!
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.
Kim Michelle Toft is an Australian silk artist who makes beautiful picture books with an environmental message aimed at increasing an appreciation of our oceans and their precious creatures and raising awareness of the importance of protecting them.
I own these five of Kim’s books; each of which has an engaging story supported by child-friendly information about the marine environment and its importance, and is beautifully illustrated with magnificent silk paintings, which are delightful in themselves:
One Less Fish counts back from twelve to zero and contains the message “Without constant care we will lose some of the world’s most beautiful natural resources. Remember: fish that die one by one may soon become none by none.”
Reef Superstar introduces many creatures of the reef and provides supporting information about the reef and each creature featured. (Does not appear to be available at the moment.)
The World That We Want contains forty-five creatures to be found in illustrations of nine different habitats and explains the inter-connectedness of ecosystems and their importance. The beautiful last pages open out to four pages in width showing the world that we want, from the forest to the ocean.
The Twelve Underwater Days of Christmas is an innovation on the original carol using beautiful illustrations of marine creatures. As well as information about all the animals it includes a stunning six-page foldout poster, and information about the original carol.
In this video Kim invites you into her gallery and studio and explains her silk painting technique.
Kim is also available for visits to schools. When she visited “my” school she read from her books, engaged students in related activities and demonstrated silk painting by creating an original which the school was able to purchase. Her vast knowledge, experience, and passion for her work and the marine environment make these visits worthwhile.
Kim’s books can be enjoyed by adults and children for the beauty of their illustrations alone. However the combination of visual appeal, richness of information and encouraging (strong, but gentle) environmental message provides even more reason to have them on your bookshelf or, better still, coffee table. They make perfect gifts for people of any age. I am happy to recommend Kim’s books to you.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.
At the moment approximately 90% of the world’s population are experiencing the season of spring. The rest of us, the 10% who live in the Southern Hemisphere are entering the cooler months. How those seasons are experienced varies from place to place. I have never experienced an autumn that would fit the description of ‘fall’; nor have I experienced a winter with snow. Those concepts are foreign to me. That is not to say that some living in the southern states of Australia haven’t experienced them. It all depends where one lives.
The Australian Government describes Australia as having two main seasonal patterns in six different climatic zones. The Indigenous Peoples of Australia describe the changes as holistic changes in nature and life. In Australia, attitudes to and understanding of the seasons are as diverse as the experiences. While the weather doesn’t always know it, spring is marked on the Australian calendar from September to November. It doesn’t matter to which part of the country you travel, there is always something to see and do in spring.
Springtime in Tasmania 2014
Part of the daily routine in an early childhood classroom is observing and discussing the daily and seasonal changes in the weather. Each day the children observe the weather and discuss how it may influence their clothing and activities and the impact that changes may have to their local environment and other things including animals.
Many classrooms have a calendar prominently displayed on which the children’s observations can be recorded and compared. Children are often invited to draw symbols and write words such as those shown here.
Discussions about how warm or how cool it is may also occur, though in some parts there is never really what could be called ‘cold’, just ‘cooler’.
Reading stories was always an integral part of my classroom practice and I needed little excuse to read another. When the seasons changed I was always looking for suitable books to read and the first I thought of at springtime was Wake Up Bear by Lynley Dodd, a New Zealander.
While we don’t have bears in Australia, just these cute koalas often incorrectly called bears;
Wake Up Bearis a delightful story to herald spring. In the story, bear has slept all through winter, but when spring arrives he is not quite ready to wake up. The animals each try to wake him up and finally they succeed.
While it was not Dodd’s intention with the story, it made me think about children learning in their own time, “waking up” when they are ready. Sometimes they need to be shown something just once. Sometimes they need a great deal of exposure and support to “get” it. Sometimes it’s better to leave them alone until the time is right. There have been previous discussions about this here my blog, including In their own time and Not Yet.
I thought Charli’s spring challenge was perhaps another opportunity for talking about individual differences and the need to respect a learner’s journey. I’ve gone back to my early childhood roots. I hope you enjoy it.
Springtime in Tasmania 2014
“Gone is the gloom!”
Mother duck waits
For her babies to hatch.
Here they come now
The first of the batch
So cute and cuddly
All covered in fluff
Eager and ready
To show off their stuff
“Patience!“ quacks mother
“There’s no need to rush.”
“One more is coming.
Stand back. Please don’t crush.”
With one final crack
Last one’s out of his shell
“I’m proud of you babies.
You’ve all done so well.”
Mother duck smiles
As they waddle in line
She knows that each duckling’s
Own time will be fine.
Thank you for reading.
Springtime in Tasmania 2014
Happy spring to most of you! For the others: enjoy the cooler respite from the relentless heat!
I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thought about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.
The end of the school year in Australia has approached swiftly and silently this year, for me at least. You see, now that I am not in the classroom I am not absorbed by all the things that the end of the school year brings.
In Australia the school year coincides with the calendar year so November and early December are frantic for teachers completing the final assessment and reporting for the year, preparing their students (and themselves) for separation after spending so much of the year together, and making preparations to welcome a new class in the new year.
The classroom remains busy with learning and curriculum matters until the last day. Both teachers and students begin to tire and the warming (hot, in most parts of Australia) days in classrooms without air-conditioning add to the fraying edges of all as they anticipate the long summer holidays.
One thing I always enjoyed about the end of the year, that made all the extra work and the increasing heat tolerable, was the learning about family traditions and celebrations, including Christmas.
Some Australian Christmas picture books
Last year I wrote about some of the Christmas activities I did with my class, such as making friendship trees
I shared some suggestions for parents to support their children’s reading, writing and maths development in fun ways during the holidays. (These and other items are available in my TeachersPayTeachers store.)
I also provoked a lively discussion about whether Christmas should be included in a school program by suggesting tens reasons for its inclusion. Many readers joined in explaining their position either in support or against.
I always enjoyed this special time of year. I loved hunting through discount stores for items with which children could make cards and gifts for their families and decorations for their home. Often we talked about “free” gifts they could give and made vouchers for things like a free car wash, breakfast in bed or unlimited smiles and hugs.
As well as the gifts they made for each other in class, such as the friendship trees and Christmas crackers, I always gave each child a small gift, usually a book to read, a pencil and notebook for writing in; something to do over the holidays.
While it was never expected, but always very much appreciated, many of the parents and children presented me with lovely ‘thank you’ cards, letters and gifts, some purchased, many home-made; all treasured. While the consumables were long ago enjoyed, many other items still adorn my shelves!
A selection of gifts from over the years
Sometimes it was difficult to know what to give as a gift to recognise a special teacher. This year Bec has come up with, what I think, is the perfect gift, though she didn’t design it for that purpose. It’s the apple cozy: a special little bag for carrying an apple safely, protecting it from bumps and bruises. They are available in her Made It and Etsy stores. An apple for the teacher in its own special bag: how cute!
Apple Cozy // Joyce
Although there are no preparations for Christmas at work this year (except for Secret Santa) there is still much to do at home. The traditional time for putting up the tree and decorations is December 1, and I usually have mine up by the end of the first week in December. Now that both my children are grown and living in homes of their own, I thought I would have the lonely experience of decorating on my own this year (Hub says he helps by not helping, but actually he gets tree and decorations down from the roof space for me!)
What a delightful surprise it was to have both my children and grandchildren (all two of each) visit on the day I was putting up the tree and help me out. The joy that the excitement of a 3- and a 5-year old bring to such activities cannot be matched. I think we did a pretty good job! When I look at it I relive the fun we had together.
Although to most it would appear simply a Christmas tree, and some may consider many decorations to be ready for the discard pile, most decorations have a story to tell. For me it is a memorytree. It holds decorations made by my own children over the years, and now some by my grandchildren. There are gifts from family and friends, and children I have taught. Each item, as it is placed on the tree, provides a time for reflecting upon the wonderful people whose lives have touched mine over the years. Each has its own story to tell of the joy that others’ kindnesses can bring. But it is more even that just a memory tree. It is a givingtree; a time for remembering and being grateful.
What are you family traditions? What and how do you celebrate?
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.
They love being read stories and beg for them to be read, over and over again.
Equally as much, if not more, they love being told stories, especially stories of their own lives. They beg for them to be told over and over, listening attentively and with wonder as their own stories (her story and his story) are being revealed. They commit these tales to memory so that eventually it is difficult to distinguish the genuine experiential memory from the telling. Even as adults they seem to not tire of hearing tales of the cute things they did when they were little, or of shared experiences.
They also love being told stories of their parents’ lives. These are the stories that help define them and their existence: how they came to be. The stories tell of times gone by, and of how things used to be. They marvel that their parents were once children and try to imagine how that might have been.
My daughter would often ask for stories about herself, her brother, myself or other family members. One day when she was about six, she asked again, ‘Tell me a story about when you were a little girl.’ Before I could respond she jumped in with, ‘What were the dinosaurs like?’ She was teasing, of course, and her comedic timing was perfect. A story was created, one that has been shared many times.
History is a story, though at school I never saw it as such. Had it been a story of lives, as its name implies, I may have been interested. But history at school was a list of wars and dates, and kings and queens to be memorised and regurgitated for a test at the end of the term. There was no story, no human emotion, no semblance to any narrative that may have lured me in.
I hope that today’s students of history are not required to commit sterile lists of facts to memory without the stories that would give them meaning and significance, some human element to help the information stick.
History, as a subject, had always been relegated to high school. It was not a discrete part of the primary school curriculum, though aspects were explored in other subject areas such as ‘Social Studies’ when I was at school, or more recently ‘Studies of Society and Environment’. With the introduction of the new Australian Curriculum, History is now a stand-alone subject.
As an early childhood teacher I was a bit terrified that young children would be required to memorise lists of seemingly random facts and dates. I’m pleased to say that, for the early years anyway, this is not so. Children in the early years start by exploring their own history and the history of their family, considering similarities and differences between their lives, the lives of their parents, and of their friends.
I applaud this as an excellent starting point. I believe, when working with children, connections must always be made with their lives and what they know. What better starting point than investigating the traditions of their own family and culture.
In Australia, as I am sure it is in many other places, a great diversity of cultures is represented in each classroom. Encouraging children to share similarities and differences of traditions with their classmates helps to develop understanding of each other’s traditions and beliefs, which in turn fosters respect and empathy. For this purpose, I developed some materials to make it easy for children to share their traditions. These are available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.
Mem Fox has written a beautiful picture book Whoever you are that I love to share with children when discussing their cultures and traditions. It explains in a simple and beautiful way that although children around the world may live in different houses, wear different clothes, eat different foods, for example ‘inside, their hearts are just like yours.’ Mem Fox explains the story on her website.
I also like to sing I am Freedom’s Child by Bill Martin Jr.; and in Australia we have a great song that tells about our different beginnings, I am, you are, we are Australian by Bruce Woodley.
Heal the World by Michael Jackson is another great one for appreciating diversity and fostering inclusivity.
Children can be read to from the moment they are born, if not earlier. Preferably earlier!
One of my favourite picture book authors and passionate advocate for reading to children is Mem Fox. I own, and have given as gifts, many of her wonderful books. I have attended her seminars and been mesmerised by her reading from her selection of stories. “Read more!” the adults beg. There are no children at these literacy seminars. This time it is a treat for only us: parents and teachers, literacy educators all.
Currently Prince William, Kate and baby Prince George are visiting Australia. I was delighted to hear that they were given a gift of books by Australian authors, including some by Mem Fox. Over the years I have given many of Mem’s books as gifts; and kept just as many for myself!
One that I have given to many new or expectant parents, as I consider it a “must read”, is Mem’s book “Reading Magic – Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever”.
I would love to quote the entire book for you, but it is better you read it for yourself. I will provide you with this quote from the foreword as a taster for the richness to be found inside.
“It stands to reason that if we’re able to raise happier, brighter children by reading aloud to them, the well-being of the entire country will ramp up a notch. Children who realize in their first few weeks and months of life that listening to stories is the purest heaven; who understand that books are filled with delights, facts, fun, and food for thought; who fall in love with their parents, and their parents with them, while stores are being shared; and who are read aloud to for ten minutes a day in their first five years, usually learn to read quickly, happily and easily. And a whole lot of goodness follows for the entire community.”
Mem’s website, too, is a treasure trove just waiting to be explored by writers, teachers, parents, children and children-at-heart.
You can listen to Mem read from her selection of books on the Current Read Aloud page. She reads three different books each month. Currently the books are Possum Magic,Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild! and Goodnight, Sleep Tight. Be quick to listen to these, though, as they will change at the end of the month. But never mind, there’ll be another three to enjoy next month!
The end of the school year in Australia is fast approaching; assessment is almost done and reports completed.
After a hectic year, thoughts are turning towards Christmas and the long summer holidays.
However the teaching and learning in the classroom doesn’t stop until the final farewells on the last day of school.
These last few weeks of the school year allow a little more flexibility and time for spontaneous explorations of children’s interests after the curriculum’s imposed learnings have been achieved. Sure, skills still need to be practised and extended but the pressure is not so relentless.
As the thoughts of most children are on Christmas and what they will do during the holidays, why not harness those interests and that excitement to make classroom learning meaningful and fun while developing important social and cultural concepts and understandings as well as practising and extending literacy and numeracy skills.
Over recent years there has been some controversy over whether Christmas should be included in school programs, some arguing that it is not inclusive and excludes those students whose cultural backgrounds neither recognise nor celebrate Christmas.
I have a number of reasons to support my argument that Christmas should be learned about in school, and my reference is to secular rather than religious celebrations which are best left to organisations dedicated to that purpose.
I would like to say that the main reason is that I love Christmas (the excitement, the anticipation, the decorations, the gift-giving, the celebrations with family and friends)!
But that would not be true.
My focus is educational:
Cultural respect: Most children in Australian schools celebrate Christmas. Including Christmas in the classroom program acknowledges this and draws upon their interests and prior knowledge.
Cultural awareness: Investigation of traditions celebrated by other class members, community groups or countries develops a recognition of other perspectives, including those who do not celebrate Christmas and those who celebrate other traditions such as Hanukkah, Ramadan or Chinese New Year.
Cultural understanding: Learning about the traditions of the dominant culture in which one lives makes one more comfortable within that society, more able to converse about important events and holidays, and able to develop shared experiences i.e. helps to develop feelings of being included, rather than excluded by participating in the outward traditions. However, this knowledge does not necessitate participation or belief.
Cultural acceptance: Learning to understand that, although not everyone shares the same beliefs or traditions, we all share a common humanity and that there is good in everyone is important for creating a peaceful and nonjudgmental world.
Self-awareness: Christmas is a time for reflecting on the year’s achievements and behaviour e.g. whether you have been “naughty or nice” or whether you have worked hard are superficial questions which can lead to deeper introspection. This self-reflection can lead to celebration as well as to the setting of positive goals for improvement.
Other-awareness: Recognising one’s own strengths can help to identify, recognise and appreciate the strengths and achievements of others.
Emotional intelligence: Children learn to recognise and describe their own emotions, and the emotions of others. They understand that not everyone thinks and feels the same way about similar events and learn to respect the thoughts and feelings of others.
Social-awareness: Recognising how others think and feel about certain events can develop feelings of empathy. Children are more likely to find common ground upon which friendships can be built.
Being kind to each other: Christmas is all about sharing and giving. In a classroom these can lead to discussions about working cooperatively and collaboratively, getting along with each other, and giving the greatest gift of all: friendship.
Enjoyment, recognition and fun! I couldn’t stop at 9, and I think the inclusion of fun in the classroom is one of the most powerful ways to engage and motivate learners!
Decorating the classroom is one way of setting the scene for explorations of Christmas traditions while encouraging the children to work cooperatively, take pride in their shared achievements and talk about how Christmas is celebrated (or not) in their families.
It became a tradition in my year one classroom to make a large 3D Christmas tree to adorn our classroom wall and become the focal point of our learning.
We would sit in front of it to have our discussions and read our stories.
To the display surrounding it, we would add child-made decorations, stories and poems they had written, holiday messages and gifts.
I would photograph each child in front of the tree, holding a sign with the message e.g. “Happy Christmas 2013”. These photographs would then be added to calendars which became a Christmas gift for parents.
The children loved doing the tree, partly because of the inherent excitement at the end of the school year with Christmas holidays imminent. But they also loved doing it because they were working together, making something meaningful to them; and as they worked together and saw the tree take shape, they realised that what can be achieved together is far more (as well as more fun) than they would have achieved on their own.
And while they were busily tracing and cutting, they were talking and sharing ideas and thoughts with each other and with me. We began to learn a lot about each other’s experiences, traditions and feelings.
Having made the tree together, the children had an enormous sense of collective pride in what they had achieved, especially when all those viewing it remarked upon how lovely it looked.
While I include instructions for making the tree here, they are also available from readilearn.
What do you think? Do you think Christmas should be celebrated in schools?
What reasons would you add to my list? What do you disagree with?
The end of the school year in Australia coincides with Christmas and the summer holidays.
This coincidence provides an opportunity to not only reflect on the year’ achievements, but to share appreciation of friendships made throughout the year while developing understanding of Christmas traditions.
During the last few weeks of the school year, I use friendship trees with my early childhood classes for these purposes.
About three weeks before the end of the school year each of the children make their own tree which is then displayed in the classroom until taken home on the last day of school. By then the trees are filled with messages of friendship and affirmation which the children write anonymously to each other each day.
Although the end of the school year is when I use friendship trees in my classroom, they could be used at any time throughout the year. However they will work better when the children have been working together for a while and know a little about each other.
These are some of the benefits of incorporating the friendship tree into the class program:
Is inclusive with its emphasis upon friendship
Provides an opportunity for reflection on friendships made
Encourages students to comment positively to classmates
Affirms students by the receipt of multiple positive comments
Encourages a giving attitude
Provides an opportunity to discuss Christmas traditions (tree as a bearer of gifts) as a way of developing cultural understandings
Develops understanding that kind words and actions are the greatest gift
How it works
Children make and decorate a “friendship tree”, attaching or writing their name prominently on it. Trees are then displayed in the classroom.
Each day children select a name “from the hat”. (In preparation I prepare a class list of names in a table, one name per row, which I print out and cut into strips for the students to select and write their messages on.)
Children write a friendship note to the child whose name they have drawn, but they are to not tell anyone who it is or what they have written.
They may return the name and select another only if it is their own name or the name of someone for whom they have already written a message
They are to write something they like about the person, something the person is good at or something they appreciate about them.
I check what the children have written, ostensibly for readability, but also to ensure appropriateness of the message. However I have never had to edit the content. I have always been impressed by the messages the children write.
Children then fold and “secretly” place the messages into the tree of the recipient.
On the last day of school children take their trees, filled with positive messages, home to read and share with their family.
Before children write their first message, we brainstorm what a friendship message might be. These are some examples:
Thank you for being my friend.
I like the way you laugh at funny stories.
You are a good writer.
You always do the right thing.
Thank you for playing with me.
However these ideas are only a starting point. I have always been amazed at the very appropriate and personalised messages the children write for each other. They really do notice the lovely things their classmates do throughout the year, and the different things that make them special.
Here are photographs of two friendship trees I have made, one decorated for Christmas, the other for friendship:
A cardboard cone (with a cut-off top) is attached to a cardboard base. A smaller cone (removable lid) tops the tree. Children lift the top to place their messages inside.
If you would like to use a template for making the cone or view step-by-step instructions, I have made these available on the website TeachersPayTeachers. Please click here to follow the link.
If after viewing this site, you decide to join up as I have, I would appreciate it if you refer your membership back to me my using this link. Thank you.
I hope you and your students enjoy the friendship tree experience as much as I and my students have!