Decorating our Night Tree - a class tradition

Do you have any traditions you do with your class each year for the holidays?  I always try to do some things every year so students can say, "We're going to do xx in Ms. G's class!" or "Hey, I did that when I was in her class!"  Those kinds of things build community within the school and even within your town.

Every year my students work together to decorate a Night Tree.  We've done this for more years than I can count... really... like more than 10 (might even be twice that many, actually!) and it is an anticipated project every year.

I start by asking students about the trees they have decorated for the holidays.  We graph the different things on top of the tree, whether it is real or fake artificial... where the tree is, etc.  Then we sit down in a cozy spot, turn the lights down and read Night Tree, by Eve Bunting.

It's a story about a family who goes into the woods each Christmas Eve and decorates a tree for the woodland creatures who live there.  You don't know this at the beginning of the story, though - you think they are going to get or decorate a traditional tree.  My students are always surprised and amazed by the idea of decorating a tree for outside - and at least one always suggests we do it ourselves :-)

Our next step is to brainstorm things we can use to decorate the tree - how to make ornaments that will be safe and tasty for the animals, what to hang them with, how we can feed the "bottom walkers", too.  Sometimes we make the ornaments in class, and sometimes I send it home as a family project.  It really just depends on the year.

One easy way to make ornaments is the tried-and-true peanut butter, pine cones and birdseed recipe.  This is always fun - but it only works if you are not a nut-free classroom... I've had to be resourceful these past few years and come up with other ways to make ornaments.  This one is my favorite!

It really works well and is easy for kids to help with. 

 We've also done ones like this

I haven't personally tried the ones with corn syrup, but I have a friend who swears by it.

If you're looking to make this into a writing activity, this project lends itself well to a "how to" expository piece.  I created some quick organizers and writing paper you can use.  Click the image below to download.

Once we have made ornaments, or had students bring them in, we're ready to head out to decorate our tree.  We have decorated the same tree every year since I started doing this.  And it is always amazing to me to see how much it has grown from past years. 

And here we are decorating past trees
I also send a note home asking families to clean out the cabinets - save all those old stale boxes of cereal, crackers, cookies... we toss those crumbs under the tree before we leave.

Decorating the Night Tree is one of those projects I look forward to every year.  I love doing something different and the idea of feeding the animals really appeals to kids.  You can make this project as big or as small as you'd like.  But however you do it, you just might start a tradition!

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