Thursday, December 19, 2013

If You Just Believe


The Polar Express is one of my most favorite Christmas movies.  The storyline, the actors, the animation, the music....all bundle together to make one heck of a holiday classic.  Yet my blog post really isn't that much to do with The Polar Express.  It's more about it's main track "Believe" sung ever so sweetly by Josh Groban.

In science, I've been teaching all about weather.  We were able to finish up the unit before the snow hit, but when we got back I didn't want to start a new unit with only having a week left before Christmas break.  I really wanted to do some kind of something focused around the North Pole.  The weather, the seasons, the terrain.  Stuff that kids don't know about the North Pole.

However, 4th grade is a REALLY tricky grade when it comes to Christmas.  It's what I call the transition year, where several kids are making the transition from believers to non-believers in Santa Clause.

Last year, and this year, I made all of my kids write a letter to Santa.  Not for themselves, but to ask for things for three important people in their lives.  When I explain the assignment to the kids, I do it by first sharing a letter that I have written that sounds an awful lot like the song "My Grown Up Christmas List".  I ask Santa to bring health for the sick, security for the poor, safety and guidance for those closest to me, etc.  I am very general in my letter, but I ask the students to be specific in who they pick and things they want if they could ask Santa for ANYTHING.  When I present it in that way, I'm not met with the usual "I don't believe in Santa" remarks.  

In 4th grade, there are kids who have already made up their minds that Santa isn't real, kids who are unsure whether Santa is real or not, and there are still a few firm believers.  So, when I think about something to do with the North Pole, I knew I needed to be very careful in my approach.

On Monday, I had come up with the idea to just teach about the North Pole and take my chances.  By Tuesday, I had ditched the idea, because I just didn't have the heart to teach my kids that there is no land at the North Pole and for a few months out of the year there's only water, so there is no way that a man could live with thousands of elves in a place that doesn't even have a place for them to live.  But, after listening to Josh Groban's song yesterday morning while the kids were working, an idea struck that gave me a way of dealing with the situation.

So, during our science time I explained the kiddos that we were going to watch a Brain Pop video all about the North Pole.  They had to pay attention to the video, and take some notes, about things they didn't know and shocked them.  I then explained that lots of people don't believe in Santa because of what they were about to learn.  I then explained that it was going to be there job to prepare a poster explaining how Santa lived at the North Pole with the information used from the video.

I didn't get a single "I don't believe in Santa" or "Santa doesn't live at the North Pole because he isn't real" comment from anyone.  In fact, they all were pretty intrigued, and committed to doing what was asked of them.

So, I played the video.  

I love Brain Pop.  It really explains a lot of stuff in a way that kids relate to.  Moby and Tim (the cartoon characters from Brain Pop) explained that there were two North Poles, magnetic and geographic.  They explained that the magnetic pole moves constantly.  They explained that the geographic pole is nothing but ice, and during the summer the ice melts leaving nothing but water.  They explained that during the winter the temperature could be as low as -43 degrees and in the summer would only get up to the freezing mark.  They explained that for six months it is nothing but total darkness all day, every day.  The other six months there's nothing but light all day everyday. The kids were fascinated.  Which gave me a huge sigh of relief, because the last thing I wanted was to push any kids on the fence completely over, or hurt the feelings of kids that were still believers.

Once the video was over, we had a great discussion about what they had learned. And then I gave them the challenge of creating the poster explaining how Santa lives and deals with those situations.

For the entire afternoon, the kids worked in groups all over the classroom floor.  They discussed and planned and came up with strategies.  They started drawing out blue prints.  They labeled and listed facts about the North Pole, and how Santa deals with certain factors.

One group explained how Santa's village was built on top of HUGE titanium poles that went down in to the ocean.  A group created a sort of "snow globe" that Santa lived in that protected from the harsh temperatures, and the constant light and darkness. Other groups explained special lights that lit the North Pole when it was dark all of the time, and special shields that came out at night when it was light all of the time, so the elves could get some sleep.  I even had one group touch on solar power, and explained that Santa stored the solar power during the times of 24 hours of sunlight in order to light the workshop during the six months of total darkness.  

But regardless of the ideas that were coming out, I didn't have anyone upset.  I hadn't crushed any dreams.  And I think I'd even given the non-believers something to think about as they approached the situation.  Even though they'd been told that Santa wasn't real, there was a chance that he lived at the North Pole regardless of the fact that it was geographically impossible.

I was very surprised when I told them that it was time to pack up and heard whines and disappointment.  I assured them that they'd have time to work on it the next day, and that made them all happy.

I think this is another assignment I'm going to stick in my Christmas Toolkit, right along with the letter to Santa.  Educational, yet still fun.  And I'm nurturing another generation of fantastic Santa believers, just like I consider myself to be.

I am a self-proclaimed Santa Non-Believer Slayer.  I can come up with reasons and explanations for just about every question kids have about Santa's authenticity.  I've been doing it for years, and that's probably why my oldest two were in sixth grade before they stopped believing in Santa.  No matter what my kids asked, I was always ready with an explanation.

How does Santa make it around the world in one night?  Simple.  Time zones.  When most people think it only takes one night, he actually gets a full 24 hours to deliver gifts thanks to the time zones.

How does he deliver gifts to every single child in the world in just 24 hours?  He doesn't.  In fact, he only delivers to about half, because there are lots of cultures and religions that don't celebrate Christmas and so he doesn't deliver gifts to those kids.  He also doesn't deliver kids to non-believers, so once a kid stops believing in Santa, it becomes the parent's job to buy gifts which are never as good as the ones that Santa brings.

Why do some kids get more presents than others?  Well, because parents still have to pay for Christmas.  Santa does what he can, but because of the new technology that has taken over, Santa can't make all of the gifts that kids want nowadays, and he has to buy them.  Parents are now expected to pay for some of the gifts that get delivered...he's got a lot of mouths to feed as well!  While Santa doesn't like giving more presents to some kids than others, he does what can for the kids that can't afford very much.

Why are there so many different Santas in stores and the mall?  They aren't really Santa, they are his helpers.  Santa is always so busy, that he can't visit places to meet with kids... but he can send helpers to do that for him.  Plus, it's a cardinal rule that no child ever see the REAL Santa.  

And I can go on and on and on.

When I say I'm just as bad as kids during this time of year, I'm not exaggerating.  I think it's so important to keep the magic alive, and do so with pride.  I know there are lots of people out there that disagree with my methods and think I'm not very nice for lying to children.  But, I will also point out that I have two kids that have made the transition from believers to non-believers and they are not permanently scarred for life.  They don't hate me for lying to them all these years, and don't even think that I lied to them.  The way they look at it is that I kept Christmas alive for them, and they still enjoy the stories and making it "magical" for Jelly.  I didn't have to have a special talk with them, I didn't have to come up with ways to break the news without breaking their hearts, they just stopped believing one year and were perfectly fine with it.

Today is going to be another day full of Christmas activities.  Oh how happy I am that I teach in a school that still embraces Christmas.  And it's a school that has 27 different languages spoken, and just as many cultures represented. It is a fun time for all!

Tonight, I have a Christmas concert to attend.  The third through eighth grades are performing, so I expect it to be one amazing show.

OK, time to get to getting.  This week has flown by... it's crazy to think that tomorrow is the last day before Christmas break!


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