SHEFFIELD LAKE — "Time to go around the world on a Christmas adventure. Pack your suitcases!" second-grade teacher Patti Hicks announced to her class.

Twenty-one students who had been creating brightly colored paper gifts for someone special carefully began to put pages in a folder for safekeeping. Nick Clifford proudly showed off a few he had completed, confiding his gift was for his grandma, whom he calls "Maw-maw."

As her students prepared for their ”trip," Hicks quietly explained how the activity is tied to state learning objectives, including identifying continents and understanding direction — north, south, east or west. She also shared that, as students "traveled" around the world to learn about holiday traditions, she would cover learning objectives in reading, writing and social studies as well.

She walked through the class distributing handouts they would complete during the activity that runs four weeks. There was an audible buzzing as children whispered to each other about what would happen next. Nick leaned in and whispered conspiratorially, "She said the "f" word — fun!"

Hicks explained they would “visit” a host of countries ranging from Mexico to France and China. However, it was their final stop at the North Pole that drew excited gasps of "ooh" and "aah" from her young students. She told them they would learn about holidays including Kwanzaa, the Feast of the Three Kings, Diwala, Lunar New Year and Hanukkah.

As they began the journey, Hicks handed each student a ticket to use as a stamp in their passports and announced they were heading to Mexico, evoking a happy response.

Little hands took up crayons and colored pencils to color in where Mexico is on the world map, then to color a replica of its flag. Hicks read to them about Christmas traditions in Mexico, teaching them to say "Feliz Navidad," which traditionally means "Merry Christmas." She read about the history of poinsettias and how well they grow in Mexico's climate and then shared how they got their name. When she read about pinatas, filled with candy and other treats, several children knew exactly what they were — and how to get them open.

As children colored and then cut and glued shapes to create a paper poinsettia, she would occasionally ask a question about what she read to ensure they had absorbed important facts.

Some students, including Isaiah Frazier, worked quietly on their poinsettias. Frazier was clearly pleased with his effort, unable to conceal a big smile when complimented on it. A few others worked in two-person teams while Hicks assisted some who needed help gluing poinsettia leaves into the correct shape.

Calming music was played to help keep the 7- and 8-year-olds focused. "It can get chaotic," Hicks admitted, because each child goes at his or her own pace. In addition, a few children were called out during the activity to work with another teacher and needed to be caught up when they returned.

Hicks calmly carried on, assisted by a student teacher. Multi-colored lights that run the room's perimeter twinkle along with a small, decorated tree in one corner. Student-produced art was laid on the reading carpet to allow its glittery contents to dry. Sofia Wright shared with classmates that she will visit her grandmother in Mexico for Christmas, allowing Hicks to seize on a teachable moment, "You can ask if anyone knows how the poinsettia got its name." She segues and asks the entire class, "How do we say 'Merry Christmas' if we're in Mexico?" "Feliz Navidad!" comes the confident reply.

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