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The City Journals

Heart baskets to gnomes: Early Light Academy students learn about Scandinavia

Feb 18, 2021 01:52PM ● By Julie Slama

Early Light second-graders decorated a paper pine tree with gnomes, Danish heart baskets, and reindeer as part of the school’s culture day. (Shannon Berry/Early Light Academy)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Early Light Academy students set aside time to understand a little about Scandinavian culture — from its geography to notable people — as part of the school’s Culture Day.

“We’re planning on having students learn about the Vikings for the Day of History, so we thought we’d keep in the same region for Culture Day, so students have some context,” said Early Light curriculum director Shannon Berry about the 12th annual Culture Day.

The school’s annual Day of History actually will be extended a week to accommodate all students’ schedules during COVID-19. The event was slated for late January.

Culture Day as well as Day of History and history fair, which is scheduled at the end of the school year, are included in the school’s charter, but it’s more than that, Berry said.

“It’s one of our traditions that our school and our board wanted to keep and hold for some normalcy, even in a different-looking year. Not only do our students look forward to it, our teachers do. It’s a fun part of who we are and it’s an interactive learning break from our usual school days,” she said.

On Culture Day, students learned a little about the culture and traditions, the geography, famous inventions, and notable people from Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Denmark, Berry said.

The day included lessons about the region and had activities to enhance those.  For example, as kindergartners and first-graders learned about the countries, they made paper flags that decorated their classrooms or hallways. After learning about the region’s geography, fifth-graders made large maps of the countries on posters that adorned their hallways.

Third-graders learned about Denmark’s famous author, Hans Christian Andersen, and some classes acted out his fairy tales while others wrote biography assignments about him. 

Second- and fourth-graders not only had lessons about the region, but also took time to appreciate some of their traditions and crafts.

Second graders decorated a paper pine tree with gnomes, Danish heart baskets, and reindeer. 

“It was like a winter wonderland,” Berry said, which also tied into fourth-graders learning about “hygge,” a Danish and Norwegian word for a cozy and comfortable atmosphere.

“They decorated the halls with mittens, books, sweaters, board games, hot cocoa, warm socks, and snowflakes – things that you think of with warmth and comfy,” she said.

Sixth graders made Danish heart baskets out of felt and also had a 30-minute zoom call with a teenager in Finland. Junior high students put on Hans Christian Andersen plays, which were recorded and shared with families along with an interactive slide show that highlighted each grade’s activities.

“Usually, the community is invited in, but we couldn’t do it this year,” Berry said, adding that they followed protocol to ensure students’ privacy in sharing it with their community.  “I was so happy to see that in less than 24 hours our virtual Scandinavian culture fair had been viewed over 1,100 times. I call that a huge success.”

The now week-of-history event will have a different look as well, with faculty that normally teach physical education, library, music and social-emotional classes providing instruction about the Vikings time period with NearPod lessons as well as with hands-on learning activities.  Teachers may also include some lessons in their regular day and students will have two days to dress up in the time period, so hybrid students can take part.

“We usually have Day of History on Fridays and we’re not even in school this year on Fridays, so this way, everyone will get to participate in at least some of it. We’ll also be livestreaming some of the lessons so those kids online will get to experience part of it as well,” Berry said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.”