Studying Celebrations in Second Grade

On January 25, parents of second-grade students visited camps to share their knowledge of various traditional Japanese holidays with the second-grade classes. The festivities included presentations on five holidays and accompanying activities.


As part of a social studies unit on celebrations, parents from each class came to school and taught students about different Japanese traditions. Each class rotated from one classroom to the next, with each room assigned a presentation and activity for one of the five holidays they had chosen.

Parents in Julie Lavender’s classroom gave students a crash-course on the Japanese New Year. Second-graders created ema, small wooden plaques on which they wrote wishes for the new year. The wishes are often accompanied by an illustration and completed ema are typically hung at shrines this time of year. Students also rang the temple bell, said a prayer and drew omikuji, a rolled piece of paper containing a fortune, and a charm.

Visitors to Manon Harrison’s class brushed-up on Kodomo no Hi, or Children’s Day. Kodomo no Hi is a Japanese national holiday that takes place every May 5 as part of Golden Week. It is a holiday specifically to celebrate the happiness of children. After learning a bit about Kodomo no Hi, our students created origami koinobori (carp streamers) and samurai helmets.

Students who wanted to learn about Shichi-Go-San, a celebration of a traditional rite-of-passage for three and seven-year-old girls and three and five-year-old boys, needed to go no further than Beth Kelley’s class. Our students participated in a presentation on the holiday, decorated bags and received chitose-ame, meaning “thousand-year candy,” which is a treat typically associated with Shichi-Go-San.

The topic of interest in Jocelyne Wong’s class  was Setsubun, a Japanese holiday that ushers in the spring season with the sounds of fearful children defending themselves from oni (demons) with nothing but soy beans, as is tradition. Our students, however, joyfully colored oni masks and threw beans at the stand-in oni, parents in costume.

The final featured holiday was Tanabata in Amy Welbourn’s class. Tanabata celebrates the legendary meeting of Orihime and Hikoboshi, two star-crossed lovers of celestial proportions. Having studied the holiday and its story, students wrote a wish on colorful paper called tanzaku to hang on a bamboo tree. They also created other origami paper lanterns and the milky way galaxy.

The second-grade students and teachers will use what they learned about traditional Japanese celebrations to help them identify the common elements of most celebrations. Using that understanding, they will plan their own Valentine’s celebration. Students will form committees and decide how to celebrate and take responsibility for their portion of a class party. The goal is to incorporate elements of design thinking as students ask for and use feedback to make revisions to their plans based on what the users want and need.