I’ve shared many times before that just about every one of my counseling lessons, with every elementary grade that I taught, began with a story book. Stories captivate students and teach memorable, relatable, and powerful lessons like nothing else can. When I created my curriculum map in August with my lesson topics and ideas for the year, I tried to be really intentional about choosing stories that were relevant and meaningful for students during each season of the school year. I wanted to share with you my top three stories with a winter theme that are perfect for classroom guidance and SEL lessons in December, January, and February! All of these stories are inclusive and appropriate for use with diverse populations.
My first winter story recommendation for you is “The Wish Tree” by Kyo Maclear (Amazon Affiliate Link). This one was brand new to me this year and is the most heart-warming and precious story I’ve read in a long, long time! I’m not kidding when I say that my 4-year old son, 39-year old husband, and myself were all smiling ear to ear as we read it!
“The Wish Tree” tells the story of Charles who sets out in the snow in search of a wish tree with his wagon, Boggan. Although his friends don’t believe that the wish tree is real, Charles is determined to find it! As he walks through the forest, Charles comes across several animal friends who are all struggling to prepare for winter. The beaver needs to gather birch wood to build his dam, the squirrel needs to gather nuts, and the fox needs to bring berries to his den. Charles is more than happy to halt his own quest in order to help each animal. But, by the time he has helped everyone, he is just too tired to continue his search for the wish tree. This is when the magic happens! The animals all gather together to return the favor to Charles and carry him, fast asleep, all the way to the wish tree on his sled. When Charles wakes up, he finds the beautiful, glowing wish tree and attaches his wish to its branch. In the end, Charles and the animals all enjoy a feast together before returning home.
This story would be perfect for a classroom lesson on kindness, compassion, and friendship. It would also be amazing for a New Year’s resolution lesson in which students could write their “wishes” for the new year. You could even create a big “wish tree” out of butcher paper in the hallway and students could glue or tape their wishes to it! No matter how you use it, this heart-warming story will be one that sticks with your students (and with you) for a long time!
Another favorite winter story that I’d love to share with you is “Those Shoes” by Maribeth Boelts (Amazon Affiliate Link). It tells the story of Jeremy, a little boy who desperately wants a pair of “those shoes” that all of the kids at school (besides him, of course) are wearing. But, his grandma just can’t afford a pair of these expensive, popular shoes. Instead, Jeremy wears an embarrassing pair of “Mr. Alfrey shoes” that his school counselor gave him when his were torn. Grandma offers to take Jeremy to a thrift store to see if they can find a second-hand pair of “those shoes,” and to his delight, they do! Even though they are too small for his feet, Jeremy proudly and stubbornly wears “those shoes” just so he can fit in with the crowd. But, after a few painful days in too-small shoes, Jeremy notices that his friend Antonio, whose feet are smaller than his, is wearing torn and taped shoes. Antonio was the only friend at school that didn’t make fun of Jeremy’s “Mr. Alfrey shoes.” As hard as it was to give up his pair of the special shoes, Jeremy chose to surprise Antonio with them at his house and gift them to him. This is a powerful and relatable story about friendship, compassion, kindness, generosity, and the difference between wants and needs. It is a perfect message for the holidays to help children understand that it is even more beautiful to give than to receive.
An aspect of this story that I especially like is that it includes an African-American main character whose family is struggling financially. As you know, it is so important for students to “see” themselves in the stories they read and so often, popular story books include white, middle-class characters. I was thankful to read to my students a story that they could really relate to and hoped that they could see themselves in Jeremy.
In case you are interested, I have a lesson in my TpT store that can be taught after reading this story. It summarizes the story and teaches all about compassion, wants vs. needs, and the power of giving.
As hard as it is to choose, I think my all-time favorite winter story for classroom guidance lessons is “Extra Yarn” by Mac Barnett (Amazon Affiliate Link). It tells the story of Anabelle, a little girl who lives in a dark, gloomy, and snowy town. One day, she finds a box of yarn and decides to make herself a sweater. Then, she makes colorful sweaters for her neighbor, his dog, every student in her class, her teachers…even for the trucks, birds, houses, and mailboxes! The crazy thing is – Anabelle’s ball of yarn never runs out! Word starts to spread of her spectacular ball of yarn, and an archduke sails across the sea and offers to buy her yarn for ten million dollars. Anabelle declines and absolutely refuses to sell it. Then, the greedy archduke sends robbers to steal the box of yarn from Anabelle’s house in the middle of the night. But, when the box of yarn arrives at the archduke’s castle, to his surprise… it is EMPTY! He tosses the empty box out to the sea in anger and it makes its way all the way back to Anabelle’s house so she can continue making her special sweaters. After reading the story, I absolutely loved having my students try to explain why the yarn was magical and never ran out for Anabelle, but was invisible to the archduke. From kindergarten all the way up to 4th grade, the ideas they come up with are so priceless and special!
This story is so perfect for teaching about kindness, compassion, generosity, and giving. Such important lessons all year long, but especially during the holiday season!
I have a lesson in my TpT store that goes along with this book and includes a PowerPoint presentation as well as a cute and meaningful craft that you can check out in the image below!
What are your favorite stories for SEL and classroom guidance lessons for the winter season? I’d love to hear from you!
Stay warm, healthy, and safe! Happy holidays!