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Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Favorite Music Lesson Activities for Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is one of those things that often gets thrown in as an add-on to a lesson, concert, or sing-along with Christmas songs as a way to "be more inclusive", but I think if we stop to think about it we all know Kwanzaa should not just be treated as a "Christmas add-on". And of course, as with anything else, it's important to make sure the resources we use are truly representative of the culture they represent and not appropriative or caricatured. Today I want to share some of my favorite lesson activities to use in elementary general music class for Kwanzaa- I hope you find something new to use in your classes, because these lessons are always so joyful for me and my students!

What is Kwanzaa?

My general philosophy on holidays in public school classrooms is that I want to explicitly teach the context, not just use the holiday as a "theme" where I assume my students know what the holiday is (which is especially harmful when done with more culturally dominant holidays, like "Christmas themed" worksheets or play-alongs etc). With very young students (K-2) I just talk to them about the basics of the holiday, but for upper elementary students I have found this video very helpful and concise in introducing the holiday and the meaning and history behind it:

Happy Kwanzaa song

There are several great Kwanzaa songs out there but this one is my favorite because it is informative, catchy, and very easy to learn. It's also written and performed by Black musicians, which is not true of some of the songs I see elementary music teachers using most often with their students. Check your sources!

Depending on what musical concepts each grade is working on, I use this song to identify A and B sections, practice expressive elements like tempo and dynamics (I write all the vocabulary they are learning on the board and point to different ones while they sing the chorus), and/or have students create and perform accompaniment parts by creating a rhythm pattern to play on drums with the song. 

Another fun way to have students interact a bit more deeply with the seven principles is to split up the class into 7 groups and assign each group to one of the principles. They practice their word and come up with a pose or gesture that embodies the meaning of the word, then we sing the song and they each stand up and do their pose/ gesture while singing their word in the verses (everyone sings the chorus together). I do this on a bigger scale in my sing-alongs by assigning each grade in my K-6 building to one of the 7 principles- it is so fun for kids to stand up and sit back down quickly on their word!

If you have more time to work on a song in class, or are looking for a performance piece, I recommend A Kwanzaa Song by Lovely Hoffman or This Kwanzaa by Fyutch and Pierce Freelon (both of these even have accompaniment tracks, accompanying teaching materials, etc available!). 

Kwanzaa dance

I added this one in this year with my younger grades and it was a HIT! I recommend this for K-3 definitely, 4th grade will love it too depending on the group you have. There is a very brief tutorial at the end that I show first, then we go back to the beginning and I tell students to dance along with the part they learned and sit down to watch/ listen on the other sections:

I'm sure there are other wonderful resources out there that I have yet to come across- if you have found other great lesson ideas for Kwanzaa please share them in the comments! I hope this helps you find new ways to incorporate the holiday in your teaching.

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