A Christmas and Chocolate Family-style Unit Study for your December Homeschool
This Polar Express & Hot Chocolate Unit Study is generally for students at the preschool to second-grade level.
This Polar Express & Hot Chocolate unit study uses Living Books and hands-on STEAM activities along with English Language Arts, History, Fine & Gross Motor, Poetry, and Folktales.
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English Language Arts
Read Aloud Living Picture Books
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg was the winner of the prestigious Caldecott Medal. It’s one of the most popular children’s Christmas stories and is perfect for those starting to question their belief in Santa Claus. Also available on Kindle, free with Amazon FreeTime Unlimited.
Hot Chocolate for Santa Claus by R. C. O’Leary and illustrated by Iryna Bodnarak explains why Santa Claus looks forward to drinking a mug of hot chocolate when he’s done delivering gifts on Christmas Eve. Free with Kindle Unlimited.
The Sweet Story of Hot Chocolate by Stephen Krensky and illustrated by Rob McClurkan tells the history of cocoa beans and it’s many varied uses throughout history. This is a level 3 reader; it’s written at a 2nd-3rd-grade level.
Andy & Sandy and the First Snow by Tomie dePaola is part of a beginning reader series that is written at a kindergarten reading level. In this story, Andy & Sandy have fun in the snow, but they most enjoy warming up afterward with hot chocolate.
Read Aloud Living Books
If you’ve read A Year Down Yonder or A Long Way from Chicago by Ricard Peck, you’ll recognize the main character of this selection. Grandma Dowdel stars in A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck. Twenty years have passed and she has new neighbors. But Grandma Dowdel continues to outwit and charm everyone. This book is also available on Kindle and Overdrive and the audio version is free with an Audible trial.
This folktale originates in Germany and it explains why we put tinsel on our Christmas trees. There are many picture book variations of this story; our library had The Christmas Cobwebs by Odds Bodkin. Another good choice is The Cobweb Christmas by Shirley Climo. There’s a second book by Shirley Climo about the same folktale, Cobweb Christmas: The Tradition of Tinsel; you can watch a video of that book below:
If you have a toy train, let your kids use it to retell the story of the Polar Express. Encourage them to include a beginning, a middle, a problem, a resolution to the problem and an ending. For extra fun, give them a few props to help with the storytelling, such as a small Christmas tree and a jingle bell.
Practice a real-life writing skill: making a list. Learn how to number and write a list of “what I like in my hot chocolate.” Use the Polar Express Primary Real-life Writing worksheets from the Free Resource Library.
A Visit From Saint Nicholas by Clement C. Moore is often called by the first line of the poem, “Twas the night before Christmas”. This iconic poem, written in 1832, set the standard of what the American version of Santa Claus looked like. Watch the video below from Enchanted Tales to hear the poem.
Copywork and narration are a real-life way to work on grammar skills. Use the Polar Express & Hot Chocolate Copywork and Narration for Primary Learners page from the Free Resource Library. After your child has written the sentence from dictation, let her see the original to check it with her work. Have her correct her work, so that she knows how it should look.
Did you know that you can make your homeschool mom life super simple with just one download? Buy The Polar Express & Hot Chocolate Unit Study Curriculum Bundle! This bundle includes all of the printables available in the Free Resource Library in ONE download PLUS a BONUS Christmas Lights Scavenger Hunt printable not in the Free Resource Library. You will also get 5 days of daily lesson plans all laid out in an easy to understand chart with a printable book list and direct links to all of the videos, recipes, and activities.
Use the Polar Express & Hot Chocolate Beginning Sounds Puzzles page from the Free Resource Library to match up the picture with its beginning consonant
Spelling requires lots of practice which can sometimes be boring. Liven up your spelling this week by using mini marshmallows (or the even smaller, marshmallow bits) to form letters and spell your words. Or you could even get an edible marker from the cake decorating section and write a letter on each marshmallow. Then, your kids can eat their homework when they’re done!
Polar Express has very contrasting settings, beginning with the cold, dark, snowy night, and going into the warm, cozy passenger train car. Talk about the temperature differences between the two settings. Then, help your preschool sort cold versus hot items with the Polar Express & Hot Chocolate Science Sorting Worksheets for Primary Learners from the Free Resource Library.
Complete a hot chocolate experiment to see at what temperature hot chocolate mix dissolves best. Try dissolving the hot chocolate mix in three different temperatures of water: ice cold (30 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit), room temperature (70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit), and hot (130 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit). Use the Polar Express & Hot Chocolate Experiment for Primary Learners worksheet from the Free Resource Library to show what you’ve observed and learned.
Chocolate was first used as a medicinal drink, but once sweetener was added to it in 18th century Europe, it became very popular. Then, in the mid 1800s, chocolatiers learned how to extract the cocoa butter and then add back the melted cocoa butter to make solid chocolate. The industrial revolution changed how chocolate was enjoyed (mostly as a solid candy instead of a beverage) because technology enabled chocolatiers to produce a consistent product. Watch how chocolate is made in this video from the Science Channel’s How It’s Made.
Provide your kiddos with some straws or uncooked spaghetti along with some mini marshmallows. Encourage them to build structures, tinker toy style, using the marshmallows to connect the straws or spaghetti.
David Mittner is a contemporary American artist with a love of trains. Check out his painting of a Pennsylvania Railroad T1 Class 4-4-4-4 Duplex Dashing Through the Snow. See his other works of art featuring trains at FineArtAmerica.
My kids love to drink hot chocolate every afternoon in the winter while they are reading. I started making homemade hot chocolate mix ten years ago for two reasons: it’s cheaper and much healthier! We’ve used this recipe from Eating On A Dime for the last five years. I double it and give it a quick run through the food processor just to blend it well. We store it in a plastic container in the pantry. Sometimes I even add a scoop to my coffee for an easy mocha drink. Even your toddlers can help pour the ingredients in and doubling the recipe is great math practice for your elementary kiddos.
Practice cooking on the stovetop with this homemade white hot chocolate recipe from Celebrating Sweets. Compare the taste of made from scratch versus a store-bought or homemade mix. Which one tastes better? Is it worth the extra time it takes to make?
Let everyone in the family vote on which hot chocolate they like best: store-bought mix, homemade mix, or homemade white hot chocolate. Or buy a multi-pack of different flavors of hot chocolate; Aldi usually has a nice Keurig cup variety pack with caramel, peppermint, and Irish cream flavors. Use the Favorite Hot Chocolate Tally & Graph for Primary Learners in the Free Resource Library to work on counting with tally marks and graphing.
Watch this video from SNAKids to learn the Meso-American origins of cacao and the traditional method of chocolate making.
Read Who Was Milton Hershey? by James Buckley, Jr. to learn about America’s most famous chocolatier. Discover how Mr. Hershey persevered despite failures and eventually used his fortune to establish a school and town.
Listen to the Polar Express soundtrack while you are making hot chocolate and wrapping Christmas presents. You can stream it free if you have Amazon Prime or find it on Hoopla.
In the Polar Express movie, the conductor punches the word “believe” into his train ticket. Believing in something is the same thing as having faith. Read this devotion from Cross Map with your kids to discuss what it means to have faith.
Gross and Fine Motor
Print out the Polar Express Train Tickets Fine Motor Punching from the Free Resource Library. The tickets have the words “Learn” “Believe” and “Lead.” Let your kids use a hole punch like the conductor to punch out the words on the tickets.
Create a train track on your floor with painter’s tape (or outside with sidewalk chalk, if it’s warm enough). Have your kids practice balance and jumping by jumping from one train tie to another and walking along the rail. If you’re as old as I am, you may remember doing this as a kid along the old, de-commissioned tracks in your hometown.
Sensory and Body Awareness
Create a sensory bin for your Polar Express and Hot Chocolate unit study. Start with pinto beans as a base (for the hot chocolate). Add in marshmallows, either large or mini. I cut out some yellow stars from a glitter foam sheet. Print out the Polar Express tickets from the Free Resource Library and cut out. I glued mine back to back so that the tickets are double-sided. I added some plastic lids from applesauce squeeze pouches to represent the train wheels along with several jingle bells to complete the bin.
Be sure to follow my Pinterest board Christmas Time Homeschooling for more great hands-on activities and ideas for your Polar Express & Hot Chocolate unit study! And don’t forget to check out the Intermediate and Secondary posts to add in activities for Family Schooling.
Don’t forget to pin this post so you can refer back to it during your Polar Express & Hot Chocolate unit study.