April Fool's Day Unit
by Megan Crandall


Grade Level 3-4


Background Information

The origin of April Fools' Day is not known exactly. There have been many guesses and

explanations for its origin. Some believe the celebration of April Fool's Day began many years

ago in France. People believe that this day perhaps relates back to an ancient New Year's festival

held on the vernal Equinox, March 21. This was the beginning of the new year according to the

pre-Gregorian calendar. In France when the implementation of the Gregorian calendar was

changed, by Charles IX in 1564, the beginning of the new year was changed and celebrated on

January first, those people who still celebrated the day on the first of April were know as April

Fools'. Prior to the change of the date it was customary to give gifts on the first day of the year

therefore when the date was changed people began sending mock gifts to other people on April

first making them April fools. In France a person who resisted in changing the date of the new

year was victimized by pranksters who played practical jokes on him, this person became to be

know as a poisson d'avril otherwise known as an April Fish.

The custom made its way around to other nations as well. Some time later England and

Scotland decided to adopt the custom of playing jokes on people. In Scotland the favorite April

fool's joke is to send someone on a cuckoo hunt. The word gowk is derived from the

word geck, which means "someone who is easily imposed upon. The prank of sending someone

out on a cuckoo hunt became so common that in Scotland April Fools' Day is know as April

Gowk Day. This is considered to be a prank because there is no such thing as a cuckoo.

Most believe April Fools' Day was derived by the change of the calendar. Some believe

the origin comes from the timing of the year during the vernal equinox. The weather fools all

mankind. In many countries April Fools' Day is celebrated on other days besides the first of

April. In Mexico April Fools' Day is celebrated on the 28th of December. In ancient Rome the

day was celebrated on the 25th of March. Also in India they observe the day on the 31st of

March. In America the day is mostly observed by young people and practical jokers who want to

get a laugh at someone else's expense.

One other theory of how the day came about was derived from the remnant of the festival

of Cerelia. This was an ancient Roman feast which celebrated the story of Proserpina. According

to the legend, Proserpina was abducted by Pluto the Roman God while she was gathering lilies in

the valley. Proserpina's mother Ceres was so distressed to hear about the abduction of her

daughter that she began to make a futile search for her. Because of the hopelessness of Ceres

mission her quest to find her daughter has been known to be called the "fool's errand."

Many different kinds of tricks are played on April Fools' Day. Some of which are the hunt

for the cuckoo in Scotland, or the April fool's letter. It is important to remember however that

the jokes one plays should be all in good fun for both sides. April Fools' Day should not be a day

to play nasty jokes on unsuspecting victims. One must remember the difference between a good joke and a

bad one.

Overall April Fools' Day is a day in which everyone can have a lot of fun pulling pranks.

The day most probably began because of the change in the calendar and the day now lives on as a

day of fun and practical jokes.



Henrig, Cohen,&Tristram. (1987) The Folklore of American Holidays: All Fools' Day. Potter, Coffin, Detroit.Mich.

.No Author, (1993) April Fools' Day, In Collier's Encyclopedia Vol 2. PP 128, New York, Toronto, Sydney

No Author, (1994) April Fools' Day, In Encyclopedia Americana Vol 2. PP 496, Danbury, Connecticut.



Children will learn to appreciate the different beliefs as to the reason why April Fools' Day is celebrated.

Children will be able to write a mythical story of their own on how they believe April Fools' Day began.

Children will comprehend the difference between a hurtful joke and a good natured prank.

Children will learn about other cultures and how they celebrated April Fools' Day.


Time Allotment: Approximately 3-4 class periods plus some homework.


Resources needed:

A Calendar

Examples of myths

Interview Letter




A. Brainstorm. Have the children Brainstorm several different ideas they have about how the holiday of April Fools' Day began. Write answers on the board.

B. Mini-Lesson. Children will learn the true reason for why April Fools' Day is celebrated. Explain and discuss the Gregorian calendar and how it changed the beginning of the new year. Discuss how the day originated in France. Tell the children some of the traditions that countries celebrate and participate in during April Fools' Day. Talk about the "cuckoo" hunt that originated in Scotland. Tell the children what a person in France is called if a trick has been played on him ( April Fish). Talk about the differences between a good natured joke and a hurtful one. Make sure the children understand that playing jokes should be fun for all parties involved. Make sure to ask the children questions during the discussion to see if they are comprehending the information. Have the children write down three things they have learned about April Fools' Day. After the discussion.

C. Interview Have the children go home and interview a family member about a prank or joke that was played on them perhaps on an April Fools' Day. Have the children bring back the results of their interviews and read them in class. Discuss which jokes might have been fun for everyone involved and which jokes may not have been so good.

D. Writing Exercise. After telling the children about the ancient roman myth about how April Fools' Day began allow them to write and create their own individual myth for how April Fools' Day came about. Encourage them to be creative in their writing. When they have completed their myths have them share them with the rest of the class.

E. Cuckoo Hunt. On April Fools' Day have your class prepare a Cuckoo Hunt for one of the other classes to go on. Have your children set up a kind of treasure map for another class. Send the other class around the school in search of some kind of hidden surprise. Let the surprise be something awkward (weird, not real) that your children will find funny when the other class finds it. For example a stuffed bear, or a puppet. Have your class make a list of notes to be placed around the school for the other children to find. Have one clue lead the other class to someplace else. It will seem that they have been trailing the item as it supposedly moves throughout the school. When the children find the surprise have them come back to the room and have some type of treat waiting for them, perhaps some cookies etc. This gesture will show your students that the joke was good natured and no one was hurt. Your class will get the laugh and the other will get some kind of treat, thereby showing that both sides had fun.

F. Write -Up Have the children do a write up on the Cuckoo Hunt experience. Have them describe how they felt and if they enjoyed playing this little prank. Have them decide whether the joke was a good one or not.

G. Open discussion After all previous activities have been completed. Ask students what they have learned about April Fools' Day and have them write down their response.


Responses to discussion questions will be assessed through the children's written assignment.

Interview comments will be assessed as to whether the child completed the interview.

The children's myth papers will be assessed.

The write up's on the Cuckoo hunt and the discussion questions will be assessed.

Responses to discussion questions and cuckoo write-up will be assessed to see if the students understand the difference between a hurtful joke and a good-natured prank.



Dear Parents,

We are discussing April Fools' Day in our classroom. We have discussed how April Fools' Day came about and what types of jokes are appropriate. Please take a moment and allow your child to interview you on perhaps some kinds of jokes that have possibly been played on you on an April Fools' Day at some point in your life. The jokes can be either practical or in good nature. We appreciate your willingness to help your child and the class.

Thank you for all of your help.


Megan M. Crandall


Return to Celebrations Table of Contents