Subtopic: Kwanzaa
Grade Level: 2nd-3rd
Author: Joy R. Lazenby


Kwanzaa is a happy and spiritual holiday for African-Americans. The word Kwanzaa means "first" in Swahili, a language used in Africa, and has to do with harvest. Not all African-Americans celebrate Kwanzaa, and it has no ties to any religion. The main purpose or focus of Kwanzaa is to strengthen the black families. This celebration lasts 7 days starting on December 26 and ending on January 1. There are seven principles to live by that are celebrated during the 7 days of Kwanzaa. One principle is celebrated each day. The seven principles are then to be lived throughout the year to unify the family and remind them of their black heritage.

The seven principles of Kwanzaa are Umoja (oo-MOH-jah) meaning unity, Kujichagulia (koo-jee-cha-goo-LEE-uh) meaning control of your own life, Ujima (oo-jee-MAH) meaning working together and responsibility, Ujamaa (oo-jah-MAH) meaning sharing money and profits, Nia (NEE-ah) meaning having a purpose or reason, Kuumba (koo-UM-bah) meaning to be creative, Imani (ee-MAH-nee) meaning having faith. Black families are encouraged to talk about these principles and learn from the past, so that they can understand what they are going through now, and what they could do in the future to make things better.

Along with the principles of Kwanzaa, the flag, adopted by African-American liberation in the 1960s, displays the three colors of Kwanzaa; red, black and green. Red represents courage and blood. Black represents the skin of black people. Green represents the land and the harvest.

Kwanzaa began on December 26, 1966 and was initiated by Dr. Moulana Ron Karenga. Dr. Karenga, during the era of Civil Rights in America, felt that Black Americans needed common purposes and goals. Kwanzaa was based on a theory from Africa called Kawaida which says that social change for Black Americans can be successful by learning from their individual cultural heritage.

The rest of this background is an example of how Kwanzaa might be celebrated in a black home. As the day of Kwanzaa nears all family members are invited to go to one central location to celebrate together. Before the 26th of December the person in charge gathers and arrange the symbols of Kwanzaa on a low table or on the floor. The person in charge could be the spiritual leader, the person that lives in the house, or the father. First they spread the straw mat, Mkeka (M-kay-cah). Then they place the Kinara (kee-na-rah), the seven candle candlestick holder, in the center of the Mkeka. They place seven candles (Mishumaa Saba) in the kinara. The candles should be red, black, and green. Next they place the ears of corn, Muhindi (Moo-hee-dee), on either side of the Mkeka. There is always one ear of corn for each child in the family. The last thing they do is creatively place the gifts (Zawadi), unity cup (Kikombe Cha Umaja), soil and water (Tambiko), and a basket of fruit on the Mkeka. Many families also hang a flag for black liberation facing east.

On the first day of Kwanzaa the person in charge says "Habari Gani" which means "What's the news?". Then the other people in the room respond by saying the name of the principle of the day. For example on this first day they would say, "Umoja." Then someone might offer a pray. Next the "Harambee", a gesture meaning "lets pull together" is done. This is done seven times by raising up the right arm with the hand open and closing it while pulling it down.
The greeting and lighting of the candle or candles (light one for the first day, two for the second day and so on) should be done by a child. Then each member of the group assembled tells of their understanding and commitment to the principle of the day. Stories are shared during this time. Then a prayer may be offered to close the ceremony. Each person should think about the principle of the day throughout the day to make it more a part of their life.

Each of the seven days is celebrated the same, replacing the appropriate principle for that day into the ceremony. All of the group might not meet again together until the last day at night. On the last day a feast is held called Karamu. It is at this time that hand made gifts are given or one may be given each day of Kwanzaa. The gifts are to focus on what has been learned during the week as they have focused on their history as a people.


Burden-Patman, D. (1992). Imani's Gift at Kwanzaa: teacher's guide. The Children's Museum: Boston.

Cech, M. (1991). Globalchild: Multicultural resources for young children. New York: Addison-Wesley.

Dever, M. (1995). Giving Thanks. Lesson Plan for Edith Bowen: Utah State University.

MelaNet Home Page (1994). Kwanzaa Information Center. New Perspective Technologies Company: Jordan Family Enterprises Company. On line:

Pitts Water, M. (1989). Have a Happy... a novel. Lothrop, Lee and Shepard Books: New York.


Students will recognize that families can be strengthened as a result of a holiday.
Students will identify things about holidays that have strengthened their families.
Students will explain some of the symbols of Kwanzaa.
Students will draw one of the purposes of Kwanzaa.

Time Allotment: Approximately 4 class periods

Resources Needed:

Have a Happy... by Mildred Walker

three pieces of chart paper

poster board for back of each puzzle

symbols of Kwanzaa: straw mat, seven candles (red, green, black), ears of corn, gifts, unity cup, waterand soil, and basket of fruit.

poster with the papers that have math answers and meanings (see procedure F)

The Gifts of Kwanzaa by Synthia Saint James

Audio cassette from "Multicultural Celebrations Imani's Gift at Kwanzaa" (optional)


A. Read Aloud. Read two chapters a day of Have a Happy... by Mildren Walker. One in the morning and one after lunch.

B. KWL. Write each letter of KWL on a different piece of chart paper at the top. K is for writing what they know. W is for writing what they want to know. L is for writing what they have learned. Help them put something on the chart paper based on the idea that Kwanzaa is a celebration. These pieces of chart paper should be referred to after every other procedure or at least daily.

C. Mini-lecture. People who celebrate Kwanzaa are African-Americans. Ask them what African-American means and where Africa is. Show them Africa on a globe and ask them how they could get there. Many Africans came here by boat as slaves. Kwanzaa is not celebrated in Africa, but uses things from Africa. It uses one of the languages of Africa, Swahili.

D. Puzzle Map. On an outline of a map of the United States have the students write words and draw pictures about what they know about Kwanzaa so far. Have them glue it onto poster board and cut a puzzle out of it. Emphasize that Kwanzaa is a time to make the family stronger and get together. Persuade them to draw things that help their family be strong. Have the students take the puzzle home to their parents with instructions to have the parents put the puzzle together. Send home letter (Appendix A) to parent for them to sign when student completes the puzzle assignment and also for clarification of the assignment.

E. Think-Pair-Share. Now that students have thought about the things they have learned by drawing on their maps and making puzzles, tell them that the person next to them will be their partner. Explain to the students that they will be taking their puzzle home to let their parents learn a little about Kwanzaa, so we are going to practice with our partners. Have each one tell their partner to make the puzzle and then explain what that means. Then they will switch. Give them time to do it once and then tell them to switch.

F. Still Life Investigation. Place the symbols of Kwanzaa (straw mat, 7 candle candleholder, 7 candles-red and black and green, ears of corn, flag, gifts, unity cup, water and soil, and basket of fruit) on a table in the middle of the room in any arrangement. (Do this at recess or before the students come in the morning.) On each one put a folded up piece of paper with a number on the outside. Inside each piece of paper is a math problem. The answer of the math problem corresponds to a piece of paper on a poster that explains the meaning of that symbol. The students count off (tell them to remember their number and write it down). When they find their symbol of Kwanzaa, telling them not to take off the number yet. Now have them come to the carpet leaving the things on their desks and explain that each of these things is a symbol (means something important) of Kwanzaa and are arranged in a certain order for the celebration of Kwanzaa. When they go back to their seats they are going to take the paper off of their symbol and figure out the math problem that they have so that they can know which paper on the poster matches with their symbol. After they have the meanings, call them up in order (see background for correct placement of the symbols) to place their symbol in the right place. Each person will first read the meaning of the object or where it is placed and the class will repeat the Swahili word for it twice.

G. Discussion. Has anyone ever heard these names for things before? Why do you think that could be? In some parts of Africa they speak Swahili. It is a different language. Can anyone tell me some other names of languages? There are many. Share words that students know in other languages.

H. Guided Reading. Read The Gifts of Kwanzaa by Synthia Saint James. When you come to each principle of Kwanzaa in the book, talk about it and why it would be an important thing to make families strong. After you read the book, ask the students to name the principles that they can remember and write them on the board. Make a complete list of the principles, discussing them as they are listed.

I. Music. Teach an African song "Oboo Asi Me Nsa Nana oboo asi me nsa". Those are all of the words sung over and over. This is taught by the tape, Multicultural Celebrations Imani's Gift at Kwanzaa, if you have it. After the song is learned then get in a circle and pass a rock around to the beat. Each person taps the rock on the floor and then passes it. Start singing the song slow and then you speed it up. If a person misses the beat they are out for one turn. Sing faster and faster until only two are left. "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" and "When the Saints Go Marching In" are also African songs. Drums are always appropriate if desired.

J. Make a Book. Split up into seven groups. Give each group a principle. Have them draw and write things that remind them of that principle. Then staple them all together for the class book. Each of the seven groups will then present their page to the class, explaining what they learned about how their principle could strengthen their families.


Maps will be assessed by antidotal notes as they are made.

Parents notes back will be assessed as successful understanding and completion of work.

Math will be assessed by whether or not they got the right meaning for their symbol.

Participation in listening to the symbols and reciting the words will be assessed antidotally.

Pages for the book will be assessed by requiring a minimum of four different ideas. (pictures or words)

Final assessment will be antidotal records made by the teacher on presentation of pages.

Appendix A:

Dear Parents,

We, as a class, are learning about a holiday that some African-Americans celebrate. One of the purposes of the holiday, Kwanzaa, is to learn to be united as families. You're child has drawn a picture on a map of the United States and made it into a puzzle about what they know about Kwanzaa so far, and things about holidays that have made your family stronger. The homework assignment for tonight is for them to have you put the puzzle together and to discuss it with you. Please send this note back after your child has completed the assignment.

Thank you for your help,



Miss Lazenby



Parent signature _________________________

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