4 Tips for a Meaningful Orange Shirt Day

Orange Shirt Day is recognized on September 30 each year. In 2013, Phyllis Webstad, who attended a residential school in British Columbia, started Orange Shirt Day. On this day, Canadians wear orange shirts to demonstrate a commitment to reconciliation. It is the perfect day for discussing and learning about Canadian Residential Schools in your classroom.

Orange Shirt Day Activity 1:

five picture books for orange shirt day in the elementary classroom

Read a meaningful picture book. My favourite books about Residential Schools are:

  1. Shi-shi-etko by Nicola I. Campbell
  2. When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson
  3. Shin-chi’s Canoe by Nicola I. Campbell
  4. When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margret Pokiak-Fenton
  5. I Am Not A Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer

If you want to learn more about these books and why I love them, check out this blog post!

Orange Shirt Day Activity 2: Whole Group Discussion

sharing circle for orange shirt day in the elementary classroom

Have a whole group sharing circle about Residential Schools.

I suggest asking students to sit in a big circle. Start by detailing the ground rules. For example, we don’t interrupt each other, you can only talk when you have talking stick, we use respectful language, etc. It is super important to set these expectations BEFORE starting!

Ask students to share what they know about Residential Schools. They can add to each others’ points and it’s absolutely okay if a disagreement occurs. This is a great opportunity to clear up misconceptions.

I suggest recording the knowledge that students have about Residential Schools on an anchor chart or the whiteboard. This will help them to see all of their knowledge and it makes a good scaffold for further learning.

Next, ask the kids to discuss why Phyllis Webstad might have chosen “Every Child Matters” as the slogan for Orange Shirt Day. Students can share their ideas, which are often quite insightful. This also leads nicely into the art activity!

Orange Shirt Day Activity 3: Video

Watch a video about Residential Schools. Upper Elementary kiddos really connect to this one but there are a ton available online.

Orange Shirt Day Activity 4: Art Project

The slogan for Orange Shirt Day is “Every Child Matters”. This is a beautiful opportunity to have students reflect on how they are unique and important.

Step 1: Each child will trace their hand on a piece of paper.

orange shirt day art activity

Step 2: Students will lightly colour their hands, using pencil crayons. Encourage students to try to mix and match pencil crayons so that they get the exact right colour that best represents them.

orange shirt day art activity

Step 3: Students will use a permanent marker to write “I matter because______________”. Each student will have a unique reason why they matter. This will be tricky for some kiddos so it might be helpful to brainstorm ideas as a class before hand.

Step 4: Students will use various colours of permanent markers to add symbols that best represent their identity on their hand.

orange shirt day art activity

Step 5: Students will cut out their hands.

Step 6: Arrange the hands into a wreath and display your beautiful art!

If you use any of these ideas, I would LOVE it if you would tag me on instagram!

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