We, as Directors, create holiday celebrations to create home-school connections and anchor our year. Many teachers save holiday activities on Pintrest, hoard materials to make special projects and plann what they are doing for the end of year party. So many plans. The number of reindeer heads, snowmen, and trees that will be created this month is a bit mind boggling.
But what do the children actually get out of it? What does a snow man mean to a 3 year old in Galveston? Does she understand what snow is? Why is it a man? Why do I make it out of cotton balls (or glue, or whatever)? What can she understand of the story of Frosty? Why are they painting paper plates brown & adding pipe cleaners?
These are all product focused art, but that is not what I am getting at here. What are you trying to teach? What is the concept you are focusing on? Is there one? Somethings we do just because it is fun, like finger painting with the after-school class. Single activities that are just fun are fine, but at some centers the winter holidays take most of December.
In our multicultural society, Christmas, although important to many people, is not everyone’s holiday. For children and families from other groups—be they Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, pagan, atheist, or anything else—Christmas can be a confusing time. For most families the constant pressure to buy things for this holiday ads unneeded financial and family stress. How can you address Christmas in your program in a way that is supportive and fair to all?
Learn about other’s December holidays
Begin by surveying your families and staff members which December holiday(s), if any, they celebrate, and what they might like to share about their personal tradition. If the people in your program are culturally diverse, this means you will be learning about a number of different December holidays. In a more culturally similar class, it could mean learning about a variety of ways families all celebrate the same holiday. If you don’t have a variety of holidays, you can add one, that you find interesting (see list at the bottom).
Make a plan for how you will teach about the various traditions in your classroom. For example, have a school party with families & teachers sharing a special holiday food, song, or ritual. If family members cannot come into the classroom, ask them for a story or song that the teachers can share with the children on their behalf. This often helps parents who are shy about public speaking or their language skills to feel comfortable sharing. Help the children explore the similarities and differences among family holiday celebrations—whether it is the same holiday or different holidays. The aim is for children to understand that “Families are different. Each family’s way of celebrating works for them.”
If you use this approach, be very sensitive to children who celebrate differently from the majority of the children. Otherwise, it is easy for their holiday to sound like just a variation on the dominant culture’s event. It is the teacher’s responsibility (not the child’s) to clarify the distinctions. For example, if most of the children told stories about their Christmas holiday customs and the one Jewish child talked about Chanukah; you might overhear “happy Jewish Christmas.”
Hanukkah begins on the 12th this year. Dreidel will be played, menorahs will be created and latkes will be eaten. What are we teaching with these activities? If your program is a Jewish day school, you might be sharing cultural knowledge. There will be telling of the stories of the oil that aided in the defeat of a tyrant king. If that doesn’t describe your program…I ask a gain what are you teaching? Think about it!
When we are setting aside time in our days/weeks/months to focus on something I really want us to know WHY. If you aren’t going to be teaching this story, because it doesn’t reflect the culture of your families, then why are you doing these activities?
- Are you doing it to expose them to a different culture?
- Are you using seasonal images to spice up your fine motor activities?
- Are you telling the story to highlight that by working together people can accomplish more than they ever thought?
- Are you exploring the theme that we all go through dark times, and when we do we can rely on others to help us through them?
- Will you be exploring assimilation and cultural uniqueness? (If so, email me, I have some great activities for this.)
- Is exploring different ways to make and eat potatoes to explore what the children like a focus? This is a great math activity.
If we focus on the trappings of Hanukkah, Christmas, or any other holiday/holy day, we miss an opportunity. Hanukkah is a powerful story of people who were under pressure to give up what made the unique. Christmas is the story of a man & a pregnant woman who no one would take in. These are stories that should mean a lot to the children in our care. They are stories of not being accepted and being scared. Every child can relate to that.
Take away the religiosity, if you program is secular, as mine were. Are these stories less meaningful than Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See? or Cat in the Hat? I think they are stories worth telling. Share the Christmas tree crafts and menorah activities, but do them in a developmentally appropriate way. For more information on Developmentally Appropriate holiday activities, check out the NAEYC book, Anti-bias Education for Young Children & Ourselves.
List of December 2017 Holidays (not all holidays included)
- December 1 Mawlid/ Prophet’s Birthday (various)
- December 3 First Sunday of Advent (various)
- December 4 Day of Navarre (Spain)
- December 5 St. Nicholas’ Eve (Netherlands)
- December 6 St. Nicholas Day (various)
- December 7 Peal Harbor Remembrance Day (US)
- December 8 Bodhi Day (Hindu)
- December 13 Hanukkah starts (Jewish)
- December 16 Day of Reconciliation (South Africa)
- December 21 Winter Solstice (various)
- December 23 Emperor’s Birthday (Japan)
- December 25 Christmas (various)
- December 26 Kwanzaa (US)
- December 30 Rizai Day (Philippines)
- December 31 New Year’s Eve (various)