ONTROVERSY-Celebrating Holidays in the Early Childhood Classroom SY-Celebrating Holidays in the Early Childhood Classroom

: CONTROVERSY-Celebrating Holidays in the Early Childhood Classroom

The celebration of holidays within early childhood and elementary classrooms continues to be a controversial issue in the field. Those who advocate for holiday celebrations point to the social opportunities provided by these events. Children might learn about othersa beliefs and customs. Moreover, children spend a lot of time thinking about holidays, so addressing this topic in the classroom builds on what children already have on their minds. Holidays also tend to promote positive feelings in children. Children enjoy making holiday cards and gifts for friends and family. Plus, the prospect of receiving gifts, during Christmas celebrations for example, or cards, on Valentineas Day, is exciting for children.

Opponents suggest that holidays in the classroom are usually limited to those celebrated by the teacher or the majority culture. Not all children in a given classroom celebrate the same holidays, and even a shared holiday may be recognized quite differently within individual families. Furthermore, teachers may offend or even alienate families by ignoring some holidays and not others or misrepresenting the significance of certain holidays (Bisson, 2002). For example, recognizing Hanukkah may leave out those families that instead observe Kwanzaa or Winter Solstice, each of which have cultural, historical, and spiritual meaning for those who celebrate it.

In her book, Celebrate! An Anti-Bias Guide to Enjoying Holidays in Early Childhood Programs, Julie Bisson (2002) identifies two prevalent misconceptions among teachers about how to approach holidays. First, many teachers are under the impression that there is no way to celebrate or represent holidays in a classroom today, given the diversity of the children served. Children, however, are intrigued by holidays, and learning about these special days in the comfort and safety of the classroom can have cognitive and social benefits.

The second misconception is that celebrating one holiday requires the teacher to celebrate all holidays. Clearly, this is an impossible task. No teacher has the knowledge, time, or resources to teach about every holiday (or culture, language, or religion) in the world. Even if it were possible, doing so would not necessarily help children (Bisson, 2002).

Also problematic is when teachers attempt to use holiday celebrations to teach cultural diversity to children (Bisson, 2002). Cultural diversity is significantly more complex than a holiday celebration, and one or two classroom activities may not effectively teach children much about either. For example, making masks teaches very little to children about El Dia De Los Muertos or the cultures in Mexico that celebrate this holiday. Helping children understand cultural diversity is an important learning goal, but it must be done through more avenues than recognizing specific holidays.

Because of discomfort, inexperience, or limited time, teachers may be tempted to rely on pre-packaged curriculum guides to holidays. The activities in these guides are not necessarily developmentally appropriate. Moreover, pre-packaged materials neither reflect the real lives of the children in a given classroom, nor do they allow for emergent curriculum (Bisson, 2002).

Another problem with pre-packaged curriculum is the use of craft-like projects, rather than creative arts. Consider what happens in early childhood programs and schools across the United States during November. Children do plenty of crafts, such as making pilgrim hats out of black and white paper, Indian (sic) vests out of brown paper bags, and turkeys by tracing their hands. These activities do not accurately portray groups of people or American history, and they certainly limit creativity.

What, then, makes a good holiday curriculum? According to Bisson (2002), it must be culturally relevant. Children need their classrooms to feel familiar and be meaningful to them during holiday celebrations and every other day. When holidays are approached in ways that are relevant to their culture(s), children feel more connected, empowered, and validated (Bisson, 200).

Holiday curriculum also should be implemented in ways that advocate anti-bias goals (Bisson, 2002). Discussions of holiday traditions allow children to learn about each othersa similarities and differences. Understanding how people are alike and different is a powerful learning experience for young children.

Additionally, all holiday activities must be developmentally appropriate. Each and every childas development should be considered before including holidays in the curriculum (Bisson, 2002). With specific learning needs in mind, teachers can plan activities that meet developmental goals and allow for creativity. Developmental appropriateness means that crafts are avoided, and children are allowed to create their own representations about holidays through multiple venues, including visual arts, music, movement, and drama.

Finally, several decisions must be made at the school or program level. Specifically, teachers need guidance from administrators about: (1) how families will be involved in activities; (2) how teachers will get the information they need to accurately portray the holiday, and (3) how to ensure that holiday activities are connected to childrenas own life experiences (Bisson, 2002).

Think back to your own school experiences with holidays. Were these experiences characterized by cultural relevancy, anti-bias goals, and developmental appropriateness? Were multiple holidays included, or were the celebrations limited to those of the majority culture? Did you receive accurate information about holidays, or were you presented with stereotypes?

Lastly, give some thought to how creative arts used when holidays were being discussed. Itas likely that you completed many craft-like projects. Brainstorm as to how these activities might be transformed into open-ended, creative opportunities, or throw them out entirely, and use your knowledge of childrenas creativity to develop new and better ideas.

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