‘Tis the season, or rather, ‘tis the week to celebrate the holidays in preschool classrooms across the state. Which holiday? All of them! Regardless of when they actually occur or relevancy to any of the children in the class, preschool curriculums often incorporate a celebration of as many holidays as possible in an attempt to be multi-cultural.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not judging any early childhood program that does this. I, too, once thought that I was being inclusive of other cultures and doing the right thing by including a “tour” of the holidays with potato pancakes and dreidels on Monday for Hanukkah, decorating a Christmas tree on Tuesday and even when I didn’t have an African-American child in my class, a celebration of Kwanzaa on Wednesday. When we had four days of school before our winter break I would add Chinese New Year to the week of holidays, though it wouldn’t happen in the calendar year until January or February. What I didn’t know about the holidays that were unfamiliar to me, I looked up on the internet.
I truly believed that I was being multi-cultural. Even as an administrator of a large program, I had the whole staff include these holidays in their lesson plans, whether the children in their classrooms were infants or school-aged children. While I did give them the freedom to come up with their own activities, we all did the same holiday on the same day the week before Christmas. I never stopped to think that the children who might be celebrating Hanukkah at home could have done so as early as November, and the children whose families celebrated Kwanzaa wouldn’t do so until after Christmas! We were being sensitive to the celebrations and traditions of all cultures, weren’t we? The honest answer is, “NO!”
What messages were our celebrations sending to the children about people who do celebrate these holidays? Do all Jewish people make latkes? And who exactly celebrates Christmas? Do they all decorate a tree or believe in Santa Claus? (Parents over on our sister blog have some ideas about this). Some people may celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas and celebrate Kwanzaa, just as some may celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas. Making a day where we celebrate a generic understanding of a culture communicates to children that all Jewish people must do this, or there’s only one way to celebrate Christmas or Kwanzaa. It’s not accurate, and it’s not developmentally appropriate.
A better way to enrich your program with culture is to find out what holidays the families of the children in your program celebrate. Ask them when they celebrate it, how they celebrate it and if their families have any special traditions that they would like to share. Have families share a special dish or treat with the class along with the recipe, or bring in pictures of their holiday celebration(s) and make an album or a storybook with them. The child can dictate what is happening in the picture and the teacher can write it down, or the child can draw pictures of what their family does for the holidays they celebrate. These can be put in the reading area for all to see and use.
Celebrating holidays isn’t wrong, but how you celebrate them can be so much more meaningful to the children in your class when you find out about their family’s cultures and traditions. When you make a blanket statement about a particular holiday by something that seems as harmless as having Santa Claus visit your center, you miss out on the uniqueness of each child and family in your program.