Many years ago I was the director of an early childhood program in a small town. We had a tradition of serving a huge Thanksgiving feast for families and friends in the community. The children would put on a short program with Thanksgiving themed fingerplays and costumes. It always received rave reviews from parents on our annual survey and was a great marketing tool for sharing our program with others.
After spending almost a decade at the Iowa State University Child Development Laboratory School, I came to understand the other side of the spectrum. Although children and families are certainly welcome to share and discuss their holiday traditions, excitement, and celebrations as a natural part of interacting with each other, it’s not a focus for the Lab School’s curriculum. Because the program is linked with the university, it has families from many cultures and religious backgrounds. A wonderful experience!
Although we are becoming a much more diverse world, for some early childhood programs, this blending of people from diverse backgrounds doesn’t describe their program. This leads to many questions – Do we continue to celebrate the dominant culture holidays of children enrolled in our program like we’ve always done? Does our current practice lead to families from different backgrounds feeling comfortable enrolling in our program? Do we provide the “tourist” approach where we introduce young children to celebrations around the world as part of the curriculum? Or do we have a policy that the focus of our early childhood program will be units of study that they naturally are drawn to rather than ones we as adults have established for them?
I can’t answer these questions for your program, nor would I want do so. You know your program and the goals that you have for it, your families, the children in your care, and your community. I would ask that wherever you sit on the issue that you give thought to the other side of the coin. Experiencing the two programs above helped me understand both sides of the discussion and helped me formulate my own opinion on the subject. Here are two articles to help you get started in giving this issue some thought - Rethinking Holidays from an Anti-Bias Perspective and Going One Step Further – No Traditional Holidays. I love how Bonnie Neugebauer of Child Care Exchange and World Forum Foundation suggests that we celebrate milestones like getting a new tooth or the birth of a sibling. Aren’t these the occasions that are most appropriate for celebration in early childhood programs?
Give thought to what you do and why you do it. Is it because its what you’ve always done or what you believe parents expect from your program? Is it time for a change? Is there a way to provide some balance with regards to your program’s approach?
As always, we hope to hear from you – your thoughts on celebrating holidays in early childhood programs, how your program handles this issue and has this changed over time?