Let’s Talk…Too Much Pomp and Circumstance

We received the following topic suggestion from Debbie, an early childhood professional for over 20 years:

I am interested in discussing “perfect attendance”.  I can see that it is a great accomplishment to have perfect attendance in preschool, but I also feel sorry for the little ones who don’t receive recognition at graduation simply because they had an illness or their family had an out of town funeral, etc.  Is it appropriate to recognize perfect attendance in early childhood? I am also interested in discussing big events in preschool.  When little ones are uncomfortable in performing in front of a crowd it tells me our event needs to be smaller.  Does anyone else worry about this issue?  Families love to see their little ones perform and I do too, but how can we make it less scary to preschoolers or should we do these at all?

Thanks for the great discussion topic! In 2007, Christine Taharally and Evelyn La Fontaine of Hunter College wrote an article for Young Children titled “Developmentally Appropriate Practice and Preschool Graduation.” While this doesn’t specifically address the topic of awards for perfect attendance, it does speak to the touchy subject of ceremonial programs where young children are expected to perform. The article recognizes that in many communities events such as preschool graduation ceremonies have a strong significance, deep emotional meanings, and are an expectation of families and organizations that support early childhood programs.  Although there are some children that even at a young age enjoy performing for others, we all have seen that for some children programs such as these cause much distress.  And most of us agree that young children do not understand the meaning behind perfect attendance certificates, caps and gowns, and graduation diplomas created by someone else for their scrapbook.

If we as early childhood professionals recognize that some traditions in our program like perfect attendance awards and elaborate preschool programs where children are expected to perform for a large audience are not developmentally appropriate yet we understand the cultural context of maybe how such traditions possibly began and the meaning they hold for adults connected to the program, what are we to do? I think the first step as early childhood leaders is to have respectful conversations with families and colleagues about possible adaptations or alternatives for recognizing achievements and celebrating accomplishments that fall more in line with developmentally appropriate practices and are therefore more meaningful for the children.  

Some ideas to get your thoughts and conversations started –

  • How can we make the celebrations that have become tradition for our program more low key and simple?
  • Can the number of outside adults attending an event be limited in order to not be overwhelming for the children?
  • Is there a way to imbed the celebrations in the familiarity of children’s regular routines like an afternoon “tea” in place of our usual snack?
  • Are there ways to celebrate achievements without exclusion such as a slideshow presentation of projects the children have worked on throughout the year?
  • What about an art gallery event where children’s work is formally displayed for families and communities? 
  • How about setting up centers in the classroom where families visit with their child to experience hands-on (and read on cards) what children are learning through play in that center?

Hope this has provided you with some food for thought!  As always, we would love to hear how you have been creative in celebrating accomplishments and achievements in young children’s lives in ways that are more developmentally appropriate than some of the traditional ways more appropriate for older children. Tell us your ideas at


Malisa Rader

Malisa Rader

Malisa Rader is a human sciences specialist that misses the daily hugs and high-fives from little people.

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