Holiday Celebrations and Thoughtful Planning

It is that time of year; there are a number of holiday celebrations, whether it be Thanksgiving, Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Bodhi Day, Las Posadas, Winter Solstice, Chinese New Year, or various other New Year celebrations.

As you work with early childhood programs, you may encounter numerous cultural celebrations, books, or materials used within the program. Maybe the program has a child currently enrolled that celebrates a certain holiday, or maybe the program is using the materials to introduce various cultural celebrations around the world. Some of these holidays may be very familiar to you, and others, may not (you may have already googled one or two listed above that are unfamiliar to you). Introducing various celebrations from around the world is a way to show and model appreciation of other cultures and people. Not only can we all learn something about different cultures, but hopefully, the children (and all of us) become more culturally sensitive; meaning we become more aware of the existence of differences and similarities between people without placing value (right/ wrong, positive/ negative, good/ bad).

The Environment Rating Scales encourage multicultural celebrations, books, and materials. In fact, the authors devoted an entire item related to diversity in each scale (ECERS, FCCERS, ITERS, and SACERS)! So, why do we sometimes hear programs say “the Environment Rating Scales are biased”?

For example, I often come across a religious story about a boy who uses a slingshot with a stone to hit a giant. The ECERS book item addresses appropriateness of books for children. Any books depicting violence or glorifying violence in any way are deemed as inappropriate for young children who are not yet able to decipher between fact and fiction. A young child may see a violent image or hear the violence in a story and become concerned for their safety; whereas older school-age children have the ability to understand there is no inherent danger from a picture book. After providing programs feedback about this religious story, I would often receive a response along the lines of “ECERS is biased. It doesn’t take into account our religious studies.”

The thing is, through a young child’s eyes, from a young child’s mind, that story is perceived the same; whether read from a religious book, a nursery rhyme, or a regular picture book. So, as you work with programs during all these holiday celebrations or with integrating multi-cultural activities, help them think about what the child is experiencing. What is the goal of the activity? What will the child achieve? What is appropriate for the child’s stage of development?

As a consultant or instructor, how do you handle the provider or participant that says ERS is biased? Or the provider that does not seem willing to compromise their beliefs for appropriateness of materials for young children? On the other hand, what about the teacher that has a parent complaint because they do not celebrate certain holidays at home and do not want their child to celebrate in care?

How do you work with programs to be more culturally sensitive? Let’s chat. I’d love to hear how you use any I-Consult strategies that helpful in these type of situations.

Melissa Wagner

Melissa Wagner

Melissa Wagner is an Early Childhood Coordinator with Iowa State University Extension & Outreach. Melissa has over 10 years of experience with the Environment Rating Scales as an assessor for research projects and Iowa's Quality Rating System and now as the ERS Training project coordinator. Melissa loves hearing success stories about providers who have made great strides to improve the quality of care within their program. In her free time she enjoys spending time with family, traveling, camping, and house projects.

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