Thursday, December 10, 2009

Holiday Celebrations in Preschool

So many schools and early childhood centers find themselves trying to be so culturally fair that we erase holidays from our curriculum altogether. We have become so afraid of offending someone that some of us just act as if the holidays don’t exist. To that I say, BAH HUMBUG!

Now do not misunderstand me. We MUST be culturally sensitive to the children and families we work with each day. We cannot decorate a Christmas tree in our classroom and ignore the fact that some families may not celebrate the holiday. Holidays are a time of joy and wonder. Many children are excited about their Christmas trees, Hanukkah presents, or Kwanzaa kinaras. And for us to simply ignore that excitement is unfair. Preschoolers should be allowed to share their excitement with each other. This is one way that children will learn about each other. We have to learn about and embrace our differences if we are to learn acceptance.

Here are some suggestions for having an inclusive and culturally relevant December in your preschool:

  1. Start by talking to your students’ parents. Survey them or speak to them individually. Ask them what type of traditions they share. Ask them if there is any part of their celebration that they would like to share with the classroom.
  2. Refrain from taking the tourist approach to holidays (“This is how Jewish children celebrate Hanukkah” and “This is how African-Americans celebrate Kwanzaa”). You must recognize that not all families celebrate the same holidays in the same way. You cannot stereotype a group of people and they way they may or may not celebrate. So rather than sharing stereotypes, just have the children talk about how they celebrate in their homes. Make it personal!
  3. If you have children in your class that are Jehovah’s Witnesses, talk with their families about how they recommend holidays be addressed. Some families often have celebrations that are not attached to a specific holiday. Be respectful and hopefully the parents will see that you are genuinely trying to be inclusive.
  4. Avoid the “Party Spiral.” Don’t spend all month talking about all of the Winter Holidays only to end up having a Christmas Party as your culminating activity! This sends the message that while all of the other holidays are “nice,” Christmas must be the most important so we have to have a party!
  5. Do not dedicate the whole month of December to holidays. By the third week, the children will be on holiday overload!
  6. Focus on things that the holidays have in common: many celebrations include lights/candles of some kind, the gift of giving/love/kindness, etc. Have children collect toys or gloves for those that are less fortunate (or some other type of community service).
  7. Realize that each year, with each group of students, your Holiday discussions will be different – and they should be! Personalize and Individualize!!!!

Below are some holiday books that I enjoy and a few more that my Twitter Followers recommend. During this busy season, never forget to take the time to curl up with a good book. And when you are doing your shopping, remember to pick up a good BOOK (no assembly required)!

Season’s "Readings"

· The Spirit of Christmas by Nancy Tillman
· The Polar Express by Chris Van Alls burg
· The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett
· The Twelve Days of Christmas by Jan Brett
· If You Take A Mouse to the Movies (Special Christmas Edition) by Laura Numeroff
· Olivia Helps with Christmas by Ian Falconer
· Mooseltoe by Margie Palatini
· Merry Christmas Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
· The Seven Days of Kwanzaa by Melrose Cooper
· My First Kwanza Book by Deborah Chocolate
· The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola
· Christmas Around the World by Mary Lankford
· Light the Lights! A Story About Celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas by Margaret Moorman
· Lights of Winter by Heather Conrad
· Christmas Around the World: A Pop-Up Book by Chuck Fischer

Twitter Faves

· How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss (amandagarces and Mozeeski)
· ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (MariaV2B)
· Corduroy’s Christmas by Don Freeman (lovelyladylibra)
· The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg (IdealECE , mpreble1 and YTherapySource)
· All for the Newborn Baby by Phyllis Root (VividScope)
· My First Kwanzaa by Deborah Chocolate (VividScope)
· Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera (jstano1)
· Gingerbread Pirates by Kristin Kladstrup (roseuttmiller)
· Olive the Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh (Librariansview)
· Santa’s Stuck by Rhonda Greene (BabetteR)
· Mortimer's Christmas Manger by Karma Wilson (libmaryann)


  1. Thanks for this post. I was thinking the same thing. Having lived in a few other European countries it's interesting to see how preschool and school in general celebrate holidays and festivals. I don't see the diversity even living in a diverse area. I recognise though it is best according to area, school etc and that too much of something is just as harmful as too little. Striking that balance culturally is hard. I don't know the solution.

  2. You are right Melitsa. It is a challenge to strike a balance. Sometimes it's easier for teachers just to do nothing when it comes to holidays just so that they won't offend anyone. My vote is to take your cues from the families. I always surveyed my parents - usually in October/November - so I have a sense of how to plan for the winter holidays. What European countries have you lived in? What holidays are celebrated?



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