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Certified PreK-6. Masters in Child Development. Advocate for play, teacher & children choice, & the family's voice. Believe in volunteering as social justice.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Authenticity and Cultural Relevance: Holidays in the Classroom

This post was inspired by a twitter friend and fellow educator @hechternact who spoke up about the inappropriateness of the way many early childhood teachers present the holiday of Thanksgiving to their students.  Every time a holiday season rolls around I cringe because I know that there will be an onset of holiday themed crafts, worksheets (which are cringe-worthy in and of themselves), baking activities, games, and the oh so dreaded themed bulletin boards and classroom decorations.  With the United States' Thanksgiving right around the corner, the internet is ablaze with colored turkeys, inappropriately portrayed Native Americans, Pilgrims, and corn.  Classrooms across the nation are bogged down with out of context and culturally insensitive activities revolving around turkeys and a one-sided account of a historical occurrence.

No, this post is not about the political correctness-or not-of Thanksgiving in the United States.  This post is about bringing authenticity and cultural relevance into the way holidays are presented in classrooms.

Best practice in teaching young children revolves around context, we know that young children learn the most successfully when what they are learning is context based so that they can build on prior knowledge.  By interrupting a topic of study to interject a teacher led holiday agenda, we are disrupting the carefully placed scaffolding that the children have been building within their topic of study and risk throwing of the balance of the classroom creativity and exploring all so that we can bring in activities that are outside the context of the current day to day within the environment.

Our children also deserve to be active participants in authentic activities.  The holiday themed coloring sheets, cookie cutter craft projects, and commercialized decorations are so far removed from the realm of authenticity.  The activities that so typically represent what teachers bring into the classrooms for holidays are not developmentally appropriate, nor cognitively challenging.  By introducing them to the children we are wasting their time; time that could be instead spend investigating the world as it is happening around them.

The onslaught of teacher led holiday activities are also not culturally responsive.  By dedicating days and weeks to the completion of these types of activities, we are not respecting the children and the families in our programs and classrooms.  Our children represent an ever increasing diversity and this diversity should be celebrated in everything that happens in the classroom.  This means that teachers need to save their holiday exuberance for their homes and families.

Finally, the materials and stories that most teachers are using to talk about holidays is not historically accurate.  Instead they are presenting the commercialized versions of the holidays (I'm looking at you Thanksgiving Turkeys-how do you even make sense?).  This is done at a huge disservice to our students who deserve to learn about the correct historical significance and contexts behind holidays and celebrations.

I'm not saying that we should ignore holidays.  Holidays and celebrations are a part of children's lives and are interesting to them.  What we should do, however, is make sure that we are teaching about holidays in a way that is respectful to all children, is not commercialized, is within the context of the curriculum, and is historically accurate.

Instead of dedicating precious time to insignificant and inappropriate holiday bustle, we can make celebrations an everyday part of our classroom life by asking families to share photos and stories of how and what they celebrate.  We can talk about the history behind celebrations with our students. There is much we can do to make sure that holidays are authentic and culturally relevant-let's embrace those ideas and let go of the old ways of thinking that include holiday crafts and out of context information.    

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