Well, it is December. The Christmas season is well and truly underway and my Facebook and Pinterest feeds are filled with photos of very clever Christmas craft, decorated rooms and ideas for embracing the festive season with children. Let me begin this post with a disclaimer (probably never a good sign!!) that I love Christmas and think that it can be a really exciting time for children. I have great memories of looking at Christmas lights with my family and doing lots of fun Christmas experiences.
What bothers me though is that in our attempts to fully embrace the festive spirit, many services and educators appear to abandon their philosophies and subsequently, children's rights. Services who usually wouldn't allow a stencil to make it's way in the front gate all of a sudden have Christmas crafts were every child makes an identical footprint reindeer. Services who usually encourage children to make choices about their play are suddenly urging them to "come and make a present for Mummy". Services who usually embrace casual, relaxed group times are working hard on Christmas concerts where all of the children are expected to perform.
The big question…why?
Why do we let the festive season take over our services? Is it not possible to celebrate Christmas in meaningful ways that actually link in with our philosophies?
Don't get me wrong - I know this is not happening in every service. Some services are doing truly meaningful things with their children and families and should be applauded for this, but the influx of images on social media tells me it is definitely happening a lot.
I looked back at some photographs of myself at age 4 at our annual Christmas Concert. There I was lined up with 20 other children, all with identical santa beards and hats we had made with paper and cotton balls, singing my heart out. Sure, I was having a great time. But just down from me was a child who clearly was not having a great time, in fact he was miserable. Looking at the photo I do remember this child refusing to sing Christmas songs at preschool and being told he had to join in the concert weather he liked it or not. I like to think we have come a long way in almost 30 years… but have we? I am still seeing children making identical Christmas craft and being coerced into Christmas concerts. And it's not just Early Childhood Services - on the weekend I watched many children being forced to sit on a strangers lap despite their vocal protests (yes I mean Santa and yes, my children did have their photo taken with him, but it was optional…I am not a total grinch!)
A few years ago I think there was a swing the other way - in an effort to be inclusive of multicultural beliefs, many services abandoned the celebration of Christmas. And while I am not advocating for that, I think there is middle ground to be found. When I was Directing, we ditched the Christmas concert tradition and instead began having a family picnic at the park - a time to be together rather than be on display. One year we had a group of children who did want to perform for their families… they chose to act out Wombat Stew, a story that had been a favourite for months.
We made lots of materials available and if children wanted to make something they could, if they didn't - not a problem! Naturally many children came in wanting to make, create, sing and do all things Christmas and as with any other interest, we allowed the children to lead us where they wished to go, providing provocations, materials and support as needed. We opened up a meaningful dialogue with families about our choices and how doing specific craft experiences and forcing children to make gifts really didn't sit in line with our philosophy nor did it feel like we were sharing a meaningful experience with the children.
This post really seems to link back to the one I wrote on Mothers Day and I guess the message is much the same.
By all means celebrate Christmas, but please make it meaningful to the children. Please allow them to still have the right to make choices about their play and their day.
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