Holidays aren't Curriculum

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I was once at an early childhood conference when the topic of using food in art projects came up. I piped up and explained that I did not like children to use food stuff as art materials, even infants and toddlers. Aside from the disrespect and double message I felt that it conveyed around the topic of playing with food ( something that kids get in trouble for at the table all the time), I also believed that it was disrespectful to families for whom food was not a luxury.

"Imagine", I said, "walking into your child's classroom and seeing enough rice to feed your family for a month in the sensory table?"

*crickets chirping as Dawn is branded, once again, as a killjoy of child fun*

Finally, a young lady near me said "Oh. You're one of THOSE."

"I'm sorry?", I said. "One of what?"

"I bet you don't let children have holidays", she said.

"No", I responded, " because Holidays aren't curriculum. My job is to plan curriculum, not celebrate individual belief systems. Cut out turkeys or snowmen made of cotton balls mean nothing. They are easy "activities" to offer in lieu of a curriculum."

I am, you see, one of THOSE.

I wasn't always, of course. My teacher internship at the University of Vermont was done in the Fall of the year.  There were plenty of turkeys to be cut and colored, Santas to be decorated and Halloween pumpkins to be placed around the classroom. I spent a great deal of time photocopying pages to hand out to my students, with the blessing and guidance of my supervising teacher.

It wasn't until I got to my first job in Early Childhood that I began to critically consider the introduction of holidays into curriculum. Why were we - the adults -doing this? How could any of this matter to young children?

Sure, Parents loved to see the projects produced. However, here is what I noticed: Teachers were doing 90 to 95% of the work on these projects. These were, on the whole, not being produced by 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 year old children.  These were being photocopied, cut and arranged by adults, with minimal input from the child.

Think about it people. What 2 year old is going to perfectly cut out a tree shape? What three year old is going to draw you a realistic turkey?  That's right. None of them.

And the teachers. Spare a moment and consider the teachers who are cutting out 30 turkeys. Or putting costumes on unwilling toddlers for a Halloween Parade. Or consoling a child who didn't get what he/she asked for after Christmas since their family is too poor, even though the letter to Santa that the child made in class was presented to Santa. Or hey - what about the kid whose family is Jehovah's Witnesses, and so he/she has to leave the room every time the class partakes in yet another Holiday activity?

So, after years of asking teachers "Do you enjoy this? Does this seem like a worth while way to spend your time with a group of children?", I was finally able to give holidays the boot in the child care center's curriculum.

Yes, I have heard the counter arguments. I was told by one mother that I had psychologically damaged her one year old by not having her dress up in a Halloween costume. I heard how I was robbing the children of their childhood. I heard how anti-christian I was from a teacher who had a Birthday Candle up on the wall for Jesus, dated December 25th. (I took it down)

I didn't care. No holidays.

Now, that isn't to say that the children did not mention or talk or share what they had been doing outside the center. Of course they did. That isn't to say that during the fall they didn't use pumpkins and apples for counting and graphing and cooking and tasting. We simply did not make the holiday the focal point of what we were doing in the classrooms.

So we stopped.

Holidays aren't curriculum. They are individual days given meaning based on a specific set of beliefs or cultural background. They can be indoctrination tools used by a society to reinforce myths or legends on which the society may be founded.

Curriculum for young children involves Numeracy, Literacy Skills, Dramatic Play, Fine and Gross Motor Skills, Science and Observation, Art and Exploration and Social Navigation, Negotiation, Compassion and Empathy.

Sticking cotton balls on a photocopied Santa for 30 seconds doesn't serve any of those abovementioned goals. That is the curriculum of the lazy and uninspired, passed down simply because and done for no particular reason.

Children deserve far better than that, and Parents need to demand it.

18 Baleful Regards:

Anonymous said...

Holidays not holiday's. No apostrophe.

Lady Disdain said...

Disclaimer, I have a preschooler (he'll be 3 in Dec), but am "one of those" moms who thinks (suspects?) that family daycare in lieu of formal preschool is just fine.

I could care less if my kid brings home a turkey made of construction paper, and I know that Jonas rarely actually creates any of the artwork himself. But at 2 or 3 or even 4, the idea of a "curriculum" seems lofty to me. Am I naive? I want my kid to play outside and play with others and end up covered in glue and paint at the end of art time, and that is pretty much what happens. And dude, the kid is BANANAS for holidays. I do wish that our caregivers made more of an effort to include all holidays in their celebrations---I've never seen Himself come home with a construction paper menorah, for example. I wouldn't care if they did away with the holiday art, but I don't particularly mind that they include it.

Kim said...

Amen Sista! re. Lady Disdain, playing with other kids, playing outside, and getting messy IS the curriculum. It takes a very talented and dedicated teacher to turn those everyday moments into moments of continued learning for young children. Anyone can mererly "supervise" kids play, but planning a developmentally appropriate curriculum that allows children to reach thier full potential as responsible, caring human beings is a severely undervalued skill.

KBO said...

What Kim said.

People don't realize how vital intentional curriculum is in early childhood. And when kids don't get that, how it can cripple them for the rest of their lives.

The work teachers do on curriculum is generally undervalued by society, period, but even moreso for ECE folks, and it's honestly the most important. I could go on but I ain't gonna hijack your bidness.

Also, yeah, your inappropriate apostrophes are showing. I TELL YOU BECAUSE I CARE.

SUEB0B said...

I had a friend whose mom had grown up in Nazi Germany, starving. Mom refused to let friend do food-based crafts projects - no bean pictures, no macaroni necklaces - because Mom knew the true value of food and would not let it be disrespected.

Jane said...

YES!! Can this post get forwarded to every teacher in America, please??

Dawn said...

ACK - OK, you all caught me. I was working on getting my methodology comp handed in (yesterday) and had written this post on the weekend.

Damn apostrophes.

Dawn said...

Lady Disdain - Kim and KBO (woot! for my education peeps!) are making the point that the word curriculum means all the things you value for your son.

Social play, sensory play, Art, blocks etc. THAT is the curriculum. My point is that Holidays tend to become the focus for many early childhood programs as an easy way to do some "crafts".

I also firmly believe that family home child care givers can be providing excellent curriculum for young children. I know many fabulous family home providers. I only speak to my own experiences which had all been center based.

Finally, I must address your concern with curriculum seeming to be "lofty". Perhaps it may seem that way. However, we know that a majority of brain formation and development happens by the age of 5-7, all years that a child is in ECE programs.

They deserve adults who have been trained to think of their development and mindfully plan the experiences offered. That's curriculum.

Diane said...

Dawn, I loved this post. While I enjoyed holiday related things when I was young, I will readily admit it was entirely Christian based and very exclusionary. It is no longer the only part of the curriculum.

I would prefer, as a parent, that if holidays are going to be part of the curriculum, let it be as part of comparative religions. Learn about the different belief systems, not how to spin a dreidl, or fast for ramadan.

I received way too many hand traced 'turkeys' and decorated 'pumpkins' made of construction paper when my kids were litte, and don't get me started on the holiday gifts.

A friend of mine's daugther started junior kindergarden this year. For thanksgiving (Canada) I told her she would receive a tracing of her child's hand decorated to look like a turkey. She laughed when my prediction came true. Yeah, truly original.

Dawn said...

And SueBob? EXACTLY.

The sad truth is that we have Lots of families right here in North America for whom food is a daily concern.

I am of the belief, as your friend does, that Food is not a craft material, but remains food and as such must be respected.

There are plenty of other materials for sensory play, or stringing or counting which can be re-used or recycled. I liked to use bird seed for sensory play - because afterwards we could always use it for the feeders!

jwg said...

I think there is room for some compromise here. If you completely ignore the holidays when kids are surrounded by them you miss out on the opportunity to help them process it all. I think it's great to talk to kids about the concept of celebrations. It's important that they understand that celebrations are different and varied, and what they have in common. It's great to know that some kids in the class have Christmas trees and some have menorahs and some have Kwanza candles and some have something else. It's fun to talk about family and food. It's also important at this time of year to try and counteract the "gimmees" by talking about what they can give. They can bake cookies for the mail carrier who comes in the door every day and stops to say hi. They can make a holiday neutral frame for a special picture and wrap it up for their parents.
I agree with you about the stupid art projects, but it seems to contradict so much of what we believe is good practice if we force kids to ignore what is important to them at the time, and act as if there is something wrong with the kids being excited.
By the way, one of the most exciting activities that happened in my center was as a result of baking those cookies for the mail carrier and some others who helped out in the center. The kids made wrapping paper and helped wrap the cookies. One of the teachers brought in curling ribbon. You would have thought she had showed the kids how to make gold from rocks. For the next couple of weeks we had to have a pile of pieces of ribbon out on a table every day. Some kids just curled for the sake of curling, some collaged with the curls. There was lots of math and science involved and a lot of creativity. All because one teacher happened to have some ribbon around.

Dawn said...

I hear your point, jwg, but I think that caring and compassion should be part of the year round curriculum, not something done at one time of the year.

Also, I think - far too often - that teachers try to do "something for everyone" and so children end up getting the "tourist" effect when presented with a myriad of holidays/cultures/religions.

Furthermore, I feel ( and felt) strongly that for the population of children I was serving, keeping their environment stable and predictable was Utmost. For many of those children, they didn't need MORE excitement and blinking lights in their lives. How disconcerting as a toddler to have your world entirely Changed - and then be told to be calm. At least at school, things remained predictable - and without sensory overload.

As I said, we didn't deny it was happening externally. We simply didn't trot it out into the curriculum.

Certainly I recall a wrapping station/postal service being opened in the 4 year old room dramatic play area - so kids could work out what they had seen and saw parents doing.

I think, Kim, it was you and I who talked about the K's need for stability when they asked you to create a "home" between Thanksgiving and Christmas times one year in the dramatic play. I think we sussed out that they were craving stability, predictability in a time when many of them were traveling and being overwhelmed by relatives and places that were exciting, but unfamiliar.

It isn't denying the world, it is more about choosing what Makes Curriculum.

A Good Mom said...

I was actually written up for not doing the kids' art projects when I was teaching preschool. We were supposed to cut everything out and put the glue on the paper, give the kids each piece of the snowman and then hang them on the wall for parents. I failed to make sure the kids put the circles on in the right order, I committed the crime of allowing them to ACTUALLY be artistic- making their own creations (albeit with prescribed elements) and my class display was covered up before parent's night and I was written up.

Anonymous said...

Gawd, you know I just eat this shit up and it is so validating in terms of working with preschoolers/early primary kids and the CURRICULUM we deliver. The message for me isn't so much whether or not to include the holidays into your programming but that as educators we need to think critically about what we are delivering to our students and is that meeting their needs developmentally, socially, etc. and to be intentional and purposeful with what we are presenting.

Anonymous said...

As I have placed several student teachers in that Center you are talking about I am sad to see that much has changed since you left the country. This post will once again be one that is shared with that same group of student teachers. So THANK YOU for writing so clearly on yet again another important value in ECE.

Dawn said...

That makes me sad Amy, but I can't say I am surprised. As you know, the vision of a center relies on the Director to lead the charge and protect the philosophy. If the Director doesn't hold the core together, than the rest all splinters off.

To my knowledge they also never reached Accreditation again. I would be curious to see the reaction of the admin to student teachers presenting this philosophy back to them, especially when the admin was present at it's inception and struggle for implementation

@Good mom - You know, I hate to say it but I have seen too many places like the one in which you worked. Not about the children, but about the parents and the teachers. They were the types of places that, when I was a Validator for NAEYC, I would document carefully that the art was not based on children's work, but obviously adult work. It told me that children's work was not valued, and appearances were more important than the growing of the child. I can't tell you how offended Directors would be at the exit interview when I pointed out that I knew the children had not made those snowmen....and that violated a basic tenet of DAP.

@mombshell - YES. Intentional, always. I would say to my teachers "Tell me the reason for this choice/activity" I wanted REASONS ( beyond they "like" it) Tell me that the water table is open with pouring because Child Z needs to work on his fine motor and you have noticed this from watching him try to pour his own juice or milk.

Don't tell me that we are doing turkeys cause it is November and that is what has been doing time out of mind.

Triplezmom said...

I deeply love this post. What depresses me more than the teacher dominated crafts my kids do at preschool, though, are what the other moms do during craft time at the library. My kids do their own crafts and the other moms think this makes me lazy - because they do the kids' crafts for them. Literally. And you can see the kids get all excited when the librarian talks about the craft and then get so depressed as their mothers take it over.

Dawn said...

tripleZ - Its out of the same mindset. One of competition and making a Product.

Because unless your craft is perfect you are a bad mom? a stupid child?
It doesn't "look" nice enough to be proud about?

It boggles the mind.

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