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.