Mary Sweeney | December 14 | Cougar Chronicle

Dear New School Early Childhood Families,

It’s that time of year! It’s Holiday Season. As children get older they look forward to the holidays and the fun that comes with them. I know I do! The festive atmosphere always brings so much joy. Teaching in the month of December was always my favorite.  I loved teaching about the holidays around the world to my PreK students and the different meanings and celebrations that take place at this time of year. However, this time also brings about many questions for educators.

“How do I include holidays without offending anyone?” “Are we allowed to celebrate Christmas?” These questions are often heard at all levels. Learning about the holidays can broaden children’s awareness of their own and others’ cultural experiences if they are thoughtfully used as part of a more inclusive curriculum about cultural diversity. This year our team of teachers started off the month with a discussion about how we could find opportunities to understand different cultural values around the holidays and respect feelings at this time of the year.

We all agreed that the holidays are a great way to help young children connect with their larger community and understand that holidays are celebrated in many ways.  Just as they enjoy their traditions and celebrations, children from other backgrounds and families enjoy theirs. Although they may look different, and the meaning may be different, the joy is usually the same. 

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children decisions about what holidays to celebrate are best made together by teachers, parents and children. Families and staff are more comfortable when both have expressed their views and understand how a decision has been reached. Many of you may have been contacted by your child’s teacher this year to get a better understanding of how you celebrate the holidays or family traditions you may have. 

In addition, when planning holiday activities, the rules of good teaching practices continue to apply: 

Are the activities meaningful to the children?

Are their needs and interests being met?

Is the activity a valuable use of children’s time?

This year in PreK all of our classrooms are traveling through imagination and lessons while learning about the many holiday traditions around the world. The excitement and planning that goes into play always amazes me. Ms. Haley let me know that her class is traveling around the world to Mexico, Germany and Italy. They visited Mexico in the first week of December learning about Mexican traditions, how they are alike and how they differ from some traditions we may have in our homes. They are also making a homemade ornament to represent each country they visit: a piñata ornament for Mexico, candy canes from beads for Germany, and a brown bag broom ornament for Italy. They are also sharing their own Christmas trees from their homes and their favorite holiday traditions. 

Ms. Brandy’s Transitional K class is exploring a few different countries this year. They are ready to learn about different cultures and their traditions during the holiday time.  They started off by making passports and have plans to visit: Kenya, Mexico, Spain, Russia and Japan. For each country, they will read about traditions they enjoy, listen to their national anthem with their country flag and make a craft or project that goes along with each of the countries’ holiday traditions. I happened to walk in the other morning and the children were all aboard their plane to Kenya!  Two pilots were chosen and the flight attendant announced how long the flight would take. All the passengers had their passports ready and the children were so excited to take off. 

In our Three’s classrooms, they are talking about all the senses that go along with the holidays. The smells, the different textures, the foods, etc. There is always something about the smell of chocolate, pine and peppermint that always reminds me of these times with my own children. Children are sharing about their own family traditions whether it be an event, a picture of their tree, a story, or something special to their culture. I always encourage our teachers to take this time of year to learn from their own students and make memories meaningful.

We always want to make sure and allow for child-led learning, what interests them, while remaining respectful and inclusive of the cultures represented in our classrooms and community. As an early childhood program, we hope that we can work together to create memories that are respectful and meaningful to everyone. Although we are aware this takes lots of conversations and practice to learn from others, I can’t imagine a better opportunity to engage our children in learning about diversity in one of the most wonderful times of the year.

I hope you and your family have a safe and wonderful holiday season celebrating your traditions and family. We will see you back in 2021 for a fresh and new start to the year.

TNS Strong, 

Mary Sweeney

Head of Early Childhood 

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