Celebrating Diversity And Meeting Children's Developmental Needs
thinking about holidays in early childhood programs today is a "hot
topic." There is an increasing diversity of children, families, and
staff who make up our programs. Each may have different ideas of how to
celebrate holidays. As educators, we also have the responsibility to meet
both the intellectual and social needs of the children we work with. How
we meet those needs also applies to how we include holidays in our
curriculum. Finally, even for us as adults, the concept of holidays may
not be as simple as it seemed when we were young. Particularly, Columbus
Day, Thanksgiving, and Halloween seem to challenge our actions in our work
and leisure lives. Working through these issues is important, for
ourselves, the children, families, and communities we live and work in.
Critically About The Curriculum
As people who care for and educate young
children, child care professionals often make choices based on the needs
of children and families. We serve nutritious meals because we know that
children's growing bodies need a well balanced diet. We make daily plans
that include active play as well as quiet play because children's bodies
and minds need both exercise and rest.
Child care professionals must make conscious
decisions on how to celebrate holidays, just as they make conscious
decisions on what snacks to serve or what physical activities to offer.
Group Care Issues In
appear to enjoy holidays, working with them in a group reveals some
problems. Even as early as September, stores have displays relating to the
Christmas or Hanukkah holiday, three months away. Many preschool-aged
children have difficulty with the concept of time. For example, they may
not be able to understand time as it relates to when a parent will pick
them up for the day, or knowing when the Friday special walk is coming.
For these children, and the adults who work with them, sustaining a level
of excitement in anticipation of a holiday three months away can be
unbearable. As adults, we might need three months to prepare for our
holiday season. Children, however, still need to meet their other
developmental tasks in physical development (growing) and social/emotional
development (getting along with others and understanding themselves),
while still being excited about coming holidays. Sometimes it makes sense
to not include holidays in the group care situation just because of this
Developmental Needs Of
Remember that a
child's world is not as neatly divided as curriculum manuals would have us
believe. A teacher's job is difficult because s/he has to prepare for each
child, based on what that child knows and doesn't know.
For a particular child or group of children, what
is important to learn today may or may not coincide with the holiday
calendar. Perhaps the children are very interested in plants and animals.
Why should the curriculum stop and only focus on a particular holiday?
Does it make sense to "teach" one color at a time, whatever
color is associated with that holiday? How does the child's concept of
time and of the world work with the teaching of this holiday? Are adults
talking about things that happened 200 years ago, in a country across the
globe, when those children don't know when their family is coming to pick
them up, and they can't tell you how to get to their homes?
Holiday Art: Product And
Often our attempt
at celebrating holidays with young children includes making crafts or art
work. Evaluating these materials for appropriateness in celebrating a
holiday is not much different from evaluating them for "developmental
appropriateness." Who really does the art work? Are the crafts too
hard for the children to complete themselves? Do they all look the same?
When selecting art materials for a holiday celebration, look carefully at
what the children are doing in making the item.
More importantly, evaluate whether you
should eliminate all the wonderful art materials you have available every
other day of the year! Do the holiday crafts help children's creativity
and use of materials or do they reflect an adult's idea of holiday
Holidays As Cultural
As part of their
social development, children learn about themselves, their families, and
their community. How and what we teach in this process helps shape the
values and beliefs of tomorrow's leaders.
Many people use holidays to teach children about
other cultures. In her book, *Anti-Bias Curriculum: Tools for Empowering
Young Children* (1989), Louise Derman-Sparks talks about the problems of
using this type of approach with young children and points out the dangers
of using what she calls a "tourist curriculum." If holidays,
with their traditions, foods, and activities, are the only things we teach
children about other cultures, we aren't really communicating a true
picture of that culture. Incorporate aspects of those other cultures
throughout the day and the year, not just on one holiday.
Imagine what visitors from Mars would think about
us if they only saw how we act and dress on October 31. Out of context,
Halloween reveals little about our strengths and struggles as people!
Using only holidays to teach about other cultures may be just as
misleading. But child care and education professionals can build on
holiday experiences to help children understand the people around them and
the world they live in.
Holiday As A Way To Learn About
experiences from the point of view of children in your program. If the
children do celebrate holidays differently, perhaps because they are of
different religions or cultures, you can build on their knowledge of each
other. The lesson that a friend celebrates different holidays, or the same
holiday in a different way, and is still a friend, is the most important
lesson for appreciating differences. It is the concept that difference
does not mean better or worse.
If, on the other hand, all the children in your
program celebrate holidays in similar ways, give careful consideration to
how you introduce holidays from other cultures. You don't want to teach
incorrect information (historically or currently inaccurate), or
misinterpret a culture or religion you are unfamiliar with. Educate
yourself about other cultures. Ask for assistance from your local library.
You might look for children's books on another culture, as well as books
geared to adults. Examine your own understanding and knowledge of the
Comments To Introduce Diversity
As children live
and play with each other, they express ideas about each other. While
different cultures may not be evident, you may hear comments about
different abilities of boys and girls. There may differences in ethnicity
and culture, which children will comment on too. These realities for
children are a valid starting point. Responding to children's thoughts and
ideas as they occur, and gently introducing new ones is a challenge to all
who work with young children. It is what makes your work a profession -
not just a job.
Processing Our Thoughts
And Feelings As Adults
Thinking about how
to celebrate holidays in our child care and education programs can be
challenging to adults. We have to be open to understanding not only how we
remember our own childhood celebrations, but how others may have
celebrated or how the holiday is viewed today. As an example, Thanksgiving
may have included a happy family gathering for some of us, but Native
Americans may not be "thankful" for anything on this day.
Columbus Day, from the point of view of Native Americans, Italian
Americans or Jewish peoples, is another day that needs critical reflection
by adults before they make curriculum choices for children. Our task as
adults is to work through these issues for ourselves, with our co-workers,
and with the families and communities we live and work in. It isn't always
easy, but if we are to be good teachers, we must do it.
Some aspects of holiday celebrations may
seem innocent or harmless at first, but it is vital that early child care
professionals think about the curriculum and how it affects children.
Halloween colors, for example, include orange and black. Black is
generally not presented in a positive way, but a scary and dark way. What
does teaching the color black in this way do to children whose skin is
dark, and who are sometimes called black? What does it do to children
whose skin is not dark? The effect on the self-concept of all children,
whether the teacher's intent is "only Halloween fun" can be
intense for children of all ethnicities and colors.
As teachers, we believe our actions have
deep and lasting effects on children in their cognitive development. We
must acknowledge that our actions - and perhaps unconscious messages -
also have deep and lasting effects on children's social and emotional
Getting together with other adults
may help you sort out your thoughts and feelings about holidays in the
curriculum. Other child care and education professionals, family
specialists, and family members can help contribute to these discussions
about appropriate choices for celebrating holidays in your child care
Peggy Riehl, M.Ed.
Family Life Educator
Human Development and Family Studies
University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service
Reprinted with permission from the
National Network for Child Care - NNCC. Riehl, P. (1993). Holidays:
Celebrating diversity and meeting children's developmental needs. In Todd,
C.M. (Ed.), *Day care center connections*, 3(2), pp. 5-7.
Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Cooperative Extension