A holiday from holidays

“Some people think that Ebeneezer Scrooge is.

Well, he’s not but guess who is… all Three Stooges!”

~ Adam Sandler, The Chanukah Song

It’s spring in the North Country.  Actually, that’s not really true.  It might be Spring soon but for now we’ll make due with a bit of warmth from a slightly closer sun as we walk down the street, still having our cheeks stung by a fierce winter wind.  The tiny rivulets of water sneaking under the snowbanks give us some reason to hope.

Spring brings Easter, just as winter brought Christmas and autumn brought Halloween.  Traditional kindergarten classrooms have been organized around these holidays.  They are the stars around which we have orbited.  Crafts, activities, field trips, songs… everything has been created in the service of these holidays.  We have become enslaved to them.

One of the things that has made me worried and uncomfortable about this approach has been the cuteness of it.  Cuteness always makes me suspicious.  Children don’t do cute.  They may be cute but they don’t create things that are cute.  Cuteness is a hallmark of an adult inserting her agenda into the process.  Adults often view children’s lives as being cute but are they, really?  Are we viewing our own childhoods through rose-coloured glasses instead of being realistic about the emotions and events we experienced as children?  I am worried about children whose only expressive opportunities at school are geared towards maintaining our adult sense of an idealized childhood.  How can they express their own experience if they’re only ever allowed to make a handprint turkey or a ladybug with hearts?  How can school be relevant and meaningful if it’s completely divorced from their lives?  I don’t know about you but if I had had the opportunity as a child to create Christmas artwork that actually reflected my experiences, my art would have had more to do with intoxicated adults and crushing anxiety than with cute snowmen, but maybe that’s just me.

So… I’m left with a dilemma… I don’t want to deny children the opportunity to enjoy holidays – they’re obviously an important part of their lives.  But, I also don’t want them to take over and become the focus of everything we do, eclipsing all other subjects and interests.  Somewhere between Ebeneezer Scrooge and Martha Stewart is what I’m going for.

Here’s how I handle it.

  1. I use ‘holiday stuff’ as open-ended materials.  Instead of prescribing crafts for the children to do’, I allow them to use the materials however they want.
an open-ended material
an open-ended material
spring art2
Eggs and Easter grass… what can you make?

2.  I honour their experiences, and mine.

They made ornaments
for our tree!
for our tree!

Yes, we had a tree and yes, we made ornaments but they were their ornaments, not mine.  I also invited in one of our parents to talk about the Christmas story and I stashed a menorah in the corner. menorah

3. I try to make it a sensory experience

Scoop the goop!
Scoop the goop!

Holidays are multisensory: the food, the music, the emotions, the smells – it’s not just about the visuals.  Our classroom experiences should be equally multisensory.  Let’s eat together, sing together and build together because memories are always more powerful when they involve more than one sense.  I learned fractions by dividing long pieces of licorice into halves, quarters, etc…  I remember that.  I’ve blocked out the handprint turkey.