It’s hard to believe that Christmas has almost rolled around once again. All around the country early childhood services will be madly scrambling to finish portfolios and be dusting off the boxes of Christmas decorations that were unceremoniously shoved in the back of the shed in mid-January.
It’s also the time of the year when I start to question how we approach celebrations in Australian ECEC services, and get called “Grinch” a lot.
So, I’ll have to start this post off the same way I start off conversations I have with people in person.
I don’t hate Christmas. Actually, I like it! I loved it as a child, and we celebrate it at home with our two children.
I don’t think Christmas should be banned from centres. Outright bans on anything we do should always be critically questioned.
Suitably prepared, here comes the “but…”
(This is normally when the people I’m talking to tense up and clutch their tinsel and reindeer antlers protectively.)
Here are my problems with how I have seen Christmas (and a number of other celebrations) explored in children’s services.
1. It’s by default. December 1st (or thereabouts) rolls around on the calendar, and we start doing “Christmas things”. The Early Years Learning Framework challenges us to be intentional and meaningful in our teaching. Transforming your service into Santa’s Grotto just because of a date is neither intentional nor necessarily meaningful.
That is not to say that you cannot find intentional teaching opportunities in the themes, rituals and community connections of Christmas – but if we are truly honest with ourselves, is that why we are doing it? Or are we doing it because we’ve always done it, and everyone else is doing it?
2. It’s limiting. Yes, Christmas is the dominant cultural celebration in our country. Ignoring it is not reflective of the lives of the children in our service. But it is not the only important event happening for children in December. By prioritising Christmas, what are we missing? As the EYLF asks, who is advantaged and disadvantaged when we work in certain ways?
Christmas is everywhere – children will experience it regardless of what we do. But will every child learn about Ramadan, or Eid, or other significant events for other children around the world if we ignore it? What might that mean to the children and families in your community who do celebrate those events?
3. It’s overwhelming. Christmas takes over everything. Decorations are out and activities usually start at the beginning of December and don’t stop until the end of the year. No other event on the calendar gets that focus. Imagine if NAIDOC Week was a month-long event for centres, with weeks of preparation leading up to it? What if centres took International Day of the Girl Child as seriously?
Many will disagree with me, but I think both of those two examples are richer, more meaningful provocations for learning with children. (I’ll quickly note that there will undoubtedly be centres who are doing those things, but it is certainly not the norm.)
Again, what are we missing out on by turning over our entire program to one event – that is celebrated in every other part of the community?
I know that even these three points will provoke fierce debate. I’m fully prepared to wear the Grinch label once again. But to say again – I am not calling for “bans on Christmas”. But I absolutely will say that for services that strive for high quality programs, ask questions about your celebrations.
What are children learning, and what are they not learning? Who is advantaged, who is disadvantaged? What could we do differently this year?
This post was originally published at LiamMcNicholas.com