Holiday Celebrations at School

My child is in the fourth grade. Her school discourages classroom celebrations of holidays, especially holidays with religious roots. I think it is sad that the children can't enjoy some of the excitement of the holiday season. How might I approach the teachers about putting a little fun back in December?

Question:

The question of how to celebrate the holidays in school has grown increasingly more difficult in the past twenty years. In the seventies and eighties, many schools worked hard to represent not only Christian traditions, but traditions of other cultures as well. Children participated in Chanukah, Christmas and Kwanzaa activities as well as any other traditions that were celebrated by one or more students.

Using a multicultural approach to the holidays is exciting, but it can also be exhausting. Teachers often find December a stressful month because they feel the need to teach other content area in addition to holiday traditions. There is a new focus to learning. Academic standards and benchmarks need to be met. Teachers who might have introduced a holiday activity for the sheer fun of it, will think twice. Now they will ask, "Does that holiday activity meet a learning goal?" Some schools have dealt with the stress by ignoring the holidays altogether. I believe that some of this refection is a good thing, in the same way that families need to stand back and evaluate the holiday season by asking questions such as:

• What is the meaning of the holiday season?
• Which traditions bring us joy and a sense of renewal?
• Which activities simply burn us out?

Before you approach your child's teacher, try to determine precisely what you feel is missing from your child's school experience in December. Do you feel that there should be relief from normal routines? Do you feel that your child is being deprived of certain activities such as making holiday cards or singing carols? Do you wish that schools would build a stronger moral community in addition to working on math facts?

Once you've determined exactly what's missing, you can brainstorm possible solutions. One teacher, who wanted to put some magic back into December, introduced a "little people" theme. Her class discovered a letter from the "giving people" on the first day of the month and spent time not only learning about traditional fairy people from literature, but on giving to others. Another school uses December as "Peace" month. They focus on multicultural awareness and what it means to work towards peace. Their unit ends in a Peace Concert with songs as moving as carols. One year, my daughter's class focused on "family traditions." In addition to having children interview relatives and collect personal stories, each student was asked to share a holiday tradition with the class. One student demonstrated the lighting of a menorah while another shared her tradition of sprinkling reindeer food on snow. Fun and learning were clearly evident.

If you can be very specific in your request, your child's teacher will probably be more than happy to focus on a little more joy this holiday season.

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