Celebrating holidays in an early child care setting can be a wonderful and meaningful way to establish community. All cultures honor events, people, and beliefs that hold significance in unique ways. This reality can promote shared interests and it can also pose challenges. Knowing which holidays to celebrate in your setting is important to respecting the diversity, traditions, and values of the families you serve. Having a consistent protocol for how to approach holidays will facilitate how you plan activities and celebrations in your setting and how you communicate with families.
According to the NAEYC Code of Ethical Conduct, respecting family diversity should be a core value of any early learning program. Oftentimes in early learning, we approach holidays by enjoying related foods and decorating with various artifacts. While these things are important to many holiday celebrations, digging a bit deeper will help you understand the significance holidays hold for your families. Developing a questionnaire that solicits feedback from families about the holidays they celebrate, how they commemorate special occasions, and their expectations for their children while participating in holiday programming will provide you with a wealth of knowledge and inform your overall holiday protocol.
Developing a Holiday Questionnaire
To design a holiday questionnaire, plan to ask questions that tap into each family’s values. In Celebrate! An Anti-Bias Guide to Including Holidays in Early Childhood Programs, Julie Bisson explains the more precise you are with your questions, the better the responses will be. You might ask the following questions in addition to “Which holidays do you celebrate?” (excerpted and summarized from Celebrate!):
- How do you commemorate holidays and special occasions in general?
- Would you like your child to celebrate holidays in child care?
- How do you feel about your child celebrating holidays in child care that are not celebrated in your home?
- How would you like to participate in holiday activities?
- Do you have concerns about holiday activities?
- If you do not celebrate holidays, how would you like to be supported?
The answers to these questions will give you a sense of the diversity in your setting, as well as a better understanding of families’ expectations. The answers will also open doors for you to engage in conversations with families about their concerns and challenges. You can use this information to determine which holidays to celebrate and acknowledge with the children. It may also be beneficial to administer a similar questionnaire to staff members so that you can develop a policy that is holistic and appreciated by everyone in the learning environment. Families will come and go in your program so distributing the survey annually will ensure that you are meeting everyone’s needs regularly.
Holidays to Celebrate, Holidays to Acknowledge
It may be helpful to make a distinction between holidays that you will celebrate, as in those that will involve a party-like atmosphere, versus those that you will acknowledge by reading books, having discussions, and perhaps inviting speakers or visitors to give demonstrations. Too many celebrations can be overstimulating for children and disrupt their routines. Again, in Celebrate!, Bisson asserts that holiday activities should enable you to adhere to your typical routines. You can achieve this, she writes, by offering holiday activities during regular free-choice time and learning songs as you normally would rather than at special times for a curated performance. Consider children’s development in relation to deciding which holidays to celebrate and which to acknowledge. Depending on the number of children who celebrate a particular holiday, the families’ wishes for participation, and the historical context, you can decide what is most appropriate for your group. For example, if your setting serves families with veterans you may place a different emphasis on Veterans Day than a setting where veterans are not present but children observe the display of American flags around the holiday on a walk.
It is important to emphasize inclusion. Make a plan for how to handle holidays that some children do not celebrate or for how to handle holidays if there are children in your setting who do not celebrate holidays at all. Work with families directly to ensure their comfort level is met. For example, you may opt to not celebrate holidays that are not acknowledged by everyone.
Remember that your curriculum should be diverse all year long. Diversity extends beyond holidays and should be acknowledged as present in children’s daily lives. Inviting families to participate in classroom experiences, to share stories, or offer demonstrations can happen within any theme or any month. Honoring families’ values will go a long way in helping them feel supported in your setting.
FunShine and Holidays
In an effort to support you in better addressing the diversity within your setting, we have developed a Family Holiday Questionnaire for you to use as you get to know families this year. In each monthly Fireflies curriculum guide, the questionnaire will be referenced, along with guidance for how to engage with families about holiday activities. In both the Buttercups and Fireflies curricula we have utilized a broad approach to acknowledging holidays, emphasizing community, routines, and traditions. Our goal is to give you the tools you need to establish a culturally responsive and caring environment.