The end of the school year in Australia is fast approaching; assessment is almost done and reports completed.
After a hectic year, thoughts are turning towards Christmas and the long summer holidays.
However the teaching and learning in the classroom doesn’t stop until the final farewells on the last day of school.
These last few weeks of the school year allow a little more flexibility and time for spontaneous explorations of children’s interests after the curriculum’s imposed learnings have been achieved. Sure, skills still need to be practised and extended but the pressure is not so relentless.
As the thoughts of most children are on Christmas and what they will do during the holidays, why not harness those interests and that excitement to make classroom learning meaningful and fun while developing important social and cultural concepts and understandings as well as practising and extending literacy and numeracy skills.
Over recent years there has been some controversy over whether Christmas should be included in school programs, some arguing that it is not inclusive and excludes those students whose cultural backgrounds neither recognise nor celebrate Christmas.
I have a number of reasons to support my argument that Christmas should be learned about in school, and my reference is to secular rather than religious celebrations which are best left to organisations dedicated to that purpose.
I would like to say that the main reason is that I love Christmas (the excitement, the anticipation, the decorations, the gift-giving, the celebrations with family and friends)!
But that would not be true.
My focus is educational:
- Cultural respect: Most children in Australian schools celebrate Christmas. Including Christmas in the classroom program acknowledges this and draws upon their interests and prior knowledge.
- Cultural awareness: Investigation of traditions celebrated by other class members, community groups or countries develops a recognition of other perspectives, including those who do not celebrate Christmas and those who celebrate other traditions such as Hanukkah, Ramadan or Chinese New Year.
- Cultural understanding: Learning about the traditions of the dominant culture in which one lives makes one more comfortable within that society, more able to converse about important events and holidays, and able to develop shared experiences i.e. helps to develop feelings of being included, rather than excluded by participating in the outward traditions. However, this knowledge does not necessitate participation or belief.
- Cultural acceptance: Learning to understand that, although not everyone shares the same beliefs or traditions, we all share a common humanity and that there is good in everyone is important for creating a peaceful and nonjudgmental world.
- Self-awareness: Christmas is a time for reflecting on the year’s achievements and behaviour e.g. whether you have been “naughty or nice” or whether you have worked hard are superficial questions which can lead to deeper introspection. This self-reflection can lead to celebration as well as to the setting of positive goals for improvement.
- Other-awareness: Recognising one’s own strengths can help to identify, recognise and appreciate the strengths and achievements of others.
- Emotional intelligence: Children learn to recognise and describe their own emotions, and the emotions of others. They understand that not everyone thinks and feels the same way about similar events and learn to respect the thoughts and feelings of others.
- Social-awareness: Recognising how others think and feel about certain events can develop feelings of empathy. Children are more likely to find common ground upon which friendships can be built.
- Being kind to each other: Christmas is all about sharing and giving. In a classroom these can lead to discussions about working cooperatively and collaboratively, getting along with each other, and giving the greatest gift of all: friendship.
- Enjoyment, recognition and fun! I couldn’t stop at 9, and I think the inclusion of fun in the classroom is one of the most powerful ways to engage and motivate learners!
Decorating the classroom is one way of setting the scene for explorations of Christmas traditions while encouraging the children to work cooperatively, take pride in their shared achievements and talk about how Christmas is celebrated (or not) in their families.
It became a tradition in my year one classroom to make a large 3D Christmas tree to adorn our classroom wall and become the focal point of our learning.
We would sit in front of it to have our discussions and read our stories.
To the display surrounding it, we would add child-made decorations, stories and poems they had written, holiday messages and gifts.
I would photograph each child in front of the tree, holding a sign with the message e.g. “Happy Christmas 2013”. These photographs would then be added to calendars which became a Christmas gift for parents.
The children loved doing the tree, partly because of the inherent excitement at the end of the school year with Christmas holidays imminent. But they also loved doing it because they were working together, making something meaningful to them; and as they worked together and saw the tree take shape, they realised that what can be achieved together is far more (as well as more fun) than they would have achieved on their own.
And while they were busily tracing and cutting, they were talking and sharing ideas and thoughts with each other and with me. We began to learn a lot about each other’s experiences, traditions and feelings.
Having made the tree together, the children had an enormous sense of collective pride in what they had achieved, especially when all those viewing it remarked upon how lovely it looked.
While I include instructions for making the tree here, they are also available from readilearn.
What do you think? Do you think Christmas should be celebrated in schools?
What reasons would you add to my list? What do you disagree with?
Leave a comment or indicate your thoughts below.