Monday, December 5, 2016

Cultural Sensitivity and Winter Holidays


Some teachers live for the holiday season and cannot wait to introduce holiday themed activities, others are more apprehensive about planning activities that meet the needs and beliefs of all of their students, and still others work in schools where policies prevent them from using any holiday-related materials whatsoever.  I've met and worked with teachers who fall into all three groups, and I myself tend to end up in that middle category.  Whichever of the three groups you find yourself belonging to, here are a couple of my tried and true resources for handling the holidays while still be culturally sensitive.

First thing's first, this little parent letter has saved me every single year, which is exactly why it's a freebie in my TPT store.  There is no better way to learn the wishes of each of your families than to simply ask them.  The letter includes a few direct questions, designed to help you determine which holidays your families celebrate, what topics they are comfortable with you introducing, and if there are any special family traditions that they would like to share with the class.  It's a great way make sure that families realize you want their input, and also encourage family engagement by asking them to share.

Second, I stumbled across a great article on Edutopia all about teaching the holidays and being culturally sensitive.  It's written for those who teach older children, but the strategies and principles are just as relevant to those of us who teacher preschoolers (and younger).  It would be a great article to discuss at a staff meeting, or to use as a guide while you're planning your own activities for this month.

A few other tips that I've learned through the years:

  • Focus on main themes of the holidays, such as giving, helping others, sharing joy and love, and spending time with those we love.  This helps to avoid religious discussions and fictional characters, while connecting concepts that many winter holidays have in common. 
  • Communicate openly with your families.  If you know for a fact that all of your families celebrate Christmas and your families are comfortable with you using Christmas themes in the classroom then go for it.  If you can't be sure, or you have a few different holidays represented in your class, then take an around the world approach. Introduce a number of different winter holidays and be sure to include those that your students will be familiar with, as well as those that might be new.  Different cultures are fascinating to preschoolers, especially when they can see photos, videos, and artifacts to help them develop a more concrete understanding. 
  • If you are really truly uncomfortable with the entire prospect, or you are sure that someone will be offended no matter how hard you try then stick with basic winter themes such as snow, snowmen, ice, and animals that live in cold climates. Check out 32 winter themes for preschool for more ideas!
I'd love to know what tips you stick by when it comes to celebrating the holidays, feel free to share them in the comments!

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