When you visit an early childhood  program at holiday time, what do you want to see? How can you tell if a program celebrates holidays in a way that is appropriate for the specific children and families attending?

Ideally, staff think both about why children should learn about a particular holiday and whether it is developmentally appropriate for the children in the group or important for specific children and families. 

Here are some things to look for:

  • Activities are connected to specific children and families in the group. This linking helps children understand holiday activities in the context of people’s daily lives. Children should have the chance to explore the meaning and significance of each holiday.

  • Both children and staff honor every group represented in the classroom. This respect does not require that every holiday of every group must be celebrated; otherwise, classrooms would be celebrating all the time! It does require, however, that once families and programs decide on what holidays to celebrate, none should be treated as though they were “unusual.” Children should recognize that everyone’s holidays are culturally significant and meaningful.

  • Activities demonstrate the fact that not everyone in the same ethnic group celebrates holidays in the same way. Families can provide examples of their own unique traditions.

  • Families and program staff work together to plan strategies for children whose families’ beliefs do not permit participation in holiday celebrations. Families should take part in creating satisfactory alternatives for the child within the classroom.

  • Focus is on meaningful ways to celebrate holidays without spending money. Families may find certain holidays stressful because of the amount of commercialization and media pressure to buy gifts. Teachers can help by showing children that homemade costumes and gifts are very special and that celebrations can be joyful without gifts.