Celebrating the tastes, sights, sounds, "feels," and smells of special times.
PERHAPS THE PLACE that family traditions start is not in one specific activity but simply in the joy of shared experiences. And maybe the best way to talk about these traditions at group time is to help children open up to their own sensory memories.

Warm Cinnamon and Fresh Oranges

While children are sitting in a circle, invite them to close their eyes and imagine someone, or everyone, in their family preparing a favorite dish - perhaps for a special occasion or even a traditional weekly meal. "What colors do you see? Can you smell anything cooking? Can you taste anything? Pretend you are reaching out and touching something. What does it feel like?" This imaginary journey can open children's minds to sensory memories. They may suddenly offer images as you go along or share them after they've had time to just imagine. Whichever way, be sure to create an experience chart together, listing children's thoughts and experiences inspired by each of the five senses.

Older children may like to try using the words and images on your experience chart to create a poem. Here's an example one kindergarten class printed and illustrated as a family gift.

Blue and white,

Many lights.

Cookies and cocoa,

Snow and cold,

Ringing bells,

And a big, warm Grandma hug!

Come Share My Traditions

Consider bringing to group time a collection of sensory-experience props, some involving your own family traditions. A cinnamon stick, a fresh orange, bells, a green pine bough may come to mind. You'll find that children are fascinated to learn about your traditions and experiences. Photos of family gatherings at holidays and other special events are great to share and help expand children's concept of traditions. Be sure to include lots of pictures of you when you were little. Most children can't believe you ever were a baby!

Let's Share Yours

Send home a note letting parents and other family members know that you have been talking about family traditions and are hoping that they will help their child share something from home - an object, a photograph, or even an activity. Let families know that a tradition can mean anything they do together in their own unique way - a special dessert or meal, a holiday custom, a story told over and over at special times. Some children may want to bring a family member to your program to share a tradition. Be sure to let family members know that they can call you to ask any questions or talk over anything special they're considering. You may also need to talk ahead of time to ensure the appropriateness of the activity and to offer your help with the preparations and organization.

Schedule only three or four children a day to share their special family show-and-tell, so there will be enough time for all children to engage in real conversations -- talking about why this special sharing has become a tradition and asking lots of questions. Encourage extended-family members to visit. Sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and special family friends can add their own unique perspectives. Older adults may want to share family traditions-from "way back."

A Very Important Reminder

Before you begin to talk about families and family traditions, take time to think about children's specific home lives. Remember, every family is different. Those who celebrate the same holidays may do so in very different ways, thus establishing very different traditions. Some families may be the only ones to celebrate specific holidays, and also have traditions that are all their own. Other families may not celebrate any holidays but still have their own traditions. Whatever the case, make sure that every child feels accepted and, at the same time, not at all pressured to share. Your goal is to honor children and their families in supportive ways. And then, through shared experiences, conversations, and quiet observations, children will learn a bit more about themselves and come to respect and appreciate the importance of varied traditions.

Sharing With Toddlers

Though toddlers aren't ready for group time discussions about family traditions, sharing a family member can be a delight! So plan a time when parents, siblings, and extended-family members are invited to visit your program. Most toddlers will enjoy showing off these special people. Just remember to schedule very few at one time, and ask them if they'd like to do something very simple, like show a few family pictures, share a short storybook, or sing a song with children. The trick is to keep any activity or visit relaxed, natural, simple, and short. No need to gather children in a group. Each visitor will be an automatic toddler "magnet" as soon as he or she sits down!