Ensuring that your holiday policy is sensitive to everyone involved and respectful of religions, cultures, and traditions is an important and complex concern. What are some questions you should be thinking about? And who should be involved in deciding what your program's policy is?

What do programs usually do? Early childhood programs usually take one of two directions - omit holidays altogether or celebrate them selectively. Some programs consider holidays as times to be celebrated in the context of the family and so don't include any holiday celebrations, decorations, or activities. Others involve children in holiday-related activities and celebrations, exploring the similarities and differences that make each child special and each family unique.

What are some important things to think about when deciding what's right for you?

  • Involve staff and families. Discuss the purposes you want holidays to serve
    in your program.
  • Establish a policy that takes into consideration the diversity of both staff and families.
  • Be certain that everyone who is a part of your program understands your policy. Share your policy with new staff during employment interviews and pre-service training. Also communicate your policy to new families when they enroll.

If you decide to include holidays, what should you do?

  • Discuss and decide which holidays to celebrate and why.
  • Make sure related activities and explanations are meaningful to and inclusive of all children.
  • Plan ahead to prevent curriculum from being based on holidays throughout the year.
  • Reevaluate on an ongoing basis. Encourage staff to share any questions and concerns about individual children, families, and curriculum as you learn and grow together.

What do you need to keep in mind to successfully change your present policy?

  • Start slowly. Make one or two changes initially and then observe and reflect. Use what you learn to help plan the next set of changes.
  • Involve staff and parents. Develop a communication plan and plan carefully.
  • Help all the adults involved understand not just where children are developmentally, but also how vital it is to consider feelings and diversity of backgrounds.

WHAT DO YOUR COLLEAGUES THINK?

ECT spoke to Denise Buthion, director of the University of Oklahoma's Child Development Center in Norman, OK, and Judy Smith, director of the Bright Horizons Family Solutions at the Center for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Silver Spring, MD.

ECT: What does your program do about celebrating holidays?

BUTHION: Our program doesn't observe holidays. We recognize, celebrate, and experience family traditions and customs. We want to incorporate events relevant to children's daily lives and celebrate the feelings associated with these experiences. We hand out a family questionnaire during enrollment intake interviews to gather information about special and meaningful family experiences. Teachers then incorporate these meaningful events into their curriculum.

SMITH: We believe in learning in context. We don't celebrate labels. We celebrate customs, traditions, and the sharing of family. It's an important point of pride and self-esteem to children to reinforce their specialness and uniqueness. It becomes a link between the center and home.

ECT: What tips and techniques can you share for people who want to change their holiday policy?

BUTHION: Don't start changing things immediately. Evaluate current practice and incorporate new ideas, with children's best interests as your first priority.

SMITH: I inherited and went along with a school in the final stages of eliminating holidays. I observed a lot of emotional reactions. Children were very confused when the program ignored all that was going on around them in the community. Both the staff and I felt there were many missed opportunities. So we developed a comprehensive family support and education program that took a full year. At the end of that time, we were able to take a developmentally appropriate approach that everyone felt good about.

Here's a list of tips from Denise Buthion and Judy Smith for working with reluctant staff or family.

  • Start with a parent advisory group and include the most verbal and reluctant people in the process.
  • Share goals from the perspective of the children as well as developmentally appropriate practice.
  • Recognize this as a controversial subject.
  • Begin a monthly parents and staff enrichment program. Discuss how children learn, why family traditions are valuable, how to cope with the stress of specific seasons, and so on.