Diversity of Winter Holidays in Kindergarten

John Gaudino and Amelia Manes, Kindergarten North Teachers
Kindergartners spend time learning about a wide variety of holidays from all around the world. 
When it comes to celebrating winter holidays, why not just talk about Christmas and Hanukkah? Is it really a good use of school time to teach ALL the holidays? Some schools avoid mention of any holidays at all. In that way they avoid the discussion of difference and cultural diversity. When holidays stay in homes and not in school, each of us only know our own idea of what is the best way to celebrate.

Holidays matter deeply to people. They represent a lot of experiences, feelings, and memories of family. Some people have strong religious beliefs around the holidays, while others only focus on the secular aspects. Because of the power holidays hold over us it is sometimes hard to look at them from the outside. Often it seems acceptable to give a day to holidays like Loshar, but put much more focus on the holiday that most Americans traditionally celebrate. Holidays also play an important part in the lives of young children. These events begin to mark the passage of time. Diwali or Kwanzaa are experiences that stand out from the day-to-day of their lives. By seeing holidays in the curriculum that are special to their families, children get a message that who they are and what is important to them is valuable to the school as well. 

We begin with each child telling and drawing what they celebrate at home. Again the focus is on light, music, and food. We downplay presents as many holidays do not include them. We introduce some basic facts about the holidays the children already know and compare them to the way they celebrate. Not everyone who celebrates Christmas has a tree. Not everyone who celebrates Hanukkah plays with dreidels.

We spend one day on each holiday and move to the next. We try to not take a tourist approach of ‘visiting' other holidays but then coming back to the “important” ones. Children are encouraged to compare and contrast and observe that the class is treating all the holidays equally. We also use the winter holidays as our science focus. We ask the students why they think humans have been afraid of the dark. We discuss the Winter Solstice and the approach of winter. We also spend time discussing the orbit and rotation of the earth and how it is tied to these holidays.

Each holiday is presented as a rebus puzzle. This way the class can see some of the iconic images of each holiday while practicing group reading and memory skills. The activities for each holiday are either tied to the three themes (light, food, and music) or come from the culture. For the holiday of Oshogatsu we practice origami. For Christmas we do Rudolph the Reindeer hats. Several of the holidays are versions of New Year celebrations. Some are versions of Christmas that bear no resemblance to the way Christmas is celebrated in North America. By the end of the unit the children have a book of the various winter holidays that they have learned about. It will be a busy and exciting three weeks!


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