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Performing… For Who?


Tuesday 12 December 2017

This time of year is full of celebrations, creativity, concerts and plays. But, I wonder, is there a stage where we need to reflect on who this is all for? Surely it is for the children, so that they can experience the joy and wonder of this magical time of the year? I spoke to a Creche Manager recently and she told me about her experience of a Christmas concert. This experience made her rethink the idea of having children perform for their parents and decide on other ways of celebrating Christmas, that are more participatory for everyone. This is her story:

For several years, we have been producing Christmas concerts and a graduation performance for the children. In the past, we rationalised this as being a time of celebration, the children’s parents love the experience and we focused on the process over the product. Each year I gave a short speech before the performance, showing parents where their children would be standing so they could get the best view for photo taking. I always emphasised that the play had been a process and the performance wasn’t what was important and I felt satisfied with this. The play always gathered lots of praise from the parents and we had a small party / get together afterwards. Every year some children would stand silently but again we rationalised they had enjoyed the build-up. Despite explaining this to the parents last year I happened to overhear a conversation which made me feel uncomfortable.

A mother was quizzing a child about the reason why he didn’t sing, the child didn’t have any answers and stood silently. I spoke to the mother, again explaining about the process and praising the fabulous art work that the child had so enjoyed doing, which we had used in the play. The mother seemed to understand the message I was trying to give and admired and praised her child’s art work also. The graduation was 6 months later and again we arranged a short performance of songs the children had learned over the year. We asked the children to pick their favourites and once again there seemed to be a sense of excitement. This time the same little boy sang. I watched and saw this small boy whose gaze was transfixed on his mother, his face red and a vein visible in his neck as he shouted out the songs. I felt awful for him as it struck me that the little boy I had cared for and formed a loving relationship with was incredibly stressed throughout the performance.

We discussed this as a team after the event and from there we decided we would no longer continue with the performance based event. The questions raised included:

  • Would the parents feel cheated?
  • Did they expect us to do something?
  • Would we be considered lazy?
  • Wasn’t it a good opportunity to meet with working parents and celebrate together?
  • Some of us shared how we had loved a Christmas concert in our school days, others said they had hated it.

We discussed alternatives. Someone suggested a Christmas market and from this we developed the idea of a Christmas celebration event with the children. This event will involve the children showing their parents around the creche. We have asked the children about some of their favourite things to do in creche and there will be spaces including these activities through the creche. After an optional visit to Santa we hope to all meet around our Christmas tree. This year we have been singing songs again and some children have illustrated a song book for their parents, all the parents will be given a song book on the day. We won’t be singing them all and we intend to ask the children which ones they would like to sing with their family members and our team. No one will be expected to perform. The idea is that the experience will be more of a gathering with the singing concluding our evening. Or perhaps we will decide not to sing or some of us may, with others continuing to explore the rooms with their parents. All of this will be ok, perhaps there are other scenarios we haven’t thought of but we are looking forward to finding out and hope we will all have a relaxed and enjoyable evening where everyone is free to go along with the flow of events or not.

Another manager I spoke to explained that last year, following a similar reflection process, they introduced an art exhibition where parents came for a coffee morning and viewed the open-ended, creative artwork. This year, they are trying something else, so we are in the process of asking the children to tell us their story about Christmas and we are recording what they say, noting the words the children use to tell their stories. These stories will be shared with the parents, closer to Christmas.

Please let us know the ways in which you help children explore their ideas about Christmas and how you make the big celebrations events that everyone can feel part of and involved in!

3 comments Comments

3 Responses

  1. Olivia Murray says:

    . I love this article and it’s great to see early years educators reflecting on and questioning the routines or traditions that we have long implemented for the benefit of parents rather than for the benefit of children.. This year our pre-school team have explored, researched and reflected on the concept and benefits of engaging children in processed art.
    The LINC (AIM) training has a module which encourages practitioners to appreciate the importance of processed art and it’s relevance for creating an inclusive environment for all children. The module talks about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. If we look at our own practice and question how we are motivated ie. are we intrinsically or extrinsically motivated as early years educators?, then we can understand why early years educators may encourage children to be engaged in product art so that children have something to show to parents at the end of the day and in turn practitioners get praise and positive feedback from parents about the great work they are doing with children.
    But if we are intrinsically motivated and know that processed art is better for children’s well-being then we can be confident to explain to parents that children won’t be engaging in art activities that produce identical pieces of craft work but rather in activities where the process is more important than the product. Taking the path of promoting processed art in our service is a joyful experience and has enabled us to see the beautiful ideas that children can express when given the freedom, the right and encouragement to do so. Indeed, it is a wonderful opportunity for children to express their individuality and life experiences in their creations and to enhance their self-esteem. Furthermore, processed art takes away the stress of having to cut out templates and ensuring every child has something to bring this busy time of year.
    I would be so interested in hearing other practitioners’ ideas and views about end of year activities which do not put pressure on children to perform for the benefit of parents. We want to nurture intrinsic motivation in young children, so they learn because of their interest and enjoyment rather than for the external reward of praise from others.
    For an inspiring poem on product / processed art please read ‘the little Boy’ by Helen Buckley which explores the importance of letting children be creative and think for themselve

  2. Maire Corbett says:

    Thanks Olivia, really glad you enjoyed the post. I love hearing about the various ways in which thoughtful educators reflect on their practice to ensure they are becoming more child focused all the time! Making that move from product oriented to process oriented, both in terms of art and performance can be hard, but is so worthwhile and much richer and more meaningful for children and adults alike! That poem is thought provoking and reminds me of the Harry Chapin song called Flowers are Red which you can listen to here:
    Would you consider writing a blog post for Scéalta on your thoughts on Graduations, in a few months? Drop me an email at to discuss further. Looking forward to hearing from you. Máire

  3. Olivia Murray says:

    I have been hoping that there may have been more contributions to your blog Performimg .. for who? In particular as i mentioned above i would love to find out about different ways to celebrate the end of year without performing for parents. If you have any ideas from other services or from your own experience it would be lovely to hear about them

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