Early childhood settings bring children, families and educators from different cultures and backgrounds together and with each child and family comes a unique story. The wonderful thing is that we all get to benefit from these stories and to draw on aspects of them all, to create new shared stories. This brings incredible richness and colour to the setting and creates a community where children develop a sense of connection and belonging and learn about values and respect through their daily interactions.
Throughout the year, early childhood settings play such a significant role in the lives of young children, by providing an inclusive, welcoming space where difference is valued and respected. Educators recognise children’s individual ways of being, foster respect and empathy and ensure that diversity weaves part of the fabric of a nurturing early years environment. They recognise that ‘one size fits all’ is never the case when it comes to the wonderfully competent, engaging children that enter our settings. So, when it comes to celebrations why should it be any different? While it is important to find time for celebration, it must be recognised that this happens in many ways and holds different meaning for everyone.
While celebrating Christmas may be the tradition of the majority of families in the setting, there are likely to be other celebrations that are also equally significant in the lives of children and their families. In some cases, educators may even feel uncomfortable celebrating Christmas because there are children present in the setting whose families don’t. However, there are likely to be other traditions and celebrations that are important to these families. Educators working with young children and their families will tell you that relationships are everything. So, how do we build relationships with others? The first step is usually to share something about ourselves and to take time to listen to others, to learn about what is important to them. In doing this, we often find that we have different values or ways of doing things. However, in order for the relationship to build and flourish, we nurture it with understanding and respect. A discussion when the child and family first come to the setting is a great way to find out which traditions are celebrated and how they could be included in the setting. This is also an opportunity to explain that Christmas and other festivals are celebrated throughout the year but that the setting really wants to embrace and reflect all of the different traditions. This helps the family to understand that Christmas is not celebrated to the exclusion of all other celebrations but that many different cultural and family traditions are not only celebrated but are valued and welcomed. Of course, it is also important to point out, that for some, celebrations don’t hold the same value and that this will also be respected.
Celebrations also provide a real opportunity for children to think and talk about diversity. Engaging children in meaningful conversations about what it means to celebrate and what should be celebrated in their setting, recognises the knowledge and experience that they bring. This helps to build an authentic, approach to celebrations, that is both meaningful and inclusive. We can then make these celebrations visible to all in our setting and communities through song, dance, mark-making and photographs.
So, while there is comfort in the familiar, there is always time to create new traditions that are reflective of the children, families and educators that make our early years’ setting such a special place to be throughout the year!
For more thoughts on celebrations and respecting traditions read our post from last Christmas: Christmas – The way we always do it.
We would love to hear about your inclusive celebrations in 2017 or your plans to create a shared story in 2018!
And from all of us on the Scéalta team, we wish you, your children and all the families a happy and exciting Christmas. See you in 2018!