Performing… For Who?

Performing… For Who?

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!

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