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How Children Get the Most from Celebrations

How does your classroom mark holidays? Which do you celebrate in class? How do you decide? There are as many perspectives on holidays in the Montessori classroom as there are teachers! As a community, we’ve come up with so many unique and creative ways to address “special days.” Yet classroom holidays are still generating a debate or two…

To celebrate or not to celebrate… That is the question!

Our greater culture focuses deeply on special occasions; often the marketplace inappropriately targets children. Commercial holidays are promoted several months in advance. Children are overwhelmed with mostly unavoidable input during these heightened times. Our communities are saturated. At such times, commercial holidays can become emotionally charged for the whole community.

The “all or nothing” approach we tend to take in order to maintain peace in our school communities is not the only path. We Montessori teachers have the skills to tailor a celebration plan to fit our individual communities based on what is most meaningful to our children.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should say that I am personally a fan of the minimal approach. That isn’t to say that we never had celebrations in my classroom. Quite the opposite! However, our “holidays” were usually organic, springing from the children themselves. A self-chosen celebration tends to spur the children’s creativity and act as a springboard into greater research and passion about their work.

So how does a thoughtful teacher create a celebration that equally focuses on the children, respects cultural and community concerns, and maintains a normal classroom routine all at the same time?

Try letting go of commercial holidays entirely!

Thinking in terms of celebrating occasions instead can help reduce the political, cultural, and gift-giving pressures associated with commercial holidays. “Occasions” are simple markers of time — they can offer an inspiring interdisciplinary experience and opportunity for study in our classrooms. Simple, non-disruptive celebrations can illuminate history for our children, as well as the calendar, seasons, rituals, science, and community time.

By consciously choosing to mark events and ideas that are not already addressed by the popular culture, we are helping, not hindering, children in their development. And, children will not pine for a pumpkin-carving craft this fall if they’ve chosen instead to celebrate Elephant Appreciation Day (September 22), World Animal Day (October 4), or Honey Bee Day (October 14)!

As Montessorians, we are sensitive to the needs of every child, including those who need to be recognized and those who are uncertain of their differences. We can give children the freedom to follow their own interests and joys, and to develop themselves without external pressure.

I believe our Montessori classrooms can be a powerful antidote to the inundating and overwhelming stimuli of commercial holidays. We can maintain our calm, consistent, and peaceful environments during these seasons and give children a way to celebrate meaningfully the rest of the year.

5 Quick Tips for Classroom Celebrations

  1. Let children brainstorm “the parts of” a holiday and then develop a celebration for an occasion of their own choosing.
  2. Focus on something particularly meaningful to your class and community; this is a wonderful way to reflect children’s interests and to honor diversity. Use the ideas below as a springboard for creating a celebration calendar unique to your classroom.
  3. The cultural area of the classroom is a good place to start. Nearly every country has a “Day of The Child.” There might be famous people from a continent or country with birthdays to recognize. Celebrate these days as part of your cultural work with people of the world.
  4. Incorporate celebrations into all areas of the curriculum. For example, most animals have their own day – yes, there is a World Penguin Day! Celebrating animal days makes a great connection with biomes, ecology, or animal classification. Plan relevant activities, such as reading books related to the occasion to a small group of interested children.
  5. Elementary children might make an historic timeline related to a place, concept, or person. Children could host a related school-wide event if it allows the children to continue on their individual paths without distraction and if it suits your community. Again, let the children lead.

Teacher-Tested Celebration Themes All Year

  • Geography: a date specific to a continent, country, county, or city
  • Children’s Days: find dates and info for 64 countries on Wikipedia
  • Peace: peacemakers’ birthdays, anniversaries, peace events
  • Political occasions: country, state/province, county, or neighborhood
  • Ecological: Earth Day, Earth Hour, or local community campaigns
  • Animal Days: local wildlife, farm animals, pets, exotic or endangered
  • Timeline of Life: digest into a year; see how things develop on a relative scale
  • Science: invention dates, inventor birthdays, scientific discovery dates, timeline of a specific science concept
  • Space Exploration: who, what, when, where, how, why?
  • Birthdays: the children’s, athletes, artists, musicians, writers
  • Movements: civil rights, peace, child health
  • International/World Events
  • Seasons: life cycles, solstices, equinoxes, record-setting weather
  • Nature: one biome per month, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes
  • Explorers/Discoveries: birthdays, expeditions, regions explored
  • Olympics
  • Music: instrument timeline, composer birthdays, new styles of music
  • Children’s Rights
  • Your school’s anniversary

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