Holidays are often a key element in the annual calendar of our schools. Christmas crafts, dreidel spinning, flag making, pumpkin carving, Chinese dragons and eating special foods enrich our programs. The children enjoy the change from the standard routine and we feel great about incorporating elements from other cultures and broadening the kids’ awareness.
Sometimes in our excitement to do these wonderful things we misstep. Dates that our calendar lists as holidays are sometimes actually holy days. Days that are holy to families around the world, some of whom may be at your center. We are entering one of the busiest times of the year for this. Tomorrow starts the Muslim holy Day of Eid al Adha. The Jewish high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur happen in October. Hindus and Sikhs have Diwali. Pagans have Samhain/Beltane. Christians have All Saints Day and Christmas. Additionally Buddhists have Bodhi. That is just between now and the end of the year. It is jam packed.
We don’t want to inadvertently treat a day that has a lot of significance for families cavalierly. So Here are 5 simple steps to make these days super special at your program.
1. Find out which families celebrate one of these holy days.
The easiest way to do this is with a survey. I suggest doing a written and an online version. Another option is to make it a point to ask each parent at pick up over the course of a week. DOn’t assume that you know what the spiritual background of the families is. I have met African-American Buddhist monks. You cannot know without asking.
2. Select the 2 or 3 you are going to explore this year.
Branch out from what you always do. Wouldn’t it be great to learn about the holy day that is celebrated with candles, fireworks and sand art creations? If you add one new exploration a year, you will keep your teaching fresh and your families excited to see what is on the horizon. It will help families feel that they belong at your center.
3. Research the holy day.
The context of the holy day is important. Many of us spin dreidels in December with our classes as a way to explore Hanukah. Do we tell the story? I didn’t know that it is not really considered an important holy day for years. Yom Kippur is much more central to Judaism. Why are fires set on November first in parts of Europe? Are there special food associated with the day?
Comment below if you want a resource guide we have, that answers many of these questions. A guide to the major religious holy days of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and 4 other major religions.
4. Select activities, stories, crafts, music and/or food to share.
A quick google sear with the name of the holy day and the phrase “children’s activities” will get you started. Crafts and coloring pages are usually the core of those web links. Call or go by your local library to see if they have any children’s books on the subject. Google can also provide you with music to play in the classroom and potentially ones to sing at circle time.
Just fill out the comments form below and we will send you a resource packet to you!
5. Go on a journey of discovery with your students.
Leap into the (previously) unknown with your class! Dance to new music, eat apples and honey to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. Make sand art. In doing so you will be honoring countless memories of people from around the world.
Something to look out for:
Sometimes we get caught up in the artistry of what we are doing and don’t think about what we are actually teaching the children. This is most often and issue with Easter, but can be an issue with other holy days as well. Because Easter is the most problematic, lets look at it. What is the most important, or holy, part of this holy day? Is it the crucifixion? Is a man dying a horrid death what makes the day sacred to millions of people? NO, it is that he returned to life. If your projects are all centered on crosses you are missing the actual relevance. Focus on what makes the day sacred to those who believe. Making resurrection rolls, yarn eggs, games of hike & seek, and growing rye grass are all projects that focus on the renewal element of Easter. This doesn’t mean chicks and eggs can’t be part of your plan, just select the activities that relate to what you want to highlight.