Considering Inclusion of All Children at Christmas in Early Years Settings
The concept of Christmas is subjective. People celebrate it in different ways,families have uniquetraditions, some have the means to have big celebrations and others don’t celebrate it at all. For those who do, it is the most magical time of year for children. From the decorations to the lights, the excitement of Santa, elves, reindeer and snowmen it can be such a beautiful time, especially for young children.
So how do we, in the early years sector, understand the concept of Christmas from a childhood perspective and support children who are all experiencing the season through a multitude of lenses?
Christmas Magic and Tradition
For some children, Christmas means magic, love, and warmth. It is a time for making memories and building traditions, receiving and giving gifts, and feeling a sense of happiness.It is a time of excitement when elves do naughty things around the house andwonderment about Santa and how he could possibly get all the presents from the North pole to the fireside consume children’s minds.
Sitting in front of the fire in new pyjamas, watching the news and the Santa tracker simultaneously, wondering, with sheer explosive excitement, ‘where is he now?’ and ‘how will I ever sleep?’.
However, many children in the world would love such excitement, for many children Christmas can amplify the loneliness and sadness of every day. In Ireland, as of October 2022, 11,397 people are homeless, accessing emergency accommodation in Ireland and some 3,480 of those are children.Many are without the homes they had last year or have lost family members.
For whatever reason, many children do not get a magical Christmas, this year spare a thought for children who belong to war-torn families, to families facing domestic violence, mental health issues and addiction. It must be remembered that not all children are with their loved ones or receive the gifts they want.
I remember many years ago when working in retail, how a Santa had put aside gifts but had failed to return to pick them up on Christmas Eve. We left the building with weary hearts as we knew the type of Christmas that was ahead for those children.
Cultural and Religious Diversity at Christmas
Not all children attending the early years setting celebrate Christmas. There is now more cultural and religious diversity than ever before.We have always been mindful of the fact that some children do not celebrate Christmas for several varied reasons.
Partnership with parents is key to inclusion, being open and honest, asking questions about their thoughts, feelings and beliefs about the holidays and being respectful of the answers.
The Christmas ‘concert’ contained material that all were happy with and has never included a nativity. On one occasion, a father thanked me so much for respecting his religion enough to discuss this with him, and another said, that a book from Santa was fine in preschool, but would not be acceptable when in primary school.
Parents have met my curiosity and interest with their own, one asked about the symbolism of the Christmas tree as she was going to put up a small one, as the child was fascinated by the one in the local shopping centre.
While another asked if Santa came on the night of the 24th or 25th as she wanted the child to experience a little of an ‘Irish’ Christmas as she called it.
Materials for Christmas crafts were always left freely available for children to use and create with as they desired, for some, it represented Christmas, for others it was just a fun activity with glitter, card and glue.
Balance, Flexibility and Understanding in the Pre-School Classroom at Christmas
Religion and culture are much easier to deal with in the preschool setting than disadvantages and homelessness. We always tried to focus on the ‘gifts’ of Christmas kindness, giving, sharing, family time, and giving thanks, rather than ‘gifts’ in a material sense.
This is important as for some, even very young children, the concept of ‘getting gifts’ is tied up with being ‘good’. I have seen children come into class bouncing with joy after seeing Father Christmas, while others glaze over and look ‘disinterested’. It is a balancing act to listen and care for all children in the setting according to their needs.
Helping children to understand the true meaning of Christmas, love, peace and understanding is a gift in itself. Remember all practitioners do not celebrate Christmas in the same way either, and in this way collaboration with staff and parents is the answer to celebrating Christmas in an inclusive way, which may look different from group to group and year to year.
Flexibility, empathy and respectful communication are key to enjoying Christmas each year in the setting.
Did You Know?
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About the Author
Jacinta Murphy is a senior tutor and programme lead of the BA (Ord) Early Childhood studies. She explains her journey in early years below.
"I began working in early education in 1994, and to be honest, did not know what I was taking on, but the times of work fitted with my family! Little did I know that I would find my life’s passion. I was fascinated by these young people and the fact that the sector was unregulated and basically providers could do what they liked.
"I began to read on the subject and improve my practice and returned to education in 2000 to study the Montessori Method. Since then, I have not stopped learning, through study, through working with children and families, through my role as a manager/lead practitioner in rural, urban, affluent, and disadvantaged areas. Most recently, I have completed my master's, a proud moment for me and my grown-up family!
"My experiences provide me with vast industry insight as I have experienced vast changes within our sector, frameworks, legislative and others. In a setting, each year brings a different group dynamic, therefore it is essential to have the ability to reflect upon and amend provisions and practices to meet the needs of children, families, and staff. I hope that by bringing my practical experiences in the setting into my tutorials allows students to link theory and practice.
"In 2004, I became a tutor at Portobello Institute on a part-time basis. Currently, I work full-time for the Institute supporting full-time QQI Level 6 students in Child Development, Early Childhood Curriculum, Social, Legal and Health Studies and Personal and Professional Development. I am part of a vital, vibrant early childhood studies team. I lead the Level 7 Early Childhood Studies Degree and tutor on the modules such as Children’s Rights in Today’s World, Enquiry Based Learning and Communicating in Multilingual Contexts."