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Help! Sometimes I prefer not to discuss holidays in the classroom because I don’t want to exclude any students. What do you suggest?

Dear Ask a Montessorian, many parents that I have had over the years have varying expectations on holiday celebrations at school.  Sometimes I would prefer to not discuss any at school because I don’t want to exclude anyone in particular. What would you advise?

–Don’t Want to Exclude, Newark, New Jersey

Dear Don’t Want to Exclude,

Good for you for questioning your approach to holidays and your drive to include all your community members.  Your question is one that many Montessori guides and communities are faced with, so you’re in good company!

Holiday traditions are an expression of our self and group identities and as such, convey what we value.  Our students come to us with a family culture and holidays that may or not may not be recognized by the dominant culture and yet learning about other cultures and cultivating a shared understanding of what is important to other people is part of the recipe that creates a community.  In fact, Dr. Montessori said in her book The Mass Explained to Children, “Real religion is not just certain information that can be taught to a certain class at a certain time, it is something mysterious and inexpressible, it can only be communicated directly in moments of inspiration, but it is expressed in an indirect way through traditional ceremonies.”

To honor that which is important to another human cultivates empathy, nurtures an accepting global awareness, and builds a critical consciousness necessary in a fair and just world. Sounds in alignment with Montessori, eh?

The first step to build an equitable holiday approach that values inclusion is to go to the families of your students.  I’d suggest a combination of asking specific questions through a Family Traditions survey, understanding the demographics of your community, and doing your own homework about specific holidays.

Creating an equitable plan includes calendaring and learning about the holidays being celebrated in your student’s homes, and including the study of holidays from cultures beyond your community.  Figuring out an equitable approach means committing to fair representation of holidays and as such, leads to another principle that promotes best practices: educate rather than celebrate.

This principle will allow all members of your community to learn about what each other values without disrupting the continuity of class-time. This principle opens the door for you to guide your students in learning about how people express their beliefs, milestones in life, and the diverse ways they celebrate what is important to them.  It doesn’t mean you should eradicate all moments you express joy or celebrate your community, it means you are valuing all celebrations by learning more about them, and you are thoughtful about what you actually celebrate as a community.

One simple way to organize learning about holidays is to group your learning by type.  Most holidays around the world have commonalities such as the harvest festivals of Thanksgiving in the United States and Canada, Vendimia in Argentina, Sukkot in Israel and around the world, Olivagando in Italy, Chanthaburi Festival in Thailand, and Lammas Festival recognized by Britons.  Other common themes you can utilize to plan your recognition of holidays include Festivals of Light, Spring Renewal, New Years, and milestone celebrations such as birth, naming traditions, losing teeth traditions, coming of age, marriage, and death. Learning about these family and world traditions can be as simple as a family member telling a story and sharing a meaningful object from a celebration, to your entire community coming together to share foods celebrating the season.

Finally, your question denotes a need to communicate your mission as it relates to holidays and I’d encourage you to create a simple statement that clarifies your approach to holidays and includes a statement of inclusivity.  An example might look like this, “Peaceful Child Montessori recognizes the holidays celebrated by our community members and beyond, no less than a day and no more than a week.” The point is to be clear about your approach and infuse your language to families with what you value.

-Tammy Oesting has spent the last 25 years delivering professional development workshops, consulting schools, and educating new Montessori teachers.  Her passions include issues of social justice, training support staff, art education, neuroscience as applied to educational practices, and exploring the magnificence of the world.  She is location independent and serves Montessori globally through her company ClassrooMechanics which offers an online workshop, “Building an Equitable Holiday Approach”. AMS certified 3-6, 6-12.  Find out more about Tammy.