Recently at one of our centers there was a bit of a kerfuffle about celebrating Valentine’s Day with the children. In short: Staff were concerned about developmentally inappropriate expectations for children’s interest and participation; parents were concerned about the loss of a much-loved tradition. I wanted to discuss it here to give parents at all centers insight into how we welcome and incorporate feedback into our decision-making process.
Parenting, and teaching, is a constant balancing act. We must balance what we know to be good for children with competing and sometimes conflicting pressures: convenience, limited resources, traditions, personal values, and expectations from well-meaning family and pundits. As with any balancing act, the scales may occasionally tip in one direction or the other, but over the long term, things will even out.
Unclear communication was probably the root of this particular problem. The director responded to concerns with a solution that balanced parents’ interests with our primary mission: developmentally appropriate programs for young children. I thought I would share her explanation:
Promoting friendship and caring is something we focus on each day throughout the year. Our teachers spend a great deal of time supporting children’s early social skills. Encouraging children’s healthy social interactions and early friendships are an important element of everything we do.
Gretchen’s House embraces the holidays in many ways-the Winter Wonderland evening in December and the Harvest Fest in the fall are just two examples. During holiday seasons, teachers introduce new books to their classrooms, find new artistic ventures and join in on conversations that children are having about the ways they celebrate with their families at home. Some families celebrate holidays that teachers may not be as familiar with, and we encourage parents to come and share traditions with their child’s class. Teachers, too, share their traditions with their classrooms. Sharing these special events in a very real way is important in our centers.
We are an environment that is diverse in both culture and age. When planning for each classroom, the teachers must take into account the children’s age, development and family culture. While your child may be very interested in Valentine’s Day, another child in the classroom may not. For that reason, when the holiday approaches, a teacher may introduce new materials. She (or he) may add heart-shaped cookie cutters to the play dough tools. Perhaps pink, purple, and red construction paper may be added along with doilies, glitter, stickers, etc. At small group time, a teacher may demonstrate how to fold a piece of paper in half and cut (or tear) a heart shape. A teacher may talk about how things are sent by mail and even plan a trip to the Post Office. The children may learn a new song or game at large group time. It all depends on what the children are interested in and developmentally ready for. If a child chooses to make a valentine in class for a friend, I assure you that they will be encouraged to do so, and materials will be provided. Some classrooms may have a mailbox where children send mail to each other throughout the year.
Our goal is not to ban Valentine’s Day, but to take away the expectation that every child (or parent) must bring in individual valentines and distribute them to a child’s mailbox…and that every child must make a mailbox or bag, regardless of their interest to do so. This tradition is better suited to older schoolage children. Our plan is to simplify the day and allow children more freedom to participate in a meaningful way of their choice.
This adaptation to the Valentine’s Day tradition was discussed at a PAG meeting last year, with no objections (and actually a few “sighs of relief”). If you choose to make or sign valentines as a project at home with your child, of course you may distribute them before or after class. Simply deposit them into the cubbies. Please do not attach any type of present or food item. Many children have food restrictions due to allergies or other dietary restrictions.
We will be discussing holiday celebrations at the rescheduled PAG meeting on Thursday, Feb. 25.
In the meantime, we hope that whenever parents have questions or concerns about something we do, that you will do these three things:
- Assume the best intentions, rather than the worst. By enrolling your child at Gretchen’s House, you cast an enormous vote of confidence in our approach. Please give us a chance to explain our choices or amend them if need be.
- Read our parent handbook and any relevant GH publications to try and understand the logic behind our policies. Our Purple Pages collection and Active Learning Brochures address many pertinent topics: Emergent Curriculum, Celebrations, Managing Conflict with staff, to name a few. We put a lot of thought into our programs.
- Let us know about your concerns in a friendly, timely, and direct manner.
Thanks so much for your support.
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