• Suzanne Axelsson

The Original Learning Approach to Traditions

Holidays are not something I teach or teach about… they are, instead, an opportunity to discover our multiplicity - after all, each family has their own way of celebrating - each child has interpreted this in their own way in combination with what society spouts out… From an Original Learning perspective I offer a space for the children to build relationships and interconnections between the traditions, each other, society, family and their own identity in a way that makes sense to them.

It means I slow down to listen to what the children already know FIRST

#slowdown #lookclosely #listendeeply

Whether these a traditions that everyone, some or none of the children celebrate in their homes it makes no difference - I start with what the children know - to inform me how to extend, how to fill gaps or how to expose them to stories, experiences etc that will unravel bias and stereotypes. If I don’t know how the children celebrate, or what they know, or how they interpret what they see in society then I will struggle to design meaningful learning opportunities that are responsive to the children’s play and developmental needs.


My social media feed is starting to fill with Halloween and Christmas activities at this time in mid October... and the majority of them seem to be very prescriptive - eg use a green paper cup, turn it upside down, stick buttons on side and a star on top - and hey-presto you have a Christmas tree...


But where is the space for thinking and reflection? Where is the space to listen to the children's own views of what these holidays mean to them, and the symbols they are familiar with? Where is the opportunity to be creative and experience/play with divergent thinking?

We don't have to teach them Christmas by making paper-cup trees and other similar crafts - but crafts can be used more freely to explore what the children celebrate at home and see around them.

I am not against the use of crafts - IF they are a genuine space for the children to reflect and exchange ideas through… But crafts to simply prove you have done “Christmas “ or “Halloween “ have nothing to do with the children’s learning and more to do with entertainment and filling time, and probably proving to parents and the powers above that you have taught.

Fine motor skills can be practiced in other ways, symbols explored elsewhere, traditions explained through stories and role-play - paper-cup trees are not essential for any of these… no matter how cute you might think they are… BUT offering a selection of materials that include paper ups, buttons, paper, scissors and much more - you might find the children discover this themselves…


During the past decade I have offered opportunities for children to share their experiences of holidays through dialogue (philosophy with children, and more casual chats) and based on their knowledge, experience and understandings, I have created experiences, activities and offered materials for them to play/mess about with.

At the same time I have been exposing the children to opportunities to create a togetherness, practice their social skills, experiment with science, mathematically discover etc.. In other words, I deliberately design activities that allow them to practice their social skills while engaging in art, science, math and play experiences that are connected to what they have shared about traditions.


In the play/learning-space I position materials that can inspire crafts and art that allow them to create gifts (if that is important to them) wrap things, explore their ideas through hands on experiences. I also put out some things that I do not think have any connection - in part to challenge the children, and also to ensure I am as open about possibilities and not clouded by my agenda - even if that is rooted in the children's words and ideas... it is still my interpretation of that!

For example:

  • We are observant on our walks together in the neighbourhood,

  • when reading books and in life in general we learn together

  • what symbols are there around us and how do they affect the children's understanding of traditions and holidays,

  • how do we de-code them and connect them with our own experiences as individuals and a group... and

  • how can we play them? In other words... how do I plan experiences rooted in play that allows the children to learn, explore, challenge, connect and understand the traditions with joy.

In the photo you see two children playing with "Christmas colours" on the light table - the colours had been chosen by the children through a shared dialogue about which colours felt most like Christmas and why... prints were made of their marks on the light table, as a way to document our process and create a new Christmas inspired art. We had the same dialogue about colour every year... and I have written about this here and here and over on my old blog too... which I will attend to and recreate a combined post here.

So, please, do

be inspired by all the holiday crafts you see - look at the materials used - then simply offer those rather than the instructions to make something specific… Of course this doesn’t mean children should NEVER do crafts that follow instructions - what is important is creating a space of reflection and creative possibilities for YOU and the children.




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