The Story of... Traditions
Traditions are an important part of creating belonging... they can also contribute to exclusion, and they have a tendency in ECE settings to become divorced from the real sentiment of the tradition and just become a series of cookie-cutter activities and crafts that leave little room to explore the actual tradition and what the children know, or how they all celebrate and instead dump a ubiquitous veneer of superficial facts regardless of context.
For instanceI haven't celebrated mother's day or father's day in Sweden for a long long time... it has been something we have left to the families to do together... after all not all children have mothers and fathers - for various reasons - and an activity that focuses on a parent means we are creating an exclusive activity/situation - often the idea of what is a mother or father is not being talked about, but it is a an activity of making something for the said parent. Of course I have heard that these children without that particular parent can make something for the other parent, or a grandparent or whoever is important for the child (but I wonder if THAT is decided by the child or the adults? Or how the child actually feels about all of this)
MY son asks why do we celebrate mother's day etc... when is it children's day?
Of course that exists... 20th November it is Universal Children's Day... but that seems more to do with the rights of children rather than celebrating childhood in the same way we celebrate mothers and fathers...
Valentine's Day is another tradition that gets celebrated with adult decided hearts and the specific colours of red and pink... but what is LOVE? Is the love on Valentine's Day the kind of love we need to be taking about with children? And, is it OK that we make it child friendly by celebrating friendship instead... shouldn't that, actually, be something we are doing all the time?
When I have asked children about what is love one group said it was a "Sky high tree that was daddy coloured, filled with hearts, butterflies, oranges and stars..." when we looked for signs of love they saw their handprints and footprints in the snow... we used this to create the trunk and leaves of a tree. EXPLORING a tradition through philosophy - what did they already know about love? What colour is love (not all children say pink or red), what shape is love? Where do we feel love? Are there different kinds of love? Can you hold love? Can you play love? How do you play love (my group of children ended up lying on the floor in a line cuddled up to each other giggling - that was how you played love apparently... closeness and laughter). How does love make you feel? What would the world be like is love did not exist?
BUT my question is why don't we see all the activities etc on FB connected to Children's Day in the same way we see them for Mother's Day, St Patricks Day, Christmas, etc etc... why are children not being celebrated in a wash of activities...? and what ARE these activities..?. are they stuff the children do to please the adults, learning experiences, the children's thinking, the adults thinking,...?
And when you start really thinking about it... how come there is this need to move from one tradition to another throughout the year... when do the children have a time to breath, a time to reflect... or come to that, when do the adults busy with preparations for all these traditions have a time to listen to the children, observe their interests and interpretations of the traditions...?
I am not against traditions... or against the activities connected to them... what I struggle with is when the activities have become the tradition rather than exploring the actual tradition. I wonder how much the children understand the many traditions that exist around the world when they are explored on a craft basis... I have done no research on this... so its all just thoughts. I am curious. I want to explore how children learn...
I love looking at all the amazing crafts and projects online... and the creativity of so many people... but I also like to interpret them... use them as inspiration rather than just copy... because I have to look at the children I work with and ensure that the experience is adapted to their learning...
For the last decade I have not done crafts and activities connected to traditions, instead what I have done is used philosophical dialogue to explore what the children already know about the traditions, extending their thinking (as I have documented their thinking from previous years, I can read back to the children their thoughts and interpretations from previous years... making it so easy for myself and the children to see their own learning) and then we have made activities, art and crafts available to the children based on their thinking.. which also is documented and saved as part of the process for nexts year's understanding of the tradition...
Project fear arose from the children's fear of heights as they were exploring fairy flight... it also came around the same time as Halloween... and became an excellent way of exploring this tradition too. The DARK became a central area to explore as many children were scared of the dark... so we played in the dark to work out what this fear feeling was and if we could overcome that feeling... and we did... "because we play in the dark, I am not scared any more"
Then there are the projects that we are doing based on the children's interests... of course we have followed these... and have been able to weave in traditions into these projects - allowing them to be meaningful for the children... of course this is always OUR interpretation of the situation.
As a child I loved doing Christmas/mother's day crafts etc it was never something that limited me... but I have had friends that have not experienced all these crafts in the same way... of trying to create something specific that has been pre-thought out by the teacher... and that there is the risk of being right or wrong...
But I have written about templates and creativity before and you will see I am not against crafts in any way... but only when they are used without reflection, without an understanding of WHY, what the process is, what the learning is... and reflect afterwards as to whether that learning/effect occurred, and if it didn't why not, and what did happen instead... and how could the craft/activity be developed, adapted for the future... or even abandoned and a new one chosen...?
Reflection and learning... for children and adults is essential - and traditions are a part of that. Why are they being celebrated? What about the history, or the different family interpretations, can we create our own traditions... like the International Fairy Tea Party... where the purpose is to celebrate play, imagination, breaking down stereotypes and learning about the world
I am quite sure that this post will provoke some more than others... and will stir emotions - both positive and negative... and this can be a good thing - if we talk about it... share our thoughts so that we all have the chance to expand our thinking...
After all philosophy has taught me... we do not have to agree with each other - but we do need to listen with respect and attempt to understand "the other".
From an Original Learning perspective... traditions are woven into the loom, into the play, and as an educator we should be helping children to select which threads, and how those threads are woven, children need to be active participants in the process. Traditions should be something the children actively participate in, not have done to them, or not get a choice of what elements are important, or are valued to share their own interpretations and own context/knowledge about the traditions..
There is also a need to normalise traditions experienced around the world... so there is less othering and more understanding, respect and celebration of diversity.