Originally published November 2017
Do you wonder why Kids Konnect preschool introduces holidays you may not celebrate? When preschool teachers and parents teach children about holidays from a variety of cultures and beliefs, they are helping children to develop empathy and understanding for other people and ideas.
2020 in particular is serving us a Thanksgiving like we've never seen before. Families may not be able to join together like usual and traditions may need to wait until next year or happen over video calls. So this is a fantastic opportunity to teach children about the true meaning of Thanksgiving and open up the conversation to other holidays celebrated by their friends at preschool.
Here is why explaining various holidays to preschoolers is important.
Holidays Teach Similarities
Most holiday celebrations in every culture focus on teaching traditions, history, and the reason a group of people cares for one another. Teaching children about the holidays of other cultures helps them to see that no matter what differences we all have, we also have many things in common, such as:
- Family: Most holiday celebrations are times when extended families gather together to enjoy special food, traditions and one another.
- Respect: Most cultures use holiday celebrations to honor their history and past. By explaining holidays to preschoolers, teachers and parents can help children to understand and respect the sacrifices of people in history.
- Love: Most celebrations include special foods, enjoyable activities and a special focus on children. Preschoolers can learn that all people have a great love for their children and enjoy doing fun activities together, even if they have different looks, beliefs and traditions.
Explaining Holidays Brings Understanding
Children notice differences and often wonder about them, but may not always ask questions. During a time of talking about holidays and celebrations of different cultures, teachers and parents have a chance to open up discussions about differences and give children a chance to develop an understanding of why people have different beliefs and practices. Some ways for children to learn about holidays in preschool or with parents are:
- Meeting People: Talking with adults and children who celebrate different holidays can be a wonderful way to understand not just the facts of a holiday but how it is practiced and what it means to the people who celebrate it. In a preschool classroom, children and their parents can share their own family holiday traditions and bring decorations or food to try.
- Doing Activities: Doing a craft, game or activity from a holiday celebration helps children explore and experience different holiday traditions in an age-appropriate way.
- Attending Events: Many groups invite others in the community to celebrate with them during their holidays. Consider taking your child to some of the local holiday celebrations such as the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade, a Christmas Eve Service at a Catholic or Protestant church, the daily menorah lighting at Union Square, or one of The Village Project's events for Kwanzaa.
Photo from SF Station
Holidays Bring People Together
Even within cultural and religious groups, there are often many differences of opinion about practices or beliefs, just as there are sometimes disagreements among family members. However, holidays are times that people can unite around something bigger than themselves. Learning about holiday celebrations, especially ones celebrated by other students in their classroom, helps children to develop an appreciation and understanding for what is important to their friends, neighbors and other people they meet in the community.
Explaining Holidays to Preschoolers Through Books
Parents can reinforce explaining holidays to preschoolers by reading multicultural holiday books. One benefit of reading holiday books to your children is that you will have the opportunity to explain your own beliefs and traditions and answer your child's questions. Better yet, you can learn along with your children if you don't know much about the holiday either. Here are some good books to start with:
- Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins (Eric A. Kimmel) is a creative adaptation of the story of the symbols and traditions of the Jewish holiday which adds an exciting twist while keeping the original spirit of the story.
- My First Kwanzaa (Deborah Chocolate) explains the traditions of the holiday by showing how a family celebrates their African heritage together with food, candles and extended family.
- Christmas Around the World (Mary Lankford) includes illustrations and short descriptions of how 12 different cultures celebrate Christmas differently.
- Bringing in the New Year (Grace Lin) follows the preparations of a Chinese American family as they get ready for the Chinese New Year.
- Diwali, A Cultural Adventure (Sana Sood) introduces the Hindu holiday with rhymes, colorful pictures and simple language.
Enjoy Learning with Your Child
Many adults have not had the opportunity to learn about the beliefs and cultures of other people, so take this opportunity to grow in understanding along with your child. Teaching children to value the cultural traditions of other people is an important part of raising a child with healthy emotions and social connections. Parents and preschool teachers can help children learn to be culturally sensitive by explaining holidays to preschoolers and helping them to learn why different people celebrate differently. What new holiday would you be most interested in learning more about?