Sunday, October 2, 2011

What do you think?

I have seen so many wonderful themes created by talented teachers in the last few weeks that are based on Halloween. At my school I would never be allowed to use this kind of content in my classroom. Our district is expecting us to be rigorous and to reflect the state standards in our classrooms. I work at a fundamental school where holidays are not celebrated in any way. We have students who would not come to school if we had holiday parties or had images in our room that had a negative connotation to them.  We see no value in teaching about scarecrows, witches, elves, etc. or spending a great deal of time on topics that are not academic. Candy has become a huge issue in our district as well with strict restrictions from our administrators. Many of our students have severe dental decay and are overweight. Proper nutrition is being stressed with our children and and we are encouraged to teach about healthy food choices. So I am curious about what your district mandates. The California Kindergarten Association several years back focused on the diversity in our classrooms and being respectful of the wide range of cultures we often have. I would love to hear from you on this topic.


Mrs. Mugurussa said...

This has been a concern of mine for quite some time. 20 years ago when I started teaching, the entire kindergarten curriculum centered around holidays. Now I feel somewhat guilty if I do anything holiday related. I try to keep is simple and fun using pumpkins scarecrows and cats for Halloween. I try to stay away from witches and Frankenstein. I love Christmas, but again, it is a touchy subject, instead I use penguins and snowmen.

As for the food and candy, we too have big restrictions. Gone are the day of cupcake birthdays. We still do Valentines day, but focus it around freindship.

All the places you love said...

Using thinking maps, writing, and real science and social studies with substance to it is good but…. Sometimes you need to use a little sugar/cute to get the medicine of education down little ones’ throats. Sometimes cute just might make things a little more interesting. I don’t think a constant diet is good but you do need to spark a child’s imagination.

Kreative in Kinder said...

I personally think that content is content. I can teach our TEKS (TX mandated essential knowledge and skills) and still make it festive and fun. My sight word activities will help teach my students to read so I don't see why it matters if they are on a plain piece of paper or a pumpkin. I think children thrive in a colorful and creative environment. I totally think substance is most important, but I do think it is possible to teach substance with holiday and themes. You just can't go overboard and the focus needs to be on academics. :)

As far as the candy thing, I think it is important to teach children to be healthy first. We have a daily snack but it is low fat and sugar free. I do have a "sweet treat" jar and give them out sometimes as a reward, but it is only ONE m&m or candy heart. I think that teaches children that you don't have to overindulge to be satisfied or treat yourself. We graph gummy bears and candy hearts at some time but I only give each child a small handful. I think moderation and education are key when including things that could they could get carried away. Just like adults, we have to learn what is best for ourselves and how to have self control. We have principals in our classrooms all the time checking for objectives and TEKS being taught. They are looking for hire level thinking too. I have had the superintendent come in and sit in on two lessons in the past few months so we always have to be on our toes. :)

Cindy said...

Hi Fran,
I too struggle with what crosses the line and what doesn't . Years ago I had so many diverse cultures that I chose to celebrate FAMILY during the time for Christmas. I figured that was a way to talk about the different celebrations ( or non-celebrations by some). Everyone had someone they could call "family" everyone could participate. As for Halloween, I try to go with non-scary things... Just because I scare easily ;). We learn about Bats. Which is a great unit for the kiddies. They LOVE it!
My district has not mandated we eliminate these
celebrations, but we need to relate what we are doing to Common Core Standards and District goals.
I will say, I don't mind telling parents to cut down on the
super sugary sweets, especially the cupcakes with the
"mile high" frosting. And especially for the A.M. Class (some come without eating breakfast) Our parties have a
combination of sweets, fruits, salty items and little toys
to take home.
So, yes we do celebrate, yes we do have sweets, no mandates, but I try to be mindful of who does/doesn't celebrate. Most parents will keep their child home on those days..more so for Halloween because we have a parade & costumes. It's all good old fashioned fun. We all need a little fun! Hope this helps!

Belle said...

My school isn't interested in cute either - so you're not alone.
We aren't allowed to use any type of food at all unless it relates to the curriculum (e.g. procedural writing) and it must be planned well in advance, approved by the principal (or one of the assistants) and permission slips returned.
Children aren't allowed to bring in birthday treats and we have to confiscate any candy canes that the children stick to Christmas cards and give them back to parents at the end of the day.
I don't feel guilty about not doing holiday stuff as it isn't the 'done' thing here. We make an Easter basket, mothers and fathers day gifts and are allowed a two week window of Christmas related activities, being mindful of those that don't celebrate it. We also don't have as many holidays in Australia as you guys, no Halloween or thanksgiving and Australia day (kind like 4th July?) is before kids start school for the year. Also Christmas is during summer and it doesn't snow during the winter so I get kind of jealous of all the cute snowflake and wintry stuff I see on all of your blogs. Yep, so pretty much no real holiday stuff at all.

Cindy said...

The parents usually reference they are home for religious reasons. My district really frowns upon recess. I really struggle with that one because we all need a little break during the day! It is my understanding that Illinois state law says workers get a 15 minute break for every four hours they work. Mind you school is "work" for the kids. Don't they deserve a break too? Some get recess with lunch. Somehow it doesn't seem the same as taking a little break when they work so hard all day!
I meant to add that for Valentine's Day I focus on friendships and what it means to be a good friend, mind you, I have cute little related papers for most holidays :)

Kreative in Kinder said...

We don't let the kids wear Halloween costumes because many families do not celebrate. As a parent, my own children did not celebrate Halloween when they were younger and the teachers were always so great and respectful. They always asked before hand with parties and activities and I thought that was great. For October, we really focus more on the life cycle of the pumpkin and pumpkin related learning. For fun, we have a Hilarious Hat Parade the week of Halloween. It is a family project where kids will create and decorate a hat however they like. We tie this in with learning the letter H. We have a parade around the school and everyone loves it. :) Thanks for sharing Fran. I find it so interesting to see what other schools are like around the country. I think above all these differences help us to respect one another's beliefs and to embrace that our classrooms are the common bond many families share.

mskarenkory said...

We still use candy, gold fish and teddy grahams for math activities. I avoid Halloween but do enjoy fall projects, namely scarecrows and pumpkins. In December, we do a gingerbread unit. It's festive and fun but since it's based on literature, we don't get flack. As for birthdays, it's the parent's call. I do tell them that if they're going to share cupcakes they must be the two bite variety. Most comply, but others still bring in the huge, gooey version.

Barbara said...

So glad I don't have to deal with any of that...I am in a charter school in AZ.
Bring on the such a fun time of year and it is everywhere the children look so I am glad I can include these things.
Next thing you know you won't be able to do Pete the Cat because some special interest group doesn't like cats...hehehee

Fran Kramer said...

What do you do about kids of different religions?

mskarenkory said...

I respect the wishes of their parents. I find if I'm deferential to them, they are so much more responsive to me. If a child doesn't celebrate birthdays, I give him or her the same gift I give to the other children on their special days, but I make sure to give it way before or after the actual birthdate. We've had students with dietary considerations stemming from religious beliefs, and I'm always extremely careful about that. Sometimes it means not doing certain activities that I enjoy doing with my kids, but I would rather eliminate them and have good relations with my families.

Terri said...

When it comes to religions...I say if it is important to the student, then let them talk about it. When I taught 2nd and 3rd grade the little Catholic kids would talk about their 1st communion, the Mormon kids would talk about getting baptized, and one year I had a Jewish kid who came in and talked about Passover. I loved it. I don't bring it up, but if my students want to talk about it, I think that is what diversity is all about. It is as mskarenkory said...respect the wishes of the parents.

As for holidays....bring them on, but I try to keep the activities literature based, a little more neutral, and in keeping with the standards. The activities I am finding in these wonderful blogs are incredible. If you are going to teach about the body why not do it in October and do something with a skeleton? If you are teaching about America, why not start with Columbus and move in to Pilgrims? If you are teaching the changing seasons then isn't falling leaves, pumpkins, apples, and scarecrows appropriate? I love Autumn!

Katy said...

I guess I live in my little Louisiana bubble. We actually have a standard on learning about holidays. We teach all the holidays - Halloween/Harvesting time, Thanksgiving, Christmas, MLK Day, Valentine's Day, Easter, etc. I teach in a very small rural school, and I feel very blessed that we can have a Thanksgiving Play and a Christmas program. I think this helps make learning fun for our kiddies.

However, I do not believe in doing the "cute" just to be doing something "cute". I can honestly say that when I plan a "cute" holiday or themed lesson, it relates to our standards and grade level expectations. I love teaching science and social studies GLE's with themed based learning. I agree with Terri - make it neutral and learning based!

I guess I'm just spoiled. :( I taught in another state for 1 year and found it incredibly strange that they didn't have an Easter egg hunt. The things I take for granted....

Good luck to everyone on finding a happy medium! :)

Kindergarten Katy

Lynn said...

I totally understand about the tooth decay and overweight kids but then again they are kids and they are only 5. A skittle or m&m once in awhile is not going to take them down the wrong path. Children learn more when they are interested so if putting sight words on pumpkins or scarecrows gets them interested then I think you should be allowed to do it.
As far as different religious holidays at my school each k teacher takes a religious holiday-celebration and teaches a lesson on it and all the kids rotate through all the different classes learning about all types of religious holidays.
Sometimes I think that the powers that be forget that these kids are still little they need to experience kid things.

Kerri said...

When I first started teaching, I taught all ELL students. We celebrated all kinds of holidays instead of just the traditional holidays. We did a lot of reading and literacy activities around holidays. I think because we talked about all holidays no one felt like their culture was being excluded. When I moved back home and started teaching kindergarten, we celebrated halloween with a costume parade and big party. We also had parties for Christmas, Valentine's day and Easter. This year we're not allowed to do any parties but one at Christmas and one at the end of the year. But we can still talk about the holidays and use materials as long as they relate to the common core. I try to be as diverse as possible and think if you try hard enough and use good teaching practices you can relate anything back to a standard.
As to snacks and candy, I ask the parents to send in healthy snacks but they don't always comply. We sorted m and ms a couple of weeks ago and I only let my kids eat 2 and then they had to take the rest home. I try to encourage healthy eating habits. But food is great motivator and tool for learning.

The Fantastic Frogs said...

I teach transitional kindergarten at a private Christian school and our whole year is taught through thematic units. Every week or two weeks I teach my class math, language, science, and art concepts surrounding a theme. Yes, we also celebrate all the holidays, except Halloween, we do Harvest instead. Yes, I am guilty of using sweethart candies at Valentine's Day and M & M's for graphing and counting, but that's the extent. Yes, parents do bring in sweets for birthdays, but either mini cupakes or donut holes. For our classroom parties we make sure it is balanced, usually only one type of sweet and then fruit. It's not perfect but it works for us and we have a ball!

laughinbrunette (Jennifer) said...

I understand your point of view regarding holidays and candy- even though I still do seasonal activities and have special snacks at various times of the year. I am able understand the view of abstaining in regards to diversity and health. In the past, if I have had students in my class that are not allowed to do holiday activities, then I made sure to not do those type of things and to stick with neutral, seasonal fun. However, I do think when someone says something like "We see no value in teaching about scarecrows, witches, elves, etc. or spending a great deal of time on topics that are not academic"...that it is a bit judgmental and hints that if you do those things, then you are not teaching anything valuable. Plenty of academic standards can be taught with thematic activities, literature, and things that children classify as "fun" but we see as a learning experience. To say that you see no value in teaching about scraecrows, elves, or witches?... perhaps you do not realize that I do not, nor any teachers I know, teach "about" those things...I do not have a lesson about a witch or a scarecrow....they are (if ever used) weaved into a lesson...with context to the learning. I shy away from many things, but at the same time, if I have no students that do not celebrate Christmas..and we read the fairytale "The Elves and the Shoemaker" and then make elves (an art activity which delights my students) I do not think it is a waste of time. Again, I don't teach about scarecrows, but if I read a book about fall with scarecrows in it and my class creates a scarecrow glyph, am I somehow less of a teacher? I have no doubt that you do fun things in your class as you teach the "rigorous California standards" of which you speak... and I am able to see your point of view about why your district has decided to make the mandates that they have. But in what you are saying, it sounds like there is no value to the fun if it involves things your district doesn't allow. Btw, rigorously teach my state's standards. Your comments sort of gave the impression that I wouldn't be if I choose to share an art activity that involves a scarecrow or elf in my classroom...and that just isn't the case. It could be that I misunderstood the tone of your post and if so, then I apologize if I sound like I am offended. I just try really hard to respect other teachers and not to ever insinuate that their teaching is any less valuable than see that we are all diverse and the needs of my students are different than in other parts of the country...and that we are all doing our best. Even if I do not fully understand what another school chooses to do, I try not to make a judgement...or a statement that leaves the impression that I or my school am better b/c we do things differently.

Mrs. Schaefer said...

I worry that by cutting out some of the holiday stuff, we are cutting out some of our culture. It is very important to touch on every culture, but what about OUR culture too? Can't we have a happy medium? At our school, Halloween is celebrated, but the scary stuff stays at home. It tends to REALLY scare the little ones, and that's the reason why. For Christmas, we don't 'say' Christmas, but we talk about it and relish in the joy that it brings to the kids' faces. Thanksgiving is a federal holiday. Any religious connotation that is implied is purely unsubstantial. It is a very important time in our Nation's history. Other holidays can be seen the same way: Labor Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Veteran's Day, etc. Our public school system was created to teach children to be good citizens and part of that responsibility is teaching them about the past, including why we have holidays.

As for the food, there is healthy food for each holiday and if you can't find it, blog about it once and I bet you'll never forget it! :) Pumpkins, banana bread, apples, red fruit (for Valentine's Day)... You need to choose things that are relevant to children to help them to learn, or the learning can be shallow.

That's my two cents worth! So glad we don't have too many restrictions!

Fran Kramer said...

Dear Jennifer,
I am not judging anyone and I am so sorry if that is how I sounded. I am just presenting the point of view taken by many "fundamental" schools and am asking how others deal with this when there is so much diversity in our classrooms. My only concern would be making a child uncomfortable about an activity
because it was based on a holiday they did not celebrate. I really try to be sensitive about this and do not want a child to stay home because of an activity I am doing.
Most of us know how to meet our standards, regardless of content.

laughinbrunette (Jennifer) said...

Glad to hear that. I recognize the importance of not excluding anyone. I was raised as a member of a religion where we did not celebrate Halloween, Christmas, birthdays, basically all holidays were out. I know first hand what it is like to be made to feel weird and different. I would never do that to a child. So I definitely agree with you when you say you wouldn't want a child to stay home b/c of an activity.

Mrs. Saoud said...

Holidays are taught in our state standards. Here is our Kindergarten standard. SS.K.A.2.3: Compare our nation's holidays with holidays of other cultures. And our 1st grade standard. SS.1.A.2.3: Identify celebrations and national holidays as a way of remembering and honoring the heroism and achievements of the people, events, and our nation's ethnic heritage.

I went through the looping process with one of my students that was a Jehovah Witness. I really worked hard to incorporate lessons that would allow for her to participate and the kids to feel the sense of celebration. No parties.

During October, we would learn about different nocturnal animals. On Halloween (or the Friday of), we would celebrate nocturnal night (not much different than those that learn about fall or apples). During the month, I select Miss Alaineus, A Vocabulary Disaster as a book of the month. I combined our learning of nocturnal animals and the book of the month so that kids could dress as a nocturnal vocabulary word.

In November, we investigate pumpkins. This is a time to compare and contrast different color pumpkins, watch them decompose, measure, weigh, etc. Instead of having Thanksgiving, we learned about harvesting and visited a local corn maize.

In December, I explore new waters with a continental exploration of landforms, cultures, and weather. It is a way of incorporating holiday traditions without celebrating Christmas.

I do have a few work stations with holiday themes but also offer an alternative of the activity for students to choose.

I agree with the thought on candy. I have low parent support for buying supplies and snacks. I often have to purchase whatever we are using in class. Unless there is a purpose for the food, I don't usually bring as a class activity. PLUS, how exciting will learning be if a child sorts and graphs sweethearts during Valentines in K, 1, and 2?

Nicole said...

Jennifer, thank you for posting your thoughts... you wrote exactly what I was thinking.

Fran, your comments on this post also stuck a nerve with me. It sounds like this was directed towards schools/districts similar to yours and how they work with it, but some of your readers are proud of using holiday themes while also using the mandated curriculum and reflecting their state standards to the highest level of rigor.
That sentence "we see no value..." troubled me greatly. It's apparent that some of your readers DO see the value and your comments do come across as slightly judgmental, for lack of a better word.
I see that that was not your intention at all and your concerns were in the interest of your students, but there may have been more readers like me who were stung by this post. It did however, spark a great discussion. Thank you for taking the risk.

Fran Kramer said...

Wow. I think we can all have an opinion and I had no intention of offending anyone. My partner and I see 62 children in a day and our kids are in our classroom for 31/2 hours a day. We are overwhelmed by the amount of curriculum we are asked to implement.National holidays are a part of our social studies curriculum and I was not referring to those at all. "We see no value..." is the fundamental perspective on this and I am only asking how you find balance with this and celebrate diversity. I support giving our children healthy snacks. I just feel like things are often taken to such an extreme.

Becky said...

I teach about all the important holidays as time permits. If I know I have a child with a different background I am sure to include what he/she celebrates too. I think it is important to study all cultures as much as 5 year olds can understand and it makes learning a lot of fun. We try to pull in our high frequency words and our math concepts during our studies. Knowledge about each other promotes understanding. I have found my little ones so accepting and loving towards their co-students who are different. They inspire me.

Fran Kramer said...

Thank you so much for all your input. I respect and value your opinions so much and really enjoyed reading about the way you manage difficult issues. So many of you work hard at being sensitive and supporting students from all backgrounds and I loved reading about how you accomplish this. Educational practices shift so much over time and now I have a window into other places and practices. I really enjoyed reading about your perspective since there is no right or wrong...

Kathy said...

Well, I see that you struck a nerve for many people! Holiday and themes are simply a vehicle to teach the rigorous common core standards; just because you choose to use those vehicles does not mean you are not adhering to standards based teaching! Yes, I have diverse classrooms of mixed religions and cultures; I teach 55 students in two 1/2 day sessions for 3 hrs. each. Yes I have the same standards as everyone else, and yes I spice up the material with the wonders of life and the joys of early childhood. Bring on the thematic teaching which I might note has all of the brain based research to back it up!

Mrs.Kazanjian said...

After reading all the comments, I realize how blessed I am to teach in in Georgia. While we do strive to keep our curriculum rigorous, we are still allowed to have fun with learning. We have recess, too! I feel it is important to recognize and honor others' differences, but I don't think we should completely ignore the people who do celebrate holidays for the people who don't. At our school, we try to keep things neutral, such as not using witches or ghosts for lessons while offering alternative activities for kids who have religious restrictions. We do keep parent communication open and check with them to make sure we are respecting their wishes. I do feel it is kind of sad that political correctness has affected five year old kids this way. Think back to your favorite school memory...I am sure it involved a holiday celebration or craft or candy!!! Happy Fall!

Jennifer said...

You should make this a linky party! I think it's an important discussion that should get around!

Themes based on holidays is great... as long as it is not religious and about traditions only. Also the learning should take focus first and the painted second.

Science and Social Studies is a great time to incorporate these themes!

I give kids candy all the time and to graph too! Especially when you are graphing.. it's called realia! (Just edible realia)

Witches - no, they represent witchcraft which is controversial! Mummies - no, they are technically dead people! Scarecrows - yes... they scare birds away from crops. Frankenstien - ugh... IDK... probably no. Kids today have not seen so maybe.

Holiday parties... yes. It's building community. I worked at a school for 4 years where we even had lessons on the last of school. Like full lessons! You must celebrate successes and holidays are a great time to do this. Also... these kids are in such a huge part of our lives! We need to connect with them on more than just academics! This helps bridge that!

And that's how I feel!

(And as far as your district goes.. you should put those scarecrows from Joannes in their front driveway... Scarecrows are not evil.. they are to scare birds! Scary movies have phones... so maybe we should take phones out of our rooms. Just sayin!

Empowering Little Learners!

MrsKinne said...

I am really glad you brought this up! I work in a school with a very diverse group of learners, and we are very respectful of our kiddos' different cultures. That being sad, I keep seeing cute Halloween activities in the blog world that I would never use in my classroom. I appreciate all your apple activities, because they are so appropriate for my ELL little ones.

SAS said...

I think it is so sad that kids can't be kids and do these fun units. I agree that in the past 10 years, I have gone from doing tons of "fun" crafts to just a few. I am very fortunate to teach in a rural area in Kentucky. We celebrate Halloween, make crafts, and wear costumes. We have a Christmas party as well and a Polar Express unit. I am very lucky. Our school is in the country and is very diverse. We have maybe 5 african american students and now have a larger ESL population of 12. I have had years where I have religions that do not celebrate Christmas and she doesn't come on our Christmas party day. We just altered everything else (her rudolph just was a reindeer with a brown nose). Our parents are SUPER understanding and tell us what they can/cannot do. We are currently doing jack-o-lanterns this week!
I do use candy as a reward. Students cannot have it until 1 hour after the last lunch (1:30) but it can be given. I'm so sad you can't do all of that fun stuff! :)

Anjanette said...

I attended a health training and learned that only 100 extra calories a day can lead to childhood obesity. The dietitian pointed out that with birthday treats, class parties, and candy used as rewards it is very possible for the students to get that extra 100 calories at school each day. I want my students to be the best they can be and a large part of that is health. Food for thought.

Fran Kramer said...

I really agree with this. I am one of those parents who did not want my kids being given candy at school. My husband is a dentist and he did not want this for his kids. What message do we send kids about food? We have many diabetic and overweight kids in our district and our nurses are frantic about the increases they see year to year. "A little treat" can lead to a multitude of problems. I am not sure that high sugar foods are worth the problems they bring.I really care about teaching them healthy food habits at a young age.