UCLC's Philosophy on the Celebration of Holidays
Over the years, there have been many questions about why the University Children’s Learning Center does not celebrate holidays. The quick answer is respect. Children from around the globe are enrolled at UCLC. Each family has unique beliefs, values and traditions. The philosophy of the Learning Center is one of inclusion, where every family feels respected and welcomed. This long-held philosophical belief is reflected in the policies that have guided practices at UCLC for over four decades.
The UCLC policy states “Curriculum does not include the practice of observing traditional Christian based holidays, such as Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day or Easter. UCLC values and respects each family and their individual beliefs; therefore, the Learning Center does not feel it is appropriate to pick and choose holidays to celebrate. The Learning Center believes it is more important and appropriate for children to learn about their culture and heritage, including the celebration of important and significant historical events, from their family. If a family wishes to come and share a particular aspect of their cultural beliefs, the Learning Center would welcome that opportunity.”
How does this policy translate to classroom practices? Quite simply, teachers do not plan curriculum experiences that are associated with any religion. Faith-based beliefs, traditions and customs are best taught and observed in the home setting. Young children are at a stage of development where they cannot distinguish between learning about religious practices and embracing them. We feel that all of our children should be able to participate fully in UCLC’s program offerings without engaging in practices that are inconsistent with family beliefs. This point was articulated in a 1986 letter from a parent after Santa Claus had made an appearance at UCLC:
“The purpose of this letter is to help teachers who are members of a dominant mainstream culture to see customs they take for granted from the perspective of a fellow citizen who is committed to maintaining a different culture.” This parent went on to explain that when Santa is in the mall, every family has the right to participate or not. She understands Santa is a positive experience, “which we share in by observing, respecting, but not participating in, other people’s religious customs. By having Santa come to the Center unannounced to parents, you have taken my child out of the role of observer into that of participant, participating in something that she has learned explicitly is not for her.” The parent pointed out that the disrespect was compounded when her child was encouraged to sit on Santa’s lap to be asked the very confusing question, “What do you want Santa to bring you for Chanukah?”
This unfortunate incident underscores one the paramount principles that still guides every UCLC staff member today: In order to teach our children respect, we strive to model respect every day and in every aspect of our program. Our practices need to convey the message to each child, “You belong here and are a valued member of the UCLC community.” By not planning curriculum that is derived from a specific set of religious and cultural traditions, the sense of identity and self-esteem that the children carry with them from their families and home environments can be affirmed.
UCLC does maintain the importance of children’s individual identities being reinforced in the classroom, at the same time embracing opportunities for children of varied backgrounds to learn from each other. We listen and get excited with the children as they tell us about what’s meaningful to them in their lives outside of our program, including cultural traditions, and encourage sharing of personal experiences within their UCLC families. These experiences frequently become the basis for further discussion and inquiry, as our Emergent Curriculum model encourages the children to lead the way in what they want to learn about each others’ cultures. UCLC teachers help them seek out many types of resources in order to pursue their interests. Families are welcomed into the classroom to share customs and traditions, offering culturally relevant learning and allowing all the children to explore what it means to live in a global society. Through participating in a diverse learning community, children are able to gain the understanding that both the similarities and uniqueness of the human experience are highly valued.