Celebrations, with their associated rituals and traditions, have tremendous potential to build a group identity and culture. Given some of the problematic values embedded in popular culture (materialism, bias, violence, cynicism), it’s important that we build a counter-culture here, one based on our own values, so that children aren’t left with the other by default.
Besides, celebrating feels good. Celebrations lift us up and ground us at the same time; they remind us of what is the same, year after year, and of what is special and extraordinary. They offer both trust and hope, calm and excitement. They build appreciation for a shared history full of cherished moments, and excitement about a shared future full of things to look forward to. They help us feel connected to each other, and at the same time more firmly rooted in our individual families. They show us that we are unique parts of one lovely whole.
We celebrate with the essential elements of any powerful human ritual-shared planning and preparation; food; story; song and dance; and documenting the experience we have shared so that we can remember it together.
Traditional Celebrations. Tradition is the part of our curriculum that makes us more like a family and less like a school, the part that’s tied to the seasons, that’s the same every year, that helps us mark our time together in meaningful ways and reminds us about what we value as a community-family, friendship, nature, cooperation, and of course, our children. Our traditional celebrations-Stone Soup Feast, Valentine’s Party, Welcome Spring Celebration, and Graduation-are included in the Children First calendar.
Special Celebrations. We find a multitude of other things to celebrate (in big and small ways!) in the course of every year-the birth of a new baby brother; a harvest of huge radishes; a triumphant march up a very high hill; teamwork to clean up a messy creek; the continuing presence of wonderful teachers; stitches coming out of an injured finger; chicks hatching or baby wrens fledging. Some of these celebrations happen during the day (an announcement and three cheers at meeting; a hot chocolate and cookie party after lunch), and a few of them happen at family gatherings so that the whole community can be involved.
Beginnings and Endings. In preschool, our days are full of beginnings and endings, big and small, expected and unexpected. And that means our days are full of feelings-excitement, anticipation, anxiety, anger, sadness, and more. All these beginnings and endings are rich ground for cultivating closer relationships between the adults and children in the community, and for nourishing the ability to express feelings openly and appropriately. Therefore, we often mark these moments with ritual-a good-bye party for a teacher moving to a new city; a Welcome Book for new kids; muffins, coffee, and a thank you poster for a beloved sometimes teacher moving to a full-time job; a simple funeral for a dead bird found in the garden; and of course, a fabulous graduation ceremony to mark the passage from preschool to kindergarten. Read more on Children First graduation in this article Donna wrote for Child Care Information Exchange.
Birthdays. Birthdays are big events when you’ve only had a few, and we celebrate accordingly. At a Children First birthday, children cooperate to make a crown for the birthday child, and spend the morning searching for the “birthday ball” full of small treasures that the Children First Birthday Fairy has hidden somewhere in the school. Meeting is devoted to celebrating the Birthday Child year by year, and families are invited to share photographs and memories from each year of the child’s life. Often, the birthday family brings in a special snack or dessert to share after lunch.
Family Traditions. We recognize, respect, and share children’s interest in widely celebrated cultural, religious, and “commercial” holidays, although we do not officially observe holidays like Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas, Hanukkah, Chinese New Year, Easter, or Passover. Instead, we invite each family and teacher to share the holiday activities and traditions they value with the children. We find that this approach affirms and enriches everyone involved without suggesting that there’s one “right way” to believe or celebrate. When you enroll, we will ask you about your family’s traditions, so that we can include and honor them as an important part of your child’s identity.
It is utterly part of our nature to want roots, to need roots, to struggle for roots, for a sense of belonging, for some place that is recognized as MINE, as YOURS, as OURS.