Christmas is just around the corner and many Early Learning Centers (and some Infant-Toddler Centers) are getting prepared to celebrate and often thinking about the children’s performance for their families. Christmas performances represent a custom in many centers. They are an important tradition in which educators invest a large amount of time, energy and financial resources, making the celebration a significant and “impressive” event. It is such a deep-rooted ritual that, Christmas after Christmas, the celebrations grows despite the fact that it is interrupting the usual flow of the educational program, yearly project’s and even the fact that the preparation can be stressful, a potential source of anxiety for both educators and children.
All schools getting ready to perform a traditional act – with scripts to be memorized by heart, with roles that adults are directing to children – must first ask themselves if it is done for the children, or more in order to please adults. As Silvia Iaccarino says: “In fact, children are always present who align themselves with adult requests in order to feel well-liked and accepted: the classic “good children” who give great satisfaction at the expense of connecting with their needs and their intimate needs, and if the teacher does not it widens its observational abilities, it is easy to escape”
“The performance is such a widespread event that it is usually taken for granted and is not challenged within educational services, as a cornerstone of Christmas celebrations, the beating heart of this significant moment of the year.”
In fact, anyone who visits an Early Learning Center before Christmas where a performance is scheduled can, in fact, witness the daily repetition of the same scenario again and again. Children trying to memorize scripts chosen by others where the core meaning of the performance is missed and not to mention the children’s presence in the act itself being overlooked….us choosing to only see the children who are indeed enjoy themselves, feeling at ease on the stage, but also, with a certain regularity, there are others participating there blanketed with embarrassment, awkwardness and perhaps even tears.
What can we do in order to celebrate this event whilst respecting childhood and children’s rights?
We would suggest you firstly, consider the age of the children, and always remember… don’t do it if the children cannot do it by themselves!
Traditional performances can be written, elaborated and set up by children from 6 years old and up when they can transform this process into something able to stimulate the imagination, develop the narrative thought, and work on allowing expression and creativity to be visible.
For younger children parents can be involved, they can set up an act or just by the adults for the children. Alternatively, it can be asked to children what this moment of the year represents to them? From here research together exactly what could be done with a project’s topics, how do the children and adults together want to represent/celebrate this moment of the year.
From the article of ‘Percorsi Formativi 06’ we read: “The child often finds himself doing what the adult has pre-packaged for him even feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed. Because the play, thus set, implies an exhibition, it is useless to go around it. (…) But the play should be an expressive, creative and rewarding space for all children and it can never be so because the structural principles on which it is set do not really meet the expressive needs of children of this age. (…) There is time for acting! But not in kindergarten. The right time will come when the child, having acquired adequate cognitive skills, will be able to grasp the constructive sense of doing a show. Then he will become passionate, he will truly feel the protagonist of a creative process, and he will be able to enjoy it. In pre-school age, this is not yet possible: the child cannot get excited while he finds himself trying the same scenes, the same things, the same jokes to the bitter end. It is mere repetition ”.
The article goes on with: “We often hear educators saying: “Children like it and it is not true that it stresses them”: as already mentioned, some children certainly like it but not everyone and I think it is important to work towards a more inclusive ritual, instead of a way that generates strong disparities between those who like and enjoy themselves and who, on the other hand, feels performance anxiety, stress or fear.
“It is useful for memory”: in order to “train” the memory of children, daily readings in services, as well as normal experiences, are enough. It is not necessary to add the play to equip the children in this respect. Above all, learning mechanical jokes that are not really felt or fully understood by children, what’s the point? What real learning can it generate?
It is “nice for parents to assist you”: there is no doubt that the parent feels pleasure in the play, but the school should, by mandate, cultivate childhood and not collude with the parental demands that go towards homologation and poor creative expression of children. The whole “small jobs” discourse already carried out in other articles here is worth;
Besides all this, the teachers also work with the idea, perhaps not always so conscious, of wanting to make a good impression with the parents, on the one hand, and giving evidence of their directing skills and the quality of the school, on the other. And it is no coincidence that I stress that these are not very conscious motivations because if the plays of the children at the nursery and at the kindergarten were probably brought to light and problematized, they could be reflected differently. It is a legitimate and human need for recognition and belonging that often moves teachers not to question the performance, almost as if eliminating this ritual there were no more opportunities to highlight to parents the value of their work, to feel seen and appreciated. When these aspects are also brought to light and discussed openly, resistance to change may drop and then, as a team, it is possible to ask oneself how to meet one’s needs without having children bear the burden.”
How, then within your environment is it possible to enhance the work of educators and show the quality of their professional activity? Here there is a world of reflections on documentation and communication with families and the territory, which although it is not the central theme of this article, we think is an important aspect to bring to the subject in the workgroup.
A unique and positive way in which we have observed Christmas celebrations is with parents being highly involved. A celebration where the parents themselves help to prepare a show for the children. Singing and dancing together without a cloth to follow, yes the parents create choirs’ who sing for children and so on. The possibilities are many and Christmas like other recurring traditions can be celebrated in abundance of ways and scripted performance most certainly have an important place within the act of celebrating traditions. It is often sadly just our first port of call however it may be best reserved for when children are older and can truly be present and able to enjoy this kind of experience.
At ZeroSei Project we simply ask that you begin your preparations with a simple reflection of “Who are we?” (Educators reflecting) as well as ‘How and what would we like to celebrate?” (Children and Educators reflecting together.) You will find these simple reflections can help for a creative way to be chosen in which everyone is represented, relaxed and the tradition is celebrated meaningfully.
From all of us at ZeroSei Project, we wish you a Merry Christmas and many joyful celebrations!
The team of ZeroSei Project,
From an Inspiring article of “Percorsi Formativi 06” of Silvia Iaccarino
Image from: ‘the Garden – Early Learning Center’ of Bali