One of the greatest gifts Montessori children receive as part of their education is the gift of time. They are given time to observe different types of work being done by peers. They are given time to make choices about what work they would like to do during the school day. They are given time to focus on their own work and time to explore without interruption during their three-hour work cycle. This gift of time provides Montessori students with many benefits. They learn about independence, decision-making, and the joy of learning for learning’s sake.
When holidays pop up on the calendar, Montessori students are given another gift. Instead of a holiday taking over one day on the calendar without any connection to the days before or the days following the holiday, Montessori classrooms embrace celebrations of the seasons in a more cross-curricular, more involved, less obtrusive way. For example, in the weeks prior to a holiday of importance, the Practical Life shelves may reflect the colors and symbols of the season in the pouring, sorting, or transferring works. The Language area and circle time activities will most certainly incorporate poems, stories, and songs related to the seasonal celebrations. Math works may use counting items that correlate with holiday themes. Art supplies change to stimulate the children’s unique artistic expression using materials inspired by the time of year. And perhaps the best part of the classroom to share information about specific holidays is the Cultural area, where the children may find continent boxes filled with photographs, artifacts, and items associated with various holidays and the cultures from which they originated.
The beauty of celebrating in this way is that the security and predictability of the child’s school day remains intact. Children rely on this type of schedule. They thrive and perform best in an environment where they understand the expectations and where they feel they have some control over their day. Instead of having one day in the month where things become chaotic (and we have all attended school holiday celebrations that leave us exhausted and overwhelmed!), the season of celebrations unfolds slowly. The children learn about the history, discover the traditions, and find delight in celebrating a variety of holidays over the course of time and within the parameters of how their school environment is already set up for them. To enhance this learning and make it even more meaningful at The Montessori Children’s Academy, parents, relatives, and special guests often come into the classrooms to share their personal experiences with special celebrations, giving the students great insights into and appreciation for other cultures and the people within their community.
If we really think about it, we will realize that there is more to learn about a celebration than can possibly fit into one classroom session for it to be truly meaningful. Montessori children learn about the celebration as something more than what they might see on television or in advertising. Most would agree that the commercialization of many holidays could easily cause children to misunderstand the true meaning behind the celebrations. However, in a Montessori classroom, the commercial ‘noise’ is silenced as children are provided with age-appropriate information about the people, places, foods, and traditions surrounding the holidays. Celebrating the seasons the Montessori way provides children with the opportunity to engage in meaningful activities that teach them so much more than about just one day on the calendar. By learning about holidays, they learn about other cultures. They also gain an awareness of what is different and what is similar among people worldwide. They learn tolerance and acceptance. They learn about what brings joy to people around the globe. The Montessori approach to celebrating special days is a gift to children as it expands their minds, their hearts, and their worlds.
Here are just a few Montessori-inspired ideas for making your family holidays more meaningful:
- Visit your local library and check out books or music CDs related to the holiday before it arrives. Let your child choose one or two books to read each day leading up to the holiday and keep a CD in your car to listen to when driving around town.
- Take out a map or globe and help your child find the part of the world where the holiday originated. In the days surrounding the holiday, share one new fact about the culture. If it is a more global holiday, research how it is celebrated in different parts of the world.
- Turn down outside ‘noise’: If the media tends to overload commercialized messages about the holiday you are celebrating, consider turning off the TV and tuning in to what makes the holiday important to you. Make a ‘holiday happiness jar’ where you write the things that you enjoy most about the holiday on little slips of paper. Each day, take out one of the notes to remind you what is important about the celebration.
- Share special memories you may have of celebrating the holiday when you were a child and discuss what things are the same and what things are different when celebrating today.
- Include your children in the preparations. Let them create a special centerpiece for the table or make decorations to display on the front door. If special foods are part of the celebration, invite your child to help measure and mix ingredients.
- Maintain a ‘normal’ schedule as best as you can. Children do best when their day follows a predictable pattern. If you have special outings or you know your daily schedule will be interrupted because of holiday preparations or celebrations, prepare your child so that he or she knows what to expect.
- Carry on a tradition from your upbringing or begin a new one with your child to help make the holiday even more special and personal!