teacher wants their classroom to be a place of joy, harmony and inclusion,
particularly during the winter holiday season. But with students of many faiths
and cultures represented in today’s classrooms, it can sometimes be tricky to
stay sensitive to everyone’s needs and step around the pitfalls of stereotyping
Teachers are on the vanguard of diversity education, so it’s our job to balance awareness, representation and sensitivity when it comes to winter holiday celebrations in the classroom. These four key principles will help you develop your own strategy for holiday celebrations that engage students from a wide variety of cultures.
Don’t Assume, Stereotype, or Tokenize
and foremost, remember that holiday activities will often require care and
thought toward equitability because of how they bring real-world traditions
into the classroom. That can make a great opportunity for fun and interesting
learning, but its benefits must be equitable.
to pull off this balancing act? The first step is to check your assumptions and
privilege. Don’t assume that a student celebrates any particular holiday based
on their ethnicity or heritage. Likewise, don’t assume that everyone celebrates
a winter holiday. Some students’ religious traditions may not have winter
holidays or any holidays at all, and many will likely celebrate the same
holiday in different ways.
One good way to get started is to open up a discussion to any student who wants to talk about their celebrations or traditions, keeping in mind that not all children will be comfortable talking about theirs. Remember that students shouldn’t be expected to be experts on the holidays they or their families celebrate. Student-led discussions of different celebrations can be great, but avoid putting any student on the hot seat to talk about or explain a particular tradition.
Build Diversity into Your Lesson Plans
holiday lesson plans should celebrate differences. A unit on different
holiday celebrations, for example, can provide some fun and interesting lesson opportunities.
The holiday season is the perfect time to bring in guest speakers to talk to
the class about how they celebrate holidays, since many students will be eager
for a change of pace, and speakers can often provide interesting and in-depth
insights to add to discussions. Parents or community leaders make great guest
speakers, and some will probably be eager to share their traditions.
If you want to examine certain traditions but can’t fit in guest speakers, try reading books or watching films or YouTube videos as part of your investigations into how different cultures celebrate. For older students, breaking the class into groups to learn about and report on various holiday traditions can be a good way to create student interest and sharpen research skills. If interesting and diverse activities are available, field trips to community holiday events can be another excellent option.
Think Outside the Usual Holiday Cliches
nothing wrong with reindeer, Santa hats and sugar cookies, but try to diversify
your decorations and not focus them on a single holiday. At the same time, be
careful about using symbols from cultures you’re not familiar with—do your
research first and make sure you’re not using them in an offensive or
inappropriate way. When in doubt, it’s best to politely ask someone with
knowledge of the specific cultural tradition.
student input on decorations or letting students hang their own crafts can
offer a lot of great possibilities to let kids express themselves and feel
represented in the classroom. Holiday STEM projects offer more great ideas
since they often focus on things like winter weather that can be examined
outside of a cultural or religious context. (Plus, they often use interesting
and fun tools like student microscopes.)
In classes with a strong multicultural focus, one idea is to make the winter holidays a single piece of a rolling year-round investigation into holidays from many different traditions. This can be a good way to include students whose traditions don’t have any winter holidays, or for whom winter holidays aren’t a focal point of the year.
Consider Forms of Inclusion Outside of Religion and Culture
are many ways to create a diverse and harmonious classroom besides
acknowledging religious differences. The holidays are a great time to focus on
what brings us together, and that means paying special attention to students
with a full range of physical, cultural, social and emotional needs. Consider
factors such as:
- Dietary restrictions. Some traditional western Christmas
food, for example, contains peanuts and other foods that may not be acceptable
to students whose traditions include dietary rules.
- Emotional and social needs. Holidays can be an
emotionally stressful time for many students, so it’s important to be able to point
students toward the necessary resources.
- Needs of neurodivergent students and students with
The hustle and bustle of holiday activities can be difficult and
overstimulating for students with some conditions, so make sure that diverse
learners are getting the support they need.
differences are another area that you may need to be particularly careful about
addressing during the holidays. Questions about giving and receiving gifts can
create uncomfortable moments for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, so be
prepared to steer class discussions away from these topics if they come up, or
to offer support to students who need it.
Cheryl Stevens is the Community Relations Specialist for AmScope. She oversees all company-wide outreach programs and initiatives. Her passion in life is helping others see the value in and implement STEM programs for children at an early age.