Keeping the Elf on the Shelf – and Out of the Classroom
‘Tis the season … that every parent from a non-Christmas celebrating family learns to dread.
Everywhere you turn you are inundated with signs of Christmas. The stores/restaurants/doctor offices have endless displays of Christmas decorations and toys. The radios play Christmas music ad nauseum. Even in the schools the signs of Christmas are everywhere.
Before you go calling me the Grinch, I love Christmas. It’s a joyous time of year, where despite the winter chill people smile and say hello to one another. It’s the season of giving, where neighbors go out of their way to help others. So why is it that as a Jewish parent I dread this time of year?
I never really started dreading this time of year until my kids entered elementary school. Things become much trickier in school where, in my experience, there is a tremendous lack of diversity and most of the kids celebrate Christmas. Teachers do not mean to be narrow minded and are certainly not doing Christmas projects that are deemed fun with the intention of alienating children but for the kids who do not celebrate Christmas, that is just what they are doing.
Elf on the Shelf, for example. Why is this even in schools? Used in homes of Christmas-celebrating families (and even many of those families are tired of the elf!) it is meant to be a fun tradition, but also a behavior modification tool. In a school setting it is isolating and confusing to a child unfamiliar with these traditions. How can they understand that they are supposed to behave because an Elf will report back to Santa … a Santa who does not come to their house? An alternative could be simply rewarding positive behavior rather than having the elf there to report back to Santa.
When practicing writing in class, why must the project be a letter to Santa instead of just a gift wish list? (Or even just a writing assignment that doesn’t emphasize the commercialization of Christmas!) Santa doesn't bring gifts to our house. Why would we write him a letter? A great alternative to this would be to write letters to soldiers who are away from home during the holidays. Not only is this a writing project, but it also helps spread some holiday cheer and allows for a lesson about soldiers and what they do for us and our freedom.
Why must there be a math worksheet about how many packages are in Santa’s sleigh? How about one that counts how many candles there are on a Menorah? Or a worksheet discussing the seven principles of Kwanzaa?
It’s not that I believe there should be no Christmas allowed in school. I believe that children should be taught about all holidays that occur this time of year, and even that some people don’t celebrate holidays at all. It is important to educate our children about diverse topics, not alienate and confuse them by only offering projects and assignments relevant to one holiday.
On a personal note, I have almost-6-year-old twins that are in the same kindergarten class. They have come home almost daily with a new Christmas project or story. They are very confused as to why everything is about Christmas when we don’t celebrate Christmas at home. I have explained to them that even though Christmas is not in our house that does not mean we cannot help our friends celebrate. Additionally, I have offered to go into the school and teach the children about Chanukah and some of the traditions that our family has. I know several of their friends have never met anyone Jewish before, so the kids and I are enjoying educating them. As a mother I would like the support of the schools, teachers, principals, superintendents, to help my children feel welcome.
What has your experience been and do you feel it is appropriate? I'd love for you to share this message, and to help me make the schools a more inclusive place for all children to feel welcome by taking action at your own school.
Thank you to our guest contributor, Allison Bucko. Allison lives in Perrysburg, Ohio with her husband, Jeff, and almost-6-year-old twins, Parker and Annabelle. She earned a bachelor of communications as well as an MBA from the University of Toledo in Ohio. Allison works as a Pilates instructor and volunteers at her children's school as much as possible.