How do you accommodate students who don’t celebrate holidays? Many of our classrooms include students who don’t celebrate and unfamiliar teachers may not know how to manage this type of situation. Read on to find tips and ideas to guide you in what to do when students don’t celebrate holidays.
Accommodating students who don’t celebrate holidays
During my second year of teaching I had a student in my classroom who, due to his religious beliefs, didn’t celebrate birthdays or holidays. At the time, I was unfamiliar with families whose religion included this belief. I didn’t know how to manage this situation without feeling I would be singling my student out or making him uncomfortable. Fortunately for me, my student’s mother reached out early on. She explained their beliefs and asked if we could plan ahead to come up with alternatives to accommodate various situations that may arise throughout the year.
Communicate with Parents
Keep the lines of communication open with parents. I’ve had several families now who were Jehovah’s Witnesses and parents have been very open and proactive about making me aware and letting me know the types of activities their child can and can not do. What has worked for one family however, hasn’t necessarily been acceptable for others. Each of my families has been different.
Meet with the child’s parents to ask what the limitations are. Make a plan with parents for situations like birthdays and holiday activities and discuss what an acceptable alternative might be. This has sometimes meant that the parent would pick up their child early or request the student have permission to go to the library or somewhere other than the classroom during certain activities. It has also with some families, been acceptable to have the child stay in the classroom but work on something different if the rest of the class is engaged in a holiday activity.
Communicate with other teachers and staff
Make the child’s specials teachers and administration aware of the child’s religious beliefs. Brainstorm with art and library teachers about alternate art projects or library activities your students can participate in while in their classes. For example, when students were making holiday cards in art, my student made a winter scene drawing instead. I have found that specials teachers usually appreciate the input and ideas.
Agree on a plan for holidays and birthdays
Have a plan in place or check with parents first about classroom parties, movie days, or school-wide events. Most of the time my parents have opted to either pick their child up early or requested they be able to go to the library or office to read or work on something else.
Make a plan with parents about how to manage birthdays. Is it acceptable to let their child have a treat and not sing, “Happy Birthday” or would they prefer their child not be in the room? I often do birthdays outside (we live in Arizona where the weather is almost always warm) at picnic tables on the playground. In some cases I’ve had the student play in another area with another class while we sang and passed out treats. In other cases, I’ve had parents suggest the student stay with the class, not sing and have one of the snacks they provided for me to give their child instead during class birthdays.
Adapt classroom activities when you can
Replace holiday themed activities with a non-holiday version when you can. I do a gingerbread man theme each December and teach a unit on comparing favorite versions. While gingerbread is traditionally a holiday treat, most of The Gingerbread Man stories are not at all holiday related.
Switch out practice pages with holiday pictures to a similar, winter-themed alternative if you can. If your class is researching holiday traditions around the world have your student who doesn’t celebrate research another topic related to one of the countries. Winter themes related to hot chocolate, snowmen, caribou and tundra animals are all activities even students who don’t celebrate can do. If you count down the days until Christmas break, consider changing the term to “winter break” instead. I’ve found it fairly easy to replace Christmas themed activities with winter or snow related ones.
As teachers, we have learned to make accommodations for a variety of student needs. With a little foresight, parent partnering and planning we can also respectfully accommodate children in our classrooms who don’t celebrate holidays.
I hope you’ve found this article helpful and have found ideas you can use in your classroom.
Are public schools allowed to remove all holiday activities to accommodate to families who don’t celebrate?
At my school we do not remove any holidays. Parents can remove their children from participating in holiday activities if they wish to.
As a person who doesn’t celebrate holidays I appreciate you very much and wish my kids teachers were a bit more like you. Thanks
You’re welcome, Nessa!
I was just wondering how are you accommodate the children who do celebrate these holidays? Do you decorate for Halloween? Do you have Halloween art and crafts projects? Or are all those things simply taken away?
I’m not being critical I am honestly curious. My daughter goes to school in a one room school house which has two separate teachers each teaching multiple grades. This year three of us a total of nine of the students do not celebrate Halloween. We were informed via our children that there would be no Halloween Arts and crafts projects and the teacher posted online that she would not be decorating for Halloween because of these students. Then my daughter and other students told us the teachers announced that there would be no Halloween arts and crafts or other Halloween related activities. It just so happy that these kids will be gone on the parade day, so the kids will be allowed to dress up and have a parade. I don’t know what they would’ve done if they were going to be there.
The school board told me the teachers researched this and are doing what other schools do. I find this hard to believe. Can you tell me if this is true?
I don’t know what other schools do, but I decorate for holidays and we do holiday related activities, crafts, etc. I do a holidays around the world unit in December where students learn customs and traditions from other countries. I let parents of children who don’t celebrate know what the class will be doing and I work with the parents to come up with alternative activities their child can do. As I said in the article above, each year and family is different and some opt to have their child go to the library during holiday activities while others are fine with their child being in the classroom working on something non-holiday related. So far this has always worked for my class and my families.
This is so commendable. i really appreciate your thoughtfulness for students and families with different religious faith.
Julia J Valdary
As a kid who grew up not celebrating Christmas or Halloween, I really appreciate you taking the time out to accommodate the students in your class who have special religious needs. I wish there were more teachers like you back in my day as many of them were unprepared or ignorant on how to assist those of us who did not celebrate secular holidays. Many teachers like to assume or pretend that everyone observes the same traditions as they do when in reality, that just isn’t the case. Anyways, I hope your blog post reaches a teacher out there who may need more guidance on this issue. Thanks again!
You’re welcome Julia! I think it’s really important to not only accommodate our kids academic, behavioral and social and emotional needs but also their family beliefs and needs.