In Montessori education, the child’s developmental needs are at the forefront of any new concept or information being presented. Children under the age of 6 are concrete learners, meaning everything they see/hear/learn is accepted as real. As an AMI-trained Montessori teacher, I adhere to this and try to present my own children and students with factual information. I use reality-based books and photographs that depict the world around them.
In Montessori, we strive to deliver for the child a vast variety of cultures and understanding of the ways others may celebrate holidays. Sharing books about Diwali, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, etc., are all instrumental in a Montessori education. In the classroom, we have family presentations, read books, listen to music, and taste food from other cultures. The children also learn that people believe different things.
But What About Make-Believe Holiday Traditions?
You might be asking, “What about Santa Claus and some of the make-believe traditions that surround the holidays?” In the United States these are part of our cultural tradition, and perhaps even more importantly, part of your family culture. Children have a craving to understand the world around them; they want to know the history of why we celebrate this way. Simply put, you can say, “Santa Claus is based on someone named St. Nicholas who was generous and kind and brought gifts to people so they would feel happy.”
Montessori also puts respect for the child first. Respecting your child’s young, developing brain means checking in with them about what feels comfortable and offering choices. For example, when visiting Santa, you might ask, “Would you like to sit on Santa’s lap or just wave from afar?”
Respecting your child’s young, developing brain means checking in with them about what feels comfortable and offering choices.
If you notice that the fabricated magic of the holidays is creating nerves or anxiety, maybe just focus on ways to bring out the holiday magic without the make-believe. If you notice your child seems bewildered about a man coming down a chimney, switch gears to place the focus on decorating the house or let your child wrap presents that go underneath the tree. Instead of talking about nice versus naughty, focus on the generosity and excitement of writing holiday cards and invite your child to give small gifts to people of their choosing. Listen to festive songs and learn the lyrics, decorate the house together, read books, the list goes on.
When in Doubt, Do What Feels Natural for Your Family
When I offer parenting advice or guidance to the parents whose children I work with, I always encourage them to do what feels natural for them. While we may not teach directly about Santa in school, it’s up to your family to decide what your family celebrations will look like at home. If you’re a family that loves posing on Santa’s lap, leaving cookies out for reindeer, or writing letters to Santa, then you should decide together what your traditions will be. And if you want to keep it reality-based but still enjoy stockings by the chimney, it’s okay to do that without the backstory of Santa delivering presents. Follow your child, and decide as a family what your holiday traditions will be.
If you notice that the fabricated magic of the holidays is creating nerves or anxiety, maybe just focus on ways to bring out the holiday magic without the make-believe.
And when your child reaches the age when they begin to question the reality of Santa, you again get to decide what works best for your family. You can rely on the aforementioned phrase “people believe different things.” But the truth about Santa doesn’t necessarily mean the magic has to disappear. Your child will hopefully continue to appreciate the spirit of the holidays and enjoy the kindness and generosity of our culture. They will also carry with them the traditions and celebrations that your family has decided upon together.