Diverse and Inclusive Family Engagement During the Holidays

In our October Family Engagement webinar focused on cultural diversity, Martha Tapia, a QSLA provider, shared “Knowing each other from the point of view of our cultures is very important in knowing each other individually.” We have previously discussed the concepts of diversity and inclusion as integral to building strong relationships with families in our early learning programs. A diverse and inclusive approach to family engagement demonstrates:   

  • The unique perspectives and experiences of families are valued by program staff
  • How to embrace and value one another’s differences, rather than ignore or fear them
  • How to treat one another with fairness, dignity and respect

This month, we will continue to explore diversity and inclusion through the lens of holiday celebrations. As December is a popular month for a wide array of celebrations among the families in your program, this is the perfect time to reflect on the ways our programs can take inclusive approaches to embracing the diversity of families’ holiday celebrations.

When done within the context of learning and family partnerships, the celebration of different holidays can serve as a bridge between home and school and help to foster stronger relationships between families.

Strategies to Encourage Diverse and Inclusive Celebrations

Consider these three strategies to support diverse and inclusive celebratory practices to enhance family engagement in your program.   

1. Take time for reflection: Before planning festivities for families around a particular holiday, take the time to self-reflect and recognize any biases that you may have related to the holiday, how it should or shouldn’t be celebrated, who should celebrate what holidays, etc. These assumptions and biases are normal and come from our personal childhood and adult experiences and impact the way we approach this particular topic in the classroom.  As you reflect, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I believe to be true about different holidays throughout the year?  
  • Do my beliefs about holidays match the beliefs that all of my families have?  Do I know the beliefs of my families
  • How comfortable do I feel in celebrating the holidays that the families in my program celebrate that are different from my own or in ways different from my own? Why do I have these feelings?

By thinking about these questions, you can identify strategies for stepping out of your comfort zone to make holiday celebrations an enriching and inclusive opportunity for the families in your program.   

2. Learn about your families: Take the time to ask the families in your classroom or program what and how they celebrate before making any plans. If possible, connect with families individually about these questions to support relationship building and positive communication.  As it may be hard to reach each family in-person, particularly with current health and safety guidelines, send home a quick paper or an on-line survey that asks each family:

  • What are your favorite family traditions?
  • What are your family’s favorite holidays, if any? How do you celebrate these holidays with your family (i.e. specific songs, stories, foods, etc.)?
  • Would you be interested in sharing these activities with the class or with other families?

This will go a long way towards making sure that each family feels engaged and represented in the planning and execution of classroom and program-wide celebrations.  If you have families that don’t celebrate holidays at all, make sure to work with them to identify ways to ensure that their beliefs are respected and represented throughout the different activities planned in the year. 

3. Go beyond the surface: As you begin planning, identify the learning opportunities that allow you to go beyond the surface of the celebration to dive into more content-rich experiences. Your planning should provide an opportunity for you, the families and the children to learn more about each other and share their own experiences.

Consider the following as you plan:   

  • Invite families to share a story, teach a song, or do a cooking lesson specifically related to their holiday traditions. Encourage the family to share about origins of this celebration through storytelling or the sharing of pictures or other artifacts (a special blanket, ornament, candle holder, toy, etc.). Families can learn the origin story of certain artifacts and then follow along with directions & materials for a craft activity! Similarly, if a holiday tradition is originally from another country, families can take the chance to teach children key words or songs in that language.
    • Virtual Idea: Welcome families to share these traditions with your class through a video call on Zoom or the platform of your choice. Make sure to include options that will set a festive mood like traditional and/or celebratory music, pictures, etc.
  • Have a family night where families share a traditional holiday craft activity or food with other families at the program. Ask families to share their favorite holiday song, in any language, to make a holiday playlist to listen to during the event. Make sure families with diverse backgrounds are part of the planning of this event.
    • Virtual Idea: Invite families to send pictures or videos of themselves showcasing these traditions. These can be shared in a group chat, Facebook group, digital newsletter, or even compiled into a special video to share with the program as a whole for a multicultural holiday celebration!
  • Share a list of books with families that focus on different cultures, celebrations, and holiday traditions that are reflective of those in your program. This will extend their learning and encourage conversations about diversity at home. Check out our themed holiday booklist here!

As always, consider the capacity of your program staff and what health and safety policies your program has in place and adapt these ideas accordingly!

Looking for more guidance in how to celebrate the holidays in your early learning program? Check out this 3-minute video from Child Care Resources!

Check out this Read-Aloud video of Kate DePalma’s book Let’s Celebrate! Special Days Around the World. It’s a great read for your early learning program.  

There are many ways to celebrate the holidays with families; what is important is that your celebrations reflect and involve the diverse families in your program. These celebrations are just one of many ways that you inclusively engage families throughout the year to create an environment where all children and families feel welcome. 

Cristina Espinoza
Family Education Coordinator, Quality Start Los Angeles

Cristina Espinoza has worked as a family and youth development professional for 6 years, including having served as a Peace Corps Volunteer as a youth development promoter in Costa Rica. In conjunction with Quality Start Los Angeles, Cristina is passionate about supporting families to feel empowered in the changing landscape of their surroundings with their children’s wellbeing at the forefront.  She is a champion of strengths-based systems and services that build resilient families and youth.