Hi, I’m Maya. I’m 5. My best time is when I get to decorate the Christmas tree with Mummy. She tells me where to put things. She’s even given me a special plate to put a mince pie and carrot on for Santa and his reindeer…
It’s that time of the year again and it’s a time of mass production, not just for Santa and his elves or multi-national manufacturers – but teachers and practitioners around the world are lining up their pupils to produce Christmas goods.
To be honest, we also marched into the Recycled classroom this week, armed with lids and crisp packets. We too had ‘plans’ and were at the ready to ‘make’ Christmas with our learners. Halt the production line.
We provided an opportunity for the Early Years children we’d been working with to decorate an artificial Christmas tree that had been rescued from a skip, fully intact in its House of Fraser box. Christmas time is a wonderful period in the classroom to develop lots of physical skills, as well as talk about the materials, colours and textures that some decorations might be made of. And getting to decorate a tree is in itself, a chance to allow children lots of independence.
The children started threading the red and green milk bottle lids to wrap around the tree. It did not go well. The children struggled to push the wool through the holes. We’d planned to create one long string, create a repeating pattern and measure its length. That was the plan. But tears appeared because someone wanted to thread a red lid on instead of a green one. One point to the children. The long string was then cut into shorter ones and children started to thread individually. But they were still battling to push the thread through. Some lost interest and only a few stuck with it. They were resilient, determined and finally threaded their lids.
Others created patterns on the table or on whiteboards, counting them and arranging them. One child even dared to cover a stray milk bottle lid with some tin foil she’d found elsewhere in the classroom.
That wasn’t what we’d planned. Two points to the children.
Next on our production list: crisp packets cut into different shapes to create marvellous, glitter-free decorations. A wonderful opportunity to highlight that crisp packets are now recyclable in the UK and are being turned into watering cans and benches by TerraCycle. The children were to match the shapes, punch holes in the packaging and hang their decorations on the tree. Again, futile. The children talked about the shapes but stuck them all together. Another made a laptop with the shapes – sparking others to do the same. They were cutting and hole-punching and gluing.
Not a Christmas decoration in sight. Three points to the children.
And then we took a step back and saw all the learning and design-thinking that was taking place. There was innovation and conversation, there were children combining shapes and materials from around the classroom. They were struggling but succeeding to punch holes and thread things. Not for an adult-led curated Christmas, but for themselves – of their own volition and for their own development. And possibly also because the materials they were provided with didn’t scream out “Christmas”. The resources offered other possibilities.
They didn’t even think the bits of plastic netting rescued from around a real Christmas tree looked like snow, once hung on their tree. They thought it looked and felt like “spiders-webs”. Game to them.
A child-led, child-centred waste-full Christmas. Much more fun and rewarding.