Christmas is a lovely time of year if you work with young children. There tends to be a lot of excitement in the air and we have permission to get the glitter glue and sparkly tinsel out every day!
Sometimes, I am asked my views on talking with children about Father Christmas (or Santa as he is often known). Should children be encouraged to believe in magic? The cynics might say this is, for many, a child’s first introduction to lying and deceit and will not do the child any good in the long run!
Well, I beg to differ! When it comes to experiencing the magic of this season, Father Christmas can have a large part to play. It is developmentally appropriate for him to be real to the children in our care. His existence is socially supported both in a commercial sense and also within most families – one study found that over 95% of families in the UK celebrate Father Christmas. This jolly fellow personifies a magical time of year and helps us, as practitioners, to impart some of the values that Christmas can instil. Sharing ideas about love, joy, peace, kindness and generosity and teaching children the pleasure of giving, as well as receiving.
For young children there can be blurred lines between fantasy and reality and between fact and fiction. This does not mean that they cannot distinguish between pretend and real. To assume this would do them a disservice. However, children are often masters at using their imaginations and some children happily move between their fantasy worlds and the real world much more readily than adults do.
Through fantasy and magical play, children reside in a world of dragons, fairies, unicorns and superheroes. They learn the rules of play, experiment with sometimes scary storylines in a safe context and can engage in power struggles, develop self-regulation and problem solving skills that help to prepare them for the real world.
Believing in magic can be a child’s way of trying to explain why things happen the way they do…Magic explains the inexplicable! This way of thinking also enables children to believe that they can do the impossible, they can be whatever they want to be and they can change their lives to be the way they want them to be. We can learn a thing or two from this sort of possibility thinking. Carol Dweck would call this a growth mindset – our intelligence is not just what we are born with, but with the right opportunities and hard work we can be who we want to be and achieve anything.
Adults can sometimes stamp this can-do attitude out of children when they start to impose conditions, or reality, or explain the ‘truth’ to children. I think this was what Loris Malaguzzi meant when in his poem The Hundred Languages of children he said, ‘They steal ninety-nine.’
Early years practitioners need to develop children’s sense of awe and wonder as they experience our amazing world firsthand. We can tap into their creativity, natural curiosity and their ability to think about magic to create stimulating learning environments and invitations to play which foster those characteristics of effective learning. For example, when the children arrived in nursery one morning, they found that a huge set of footprints had magically appeared overnight! They were so excited as they talked about who could have made the footprints and they followed them to a den where they found a ‘bear’, fast asleep. This simple provocation led to so much fun, laughter, joy and learning as the day progressed. The children ended up drawing maps of their outside area and experimenting with making their own footprints using mud and gloop. It was indeed magical.
So let’s deck the halls, embrace the magic and share the love this Christmas!
About the author
Tamsin Grimmer is an experienced early years consultant and trainer and parent who is passionate about young children’s learning and development. She believes that all children deserve practitioners who are inspiring, dynamic, reflective and committed to improving on their current best. Tamsin particularly enjoys planning and delivering training and supporting early years practitioners and teachers to improve outcomes for young children.