I recently made a TikTok to encourage people to read a blog post written by the founding director of the organization I work for. It was about reconsidering spending time on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day projects in the classroom and instead leaving that up to families. I’m sure most, if not all, teachers can recall a child for whom Mother’s or Father’s Day was not a time for joy. For me this happened just about every year. Each year I would do my best to make it more inclusive, give kids options for who to make the card/gift for. “Oh, you don’t live with your mom? Sure you can make it for your grandma.” Or “Oh, that’s right you have two moms? Sure you can make two cards.” Like many of the mistakes I made in the classroom (or in life), it took me too long to realize that my “solutions” weren’t working. Even the way I gave options didn’t prevent a child from feeling awkward, or worse, traumatized. I should’ve been able to figure this out sooner given my own complicated relationships with my mother and step-mom.
The first comments on my video were encouraging. People shared their own experiences and why they appreciated not having to do these projects. But then the other comments started. A few were just mean and included some choice words. Those got deleted. Then there were others that insisted that this wasn’t fair to all the other kids or were angry that I was trying to abolish a holiday. Not trying to abolish a holiday and trying to be fair to ALL kids–I didn’t think that would be so controversial. Then I remembered a section from Colleen Cruz’s book, Risk. Fail. Rise. in which she describes educational Thomassons: practices that are actually useless or wrong, but that we keep doing. We keep doing them for different reasons, but one of them is that they make us feel warm and fuzzy so we don’t recognize the harm that we might be doing. And when confronted with contrary evidence, it’s human nature to hold on tighter to our beliefs. I imagine that the tradition of making Mother’s Day projects could fall into this category.
I recently read a tip from another educator that I think would work: give all of the kids options to make as many cards/projects for whomever. This way no one is left feeling like they’re doing something different. Or I could just let it go.
I never even thought to do Mother’s Day or Father’s Day cards when I was in the classroom since I always had several students who didn’t have two parents at home. No child needs the awkwardness (sadness, pain, etc.) that comes with that day when they’re in school.
A card station/maker-space for kids to create cards for anyone that matters to them is the way to go!
Stacey, I like the card station idea! I’ve always had a stack of card stock, and a lot of my students have made cards, but I’ve not had an intentional station just for the purpose. I will soon — thanks!
Holidays can be a difficult time for a lot of us (kids and adults alike), and I — like you — have always tried to work around the situation. I like the idea you presented in the last paragraph: “Want to make a card? Well, make a card!” That’s a great way to allow students to convey the wishes they wish to convey, and it’s a bit of a writing project as well. That’s good for everyone. Thanks for sharing this!
I’m so glad you wrote about this and that you made your idea public on TikTok. It can be an achingly slow process to change and/or rethink what has become standard practice or simply tradition. At my school we opted to recognize ‘parents day’ as a way of acknowledging the broad range of caregiving configurations students may be in. But it was new this year and only because we touched on this topic at a meeting. Thankfully someone brought up the problematic nature of only recognizing Mother’s Day. Change should not be a function of chance.
I share your thoughts about school projects that make students feel awkward, including family tree projects and MOther’s Day projects. It is a slow process to change age-old practices, but it is so necessary to be respectful to the diverse families of our students.
Long ago, in the early days of my teaching, it was common to put up Christmas trees in classrooms and even focus on a month long unit of study about Christmas around the world! That sounds preposterous now and ONE day, there will be respectful plans for other holidays. Thank you for taking the lead on this important subject!
Thank you for writing about this; I felt this same torment/guilt/pressure cycle this year. I have a few students with very tricky home lives that made Mother’s Day tough for all this year. So instead it was a box of blank cards and craft paper left out at recess. Some made cards. Some did not. And I let that be perfectly ok. Thanks for talking about some of the things that I can’t articulate (or doodle about).
The card station Stacey mentions sounds like such a cool idea to have in the classroom – just another form of authentic writing to encourage! I also had never considered making cards in the classroom for particular holidays – perhaps because I teach high school? Anyway, I love the growth and reflection you demonstrate in this piece. Thank you for your insight 🙂
THIS. YES. I think about kids whose childhoods involve trauma of one kind or another. Whether it’s a strained relationship, a parent who’s not in their lives, or a difficult time for their families, they have as many reasons for a trying Mother’s Day as a lot of grown-ups might. I love the idea of card-writing as an option any old time. Any time we put decisions in the hands of kids is often a good plan. As for your TikTok video, well – yes. It stinks that there are folks who responded with a lack of understanding. I know that it’s hard for people to let go of the ideal of the kid coming home with the Mother’s Day or Father’s day crafts. But you and I both know you were acting in your kids’ best interests. That, my friend, is what matters.