In many cultures there are celebrations at this time of year involving light. Below are some suggestions for how you might use the themes of light and celebrations as the basis for activities in your setting

During their time spent in early years settings children will become increasingly aware of their own surroundings, their cultural identity and the many exciting celebrations and festivals which occur throughout the year. At this time of year there are many opportunities to share and enjoy the different ways in which families celebrate. A number of religious festivals take place in the winter months and New Year is celebrated in a variety of ways and at different times. Winter festivals and celebrations often have ‘light’ as a central theme which can be explored with the children in a range of age-appropriate ways. Many children will also be familiar with special family events which take place throughout the year such as birthdays, weddings and naming ceremonies.

Special occasions often involve particular food to eat, games to play or clothes to wear. Talking about, and sharing, celebrations which are familiar to the children will provide many opportunities to develop their communication skills, to broaden their experience of different cultures and to have fun!

Individual children’s awareness of celebrations and festivals will vary according to their family circumstances. Some children will not have experienced a wide range of celebrations within their own families, whereas others may have been involved in a rich variety of special events both in this country and further afield. When you are talking with individuals or with groups of children you will be able to reflect with them and recollect special occasions which they have enjoyed. These ‘memories’ will help children to develop a sense of time and a sense of the communities to which they belong.

Practical ideas
When making celebrations a focus for children’s learning and development, it is important to remember that activities should be age and stage appropriate, as well as culturally aware. Babies and toddlers will gain little from making a Divali lamp or a Christingle but will enjoy the experience of special lights in a darkened area of the room. Christmas party activities can be tailored so that they are meaningful for all age groups – babies and toddlers like nothing better than tearing off the paper layers in ‘pass the parcel’ but unlike the older children they probably need a parcel each!

Introducing ‘special lights’ will be a good starting point for investigation and exploration during winter celebrations. It also provides the opportunity to talk to the children about fire safety.

  • You can begin by gathering together a range of pictures of festivals of light, of decorative lights, candles burning, bonfires and fireworks.
  • Make a collection of candles of different sizes, shapes, colours and scents.
  • Talk with the children about their experiences of light festivals.
  • Introduce the candles and discuss fire safety with the children; agree a set of rules for investigating the candles.
  • Ask the children ‘Do you remember when we lit the candles on the birthday cake?’ ‘What do you think happens when we light a candle?’ ‘Will a candle burn forever?’
  • Investigate the shapes, sizes, smells and colours of the different candles. Light a candle and encourage the children to look carefully as it burns.
  • Ask: ‘What is happening?’ ‘What colour is the flame?’ ‘Is it all the same colour?’ ‘What happens to the candle when the flame goes out?’
  • Tell the children never to play alone with matches, lighters or lighted candles. Use this as an opportunity to introduce a Fire Safety Campaign in your setting.
  • Ask the children to draw pictures of a lighted candle and to describe what they think is happening. Make a note of their comments.
  • Display the collection of candles alongside photographs of a burning candle and the children’s drawings. Include the children’s comments and their fire safety rules.

Other things to try

  • Use candles to change the atmosphere in your setting. Make sure you use safe and appropriate candle holders.
  • Compare different-sized candles. Ask: How are they different? Which one is the best?
  • Watch what happens to a candle flame if the wind blows.
  • Investigate who can blow the candles out.
  • Invite the children to take their own photographs of their favourite lighted candle. You can use these as the basis for cards for Christmas or other celebrations.

Safety tips

  • Always supervise burning candles and NEVER leave children unattended with any sort of flame.
  • Use Plasticine or damp sand to hold candles upright. Stand them in a baking tray of sand before lighting them. If the candle falls over the sand will put out the flame.

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This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2009

About the author: Linda Thornton and Pat Brunton are early years consultants, trainers and authors and edit Early Years Update