Exploring Holiday Family Traditions at School and ADDING LANGUAGE
We are constantly posting tips, facts, and learning resources related to sign language and Deaf culture on our Signing Savvy Facebook Page and Twitter @SigningSavvy. Occasionally we get questions about our posts and explain them further with a followup article. This article expands on one of our Parent/Teacher Quick Tip of the Day posts (Tip #60) from Facebook, which is also often tied to our Sign of the Day.
Typically, Deaf Education Classrooms consist of a low number of students per class. This allows teachers and staff to explore in a little more detail each of their student’s lives and lets them dig a little deeper. It’s so important for the home/school connection to be strong enough and “fluid” enough so that information can easily be passed back and forth and language connections can be made to ensure communication is maximized.
Because every family is different, it’s never safe for any of us as educators to believe that just because we grew up celebrating things one way, that everyone else is familiar with these same traditions and/or follow them. A safe way to cover this issue is to send home a survey before the planning for the holiday season happens.
Ask your students’ families to describe how the holiday season is covered and what it looks like in their child’s home. We all know language acquisition comes from exposure and actually living the experiences life has to offer. Having families fill out this survey will allow families to tell things about their student’s lives in a way that they want to share. Be sure to let those who participate know this is primarily for educational purposes and the information provided will be used to gain a better understanding of their student’s backgrounds, and also provide language and vocabulary for their student.
What do holiday traditions look like to your family?
One example I experienced while teaching was the mere concept of a Christmas tree and the traditions and processes involved in that activity. Through doing the surveys and having student’s send in photos and “home papers” surrounding this experience, I quickly found that one of my students was Jewish and didn’t put up a tree at all, another was allergic to real trees and, therefore, the parents elected to not have a tree in their house. They instead decorated a tree outside, which had only ornaments made from things found in nature or could be eaten by animals and not harmful to the environment. Others had real trees and went out and cut them themselves (after going on a horse drawn sleigh ride), bought them from a store parking lot, or put up an artificial one. In just that topic alone, there was sooooo much vocabulary and concepts to cover. These students were young (3-8 years old) and could have never fully expressed these differences on their own, yet with the help of stories and photos provided by their home, we were able to fully explore the concept of getting a Christmas tree and how it may look very different in everyone’s household.
The point I am really striving for here is to be sure to ask the right questions and listen to the answers so that you can then take that information and build on it with your student’s best interests at heart. It needs to be handled in a way to ensure that you aren’t trying to be nosey; you are trying to be a facilitator of language!
Here is an example of a letter to parents explaining the Holiday Family Survey. Feel free to use this example as a starting point and edit it for your own needs. For Signing Savvy Members, we have several downloadable files available for you, including ready-to-go printable PDF files and editable Microsoft Word templates. See the end of this article for all downloadables.
Signing Savvy Member Feature: Download this image / flyer as a printable PDF page.
A great thing to do after the holidays, once the students return, is to take any pictures or stories the families will send in and create a great classroom book to share so that all the families can see what it was you were striving for. Include the various sign vocabulary to help them read the book at home to their children. Create word lists from Signing Savvy to correspond with the book as well. It’s all a great way for students to share their experiences using their language!
Downloadable Resources to Help You Get Started
For Signing Savvy Members, we have several downloadable files available for you, including ready-to-go printable PDF files and editable Microsoft Word templates. Members can click the images below to download the corresponding file.