“To Elf or Not to Elf??” that is the Question!!

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My girls are teenagers so I missed the “Elf on the Shelf” craze, created by Carol Aebersold and Shanda Bell http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/elf-on-the-shelf/9780976990703-item.html

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So when this year’s creative elf photos once again began appearing on Facebook, I was thinking, “I would have totally been into that when my girls were young!” So a Facebook status from a great friend (who just happens to be an amazing grade one teacher) sparked my plan to have an elf on the shelf appear in my kindergarten classroom. I put my own status on Facebook…and that’s when the controversy began!

It seems that people feel very strongly about this little elf- on both sides of the shelf. Teachers and early childhood educators who I highly respect posted what a terrific experience it is for the children, how much joy and excitement it’s added to their class. Other teachers and early childhood educators who I highly respect stated that the elf reminds them of the boogy man, and that those eyes watching your every move gives them the creeps. Even my daughter in second year psychology sent me a private message, “Mom we read a study in child psychology that the elf on the shelf can be damaging to children.” Yikes!

I did some poking around and found that experts have chimed in on both sides of this elf craze. David Kyle Johnson, Ph.D wrote in Psychology Today that the “Elf on the Shelf should be Benched”. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/plato-pop/201212/let-s-bench-the-elf-the-shelf He states that the elf on the shelf is a ‘steroid shot for the Santa lie.” He says our children will mistrust us if we ‘lie’ to them about Santa. He also states that promoting this belief promotes credulity in children, which is a gullibility and propensity to believe things that are false.

“But where does imagination and creativity fit in there?” I have to wonder.  I have visions of Dr. Johnson walking through my dramatic center saying, “No you aren’t the mom. And he can’t possibly be the dog- he’s a boy.” How many stories do we read to children that ‘suspend reality’.  We’d have to throw out everything from Franklin to Calvin and Hobbs to Harry Potter.

Melinda Wenner Moyer for Slate Magazine says that believing in Santa helps children develop everything from cognitive development to ‘theory of mind’ (helping children predict and understand other people’s behavior).  She points to studies that show that fantasy play bolsters children’s reasoning skills and is therapeutic for children going through a difficult time. http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/the_kids/2012/12/the_santa_lie_is_the_big_christmas_con_hurting_our_kids.html

So I am once again very thankful that my teaching partner is so open to my ideas- I got my elf! The storybook was wrapped up when the children arrived in class. We read the story. And a survey was quickly constructed over what to call our elf. Votes were tallied and his name is Zoomy Caloomy. Our one rule (as stated in the book) is that you don’t touch him. This has proven to be a great exercise in social development, as the children understand that Zoomy is our classroom elf and that, as tempting as it is sometimes, they have a responsibility to their peers to keep this rule.

But they do know that they can talk to him. Nothing is more precious than seeing a four-year-old boy with his elbows propped up on a shelf having a heart to heart talk with his elf!

And they know that they can write letters and draw pictures for him. The literacy center has been packed with children sending notes to Zoomy.

Our day begins with joy, magic and excitement as the children search for Zoomy’s new spot.

I don’t go on the website, or watch any tv shows. I don’t focus on him watching their every move. I don’t discuss the implications of being ‘caught’ being ‘bad’. (ever). In our classroom we know that in kindergarten we learn- about numbers and letters…and about being kind to each other and being responsible for ourselves. And when we learn we make mistakes. When we’ve made mistakes we try again next time. And Santa will still come.

I don’t see it, as Dr. Johnson described as “the fun you have tricking your children into believing something false”, but I see Santa and his little helper elf as a way of encouraging creativity, and imagination. And in terms of Christmas, it’s a hands-on concrete way for very young children to grasp the abstract understanding of that incredible gift that was given to us on that day. I’m keeping the elf, and focusing on the magic, the joy and the love that Christmas brings.

Picture Book Stories of the Nativity

Christmas excitement has definitely hit my kindergarten classroom! My teaching partner and I are searching for the perfect balance of constructing a variety of Christmas countdowns and encouraging letters and lists to Santa, with keeping a focus on Advent and the true meaning of Christmas.

So for my read aloud, I focus on nativity stories. Reading a variety of nativity stories allows me to expose the children to different texts that each tells the same story, whether it be the classic Little Golden Book, from my childhood, THE CHRISTMAS STORY by Jane Werner Watson, illustrated by Eloise WilkinImage

http://www.amazon.ca/Christmas-Story-Jane-Werner-Watson/dp/0307989135

 to ROOM FOR A LITTLE ONE, by Martin Waddell and Jason CockcroftImage

http://www.amazon.ca/Room-Little-One-Christmas-Tale/dp/1416961771

we talk about what is the same and what is different in each story.

I love ‘playing nativity’ where the children take on the role of different characters as we build our own live nativity scene. This is an excellent way for the children to work together, to sequence and to retell a story.

One of my all-time favorite nativity stories is THE CRIPPLED LAMB by Max LucidoImage

http://www.amazon.com/The-Crippled-Lamb-Max-Lucado/dp/1400318076

 

 (Though I have to confess I cringe every time I hear the word ‘crippled’ and struggle with saying it out loud.) But it is such a beautiful story about Joshua the lamb who once again is left out and left behind because of his disability, but then realizes God’s plan for him when he has been chosen to cuddle the newborn king and keep him warm on that cold winter’s night. I look forward to reading it every year!

After we’ve enjoyed a few nativity stories I love to introduce Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman’s MORTIMER’S CHRISTMAS MANGER.

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http://www.amazon.com/Mortimers-Christmas-Manger-Karma-Wilson/dp/1416950494

This charmingly illustrated picture book is a perfect balance between a secular and religious Christmas story. I love how Mortimer is a ‘not so perfect mouse’ whose initial intention is to find himself a better home. He thinks he finds it in a stable full of statues. He removes the statues and makes himself at home. But after hearing the story of the nativity, he sees the significance of each statue and makes room for Jesus in the stable and in his own heart.

I also love how this story illustrates to children how simple and natural it can be to have your own ‘talk with Jesus’.

As Max Lucado said, “Returning to a familiar story is like revisiting an old friend…inviting and comfortable.” This is how I feel, and this is the feeling I strive to instill in young children, when Christmas rolls around and we can crack open familiar and newly discovered stories of the nativity.