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
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.