Last week, one of my more "sophisticated" 5th grade girls - of the eye-shadow-wearing, high-heel teetering, eye-rolling variety - looked ready to cry when a boy in our class told her, "Duh - Santa's not Reeeaallll!" I have to say, talking about Santa was one of many things I hadn't anticipated when I moved from teaching in a middle school to teaching at the elementary level. Actually - I don't really talk about Santa much at all. He's referenced in one cute R.A.F.T writing assignment:
Imagine you are Santa Claus. Write a letter to Mrs. Claus explaining why you won't be home for dinner....again.
(My students love that assignment and their reasons and apologies are just hilarious, but it's not really endorsing the idea of Santa.) And all of my classroom holiday decorations are of the red berries and garland variety - more wintery than anything. A small little tree hosts ornaments my students have given me over the years and one or two may have Santa on them.
Really.....it's dealing with the students' chit-chat and direct questions aimed at my opinion that's the minefield. I do not want to utter anything that would land me in the news - just Google "Teacher Tells About Santa" to see where that might get you - yikes! Stories like this one seem to be a fairly common occurrence.
So....after some thought and research, I came up with a few classroom ground rules for myself:
1. Do NOT threaten with Santa.
No "Santa is watching so study for that Spelling Quiz!" This method always seemed vaguely creepy to me anyway, and my husband and I never do this in our house with our daughters. I really don't want to encourage my children or students to be good only because someone is watching them. No matter how adorable that darn Elf on the Shelf is!
2. Intentional Ignoring
If Sally and Alice are starting to have a Santa conversation - just let it go. Debate, sharing ideas, and defending your own beliefs are part of growing up. If it's causing a major distraction, move ahead with #3!
If #2 does not work - try the old standby - "Ah...look at the time boys and girls!! Let's get started with (Insert Very Important Task Here)!"
4. Turn the Question
If Mikey asks something like, "How do you think Santa fits down all those chimneys?" Respond with, "Well, what do you think?"
5. Reference Others
Respond to questions by saying, "Some people think that Santa uses magic dust to make the reindeer fly." or "Some people think Santa uses the window if a house has no chimney." I like this one because it doesn't really offer your opinion and puts the critical thinking back on the student. Also - my students are a bit familiar with this since I wouldn't tell them who I would vote for during the last election or even my stance on controversial topics. The "Some people think" opening has served me well so far!
If you're interested in further reading, here are a couple resources from different viewpoints on the subject:
Dr. Lydia McGrew wrote this article explaining why Christian parents might want to reconsider Santa.
Dale McGowan is the author of the secular parenting blog called the Meming of Life. Here he has an interesting post about how the Santa tradition is a great "Dry Run" for developing critical thinking in children.
A couple of the sites I visited also mentioned these two books about talking to children about a variety of difficult topics. Since this seems to be an area overlooked while attending college for education, I may have to pick them up. (If you own them, let me know what you think!)
So how do you handle Santa in your classroom?