A note comes home. The school will have a theme day or character day. Your child can dress up like their favorite character or it’s 50’s day or it’s a beach theme. This will be fun!
The other day as I was waiting, I listened to a couple of young moms talk about their elementary school. The one mom was lamenting that the child’s school was having a theme day all the time – like once a week. The young mother went on to say, she often didn’t have something to go along with the theme. She also said it was very tiring as she has two younger children – to find everything and get the child ready was stressing her out. She wanted to just not do it, but her child would feel left out. Some kids have some really awesome outfits; their parents put a lot of time and energy into the theme or character. The mom feels bad she is not as creative and it makes her feel like she should be caring more. Why do they have to do these?
Having been a teacher, I was interested in the feelings being expressed. I think the moms had some valid points that we might want to think about. As a teacher, my first thought is – what is the purpose of the theme? Is this a true learning experience for all children? Not that we can’t just have a theme day every so often, but if we are doing it regularly – what is the reason? This should be explained to parents and students. As we see so often in education, we go to extremes that in the end have no real meaning or actual learning connections.
Even if we are trying to teach various cultures, is a theme day the best way to learn about a culture? We might have outfits that represent outdated ideas of the culture, biases… What would be a better way of exploring a culture? It might be to identify the cultures in the classroom and learning about the similarities and differences. It might be inviting parents and people from that culture to share their traditions… Even character days, do you see equity in action?
Another thing to consider is that some children are distracted by the change and the attire. Research is showing that even the amount of items on the walls of a classroom can be a distraction for some students. Corporations have dress codes – why? Some say to keep the other students from being distracted. So when we regularly have this type of theme day – are we creating distractions from the learning process for some students?
God has created us so that we are not all the same. I used to say to my students, “Just think how boring it would be if we were all the same with all the same thoughts and ideas.” Each child is unique. Do we give our students the opportunity to celebrate who they are? Do we acknowledge that each is different, yet valued and loved? It is important to introduce our children to other people and their successes and hardships. It is also important to help children identify their own strengths and weaknesses and their value in the world. Does the theme day acknowledge this? We are the same in many respects, but also different in many respects.
Let’s be clear – I am not saying that schools should never have character or theme days. I am saying that maybe we need to give a little more thought to these days. What is the impact on students? What is the impact on student learning? What is the impact on some families who do not have the same resources as other families?
My theme day is come as yourself – dress up like you. Let me discover who you are!