The Framework Plan for Kindergartens says that kindergartens are to help ensure that children learn about the fundamental values of the Christian and humanist traditions and familiarise themselves with the religions and world views represented in their peer-group.
Researchers Kristine Toft Rosland and Audun Toft have studied kindergartens in four municipalities along the Helgeland coast in Nordland County. All the kindergartens had several children from other cultures and religions, but none of them did anything to commemorate other holidays. Commemorations were limited to Christian public holidays.
‘We know from other studies that this result is not unusual. I think there may be differences between kindergartens in urban and rural areas, but it generally seems as though kindergartens find it difficult to devote attention to other cultures’, states Audun Toft.
When head teachers at kindergartens are asked why Christian holidays are the only ones celebrated, two explanations are predominant. The first is that kindergarten staff feel uncertain about how holidays in other religions should be marked. The second is that they are uncertain about their own competence, so they are afraid to tread on parents’ toes.
‘This is not our tradition. Who are we to try to teach them about their culture?’ was one of the comments.
‘As regards Christian holidays, staff members read up ahead of time to prepare and plan. It appears that the threshold for doing this is much higher when it comes to other religions. Staff feel it is not “genuine” when they’re unfamiliar with a culture’, states Toft.
LACK OF SUPPORT FROM PARENTS
Some of the head teachers provide other explanations for not commemorating the holidays of other religions. They report that some of parents from minority backgrounds do not want their religious holidays to be commemorated in kindergarten. One reason for this may be that these parents want their children to learn Norwegian and assimilate into Norwegian society quickly.
‘When head teachers meet parents who say this, it is easier to make a legitimate excuse for not giving priority to such holiday celebrations. Weekdays are, of course, always busy enough otherwise’, adds the researcher.
‘None of the head teachers interviewed in the survey was negative to celebrating the holidays of other religions in kindergarten. Quite to the contrary. They wanted to do so, but did not quite know how. Several have a bad conscience for not doing so’, continues Toft.
‘For the most part, all were aware of what the Framework Plan says about this. They know that this is the kindergarten’s responsibility, and they feel that they are not doing the job they were hired to do’, says Toft.
The researchers find it regrettable that the kindergartens fail to celebrate the religious holidays of the children from minority backgrounds. It is sad not only for the children from minority backgrounds themselves, since they lose an opportunity for positive identification and recognition, but also because the majority children lose an opportunity to learn about other religions.
DID NOT USE PARENTS AS RESOURCES
Parents from minority backgrounds had rarely been called upon as resources in the kindergartens the researchers visited. The researchers believe it is absolutely essential to use parents as resources to expand kindergartens’ cultural repertoire.
‘I don’t think the only solution is for the staff at each individual kindergarten to sit down and learn a great deal about other religions. Knowledge is invariably good, but knowledge will not carry staff across this threshold. To get started, the staff should call on other individuals who have a closer relationship with the different cultures and religions in the kindergartens’, Toft suggests.