Families love it. The caps, the gowns, the scrolls, the whole rigmarole of the graduation event. The ritual that marks their child leaving the nest that is their early education and care centre and moving on to the next phase — “big school”!
But did you know that you can’t actually graduate from early education and care centres and the whole idea that you can, and that all centres should do this, is actually just a classic case of American cultural imperialism at work in Australia?
Graduation ceremonies were traditionally ceremonies where degrees or diplomas were conferred. University graduation ceremonies have existed from the establishment of the first universities in Europe in the 12th century.
They are a ceremony that in part recognises the effort that has been put into obtaining higher education. Children leaving early education and care have undoubtedly put a lot of effort into learning, but if we devalue the graduations of their future, what are we saying? That attendance is enough to be a graduate?
Graduations in the United States started to drift down through the school years – helped by those marketing graduation paraphernalia to parents and schools. Inevitably they reached preschools. And it is through this route that they came to be adopted in Australian education and care settings.
So what can we do to invent an Australian ritual or rituals to mark the passage of children leaving our centre that is more relevant to our children, their lives and their time in our setting?
Rituals are vitally important in human lives. They help reduce anxiety (parental and child anxiety about leaving their known care environment and educators’ anxiety about farewelling the children they have nurtured). They help mark the passage of time.
Research has told us that rituals have two key elements:
- They have behaviours that occur in fixed succession, typified by formality and repetition.
- They have symbolic meaning.
So how could we design a new ritual to replace graduation ceremonies?
- designing it with children and their families
- making sure everyone understands what will happen in the ritual
- how clothing and decoration are often important parts of human rituals
- how music and art are often elements of rituals
- giving a memento as a physical manifestation of the ritual
- how can we incorporate photography and video recordings of it?
Make it rich and colourful and joyous and above all meaningful. But don’t just go borrowing traditions from other countries that are truly not appropriate to early education.
- Why do we have a graduation ceremony? What emotions is it designed to assuage?
- What could we design that is more meaningful to mark the exit from our service?
- What can we learn from how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities do rituals? Can we incorporate any elements of these in our ritual?
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