My son had 26 themed dress-up days in one month last year.
I was told they were optional, but my child was very into them.
Theme days were making my kid anxious about what his friends would think of his outfit.
During my son's last month of kindergarten, in June, there were 26 themed dress-up days, each corresponding with a letter of the alphabet. A for athletic wear, B for blue, C for crazy socks, and so on and so forth.
We, caregivers of the kindergarteners, were told that participation was optional. We could do all the costumes, some, or none at all. But our kids knew about them, and they reminded us. "I need to wear orange," or "I have to be a superhero tomorrow." You could hear the complaints — and see the occasional tears — at drop-off when someone had forgotten or run out of time.
My personal rule for my son was that if a costume could not be found within the walls of our home, we were not participating in that theme. I was also not making anything but would assist him if he wanted to make part of a costume and had a plan for it.
It makes me wonder if we need these spirit days
The only way out is through, and we got through all 26 days. He wore blue, orange, and yellow; we spiked hair into a fauxhawk for Rockstar Day and donned a Flash cape on Superhero Day and an eye patch for Pirate Day. But why should we? What do these days really do for school spirit?
I can attest that they dampen the spirits of caregivers, and in a school district that constantly sends out messaging about equity, this seems like the opposite of what they want. As for the kids' spirit, I found that my kid was growing very anxious about what other kids would think about his costumes and often was so worried about being judged or teased that he opted out entirely.
Even things like pajama days — ostensibly very popular with kids — cause a lot of stress because not all kids wear actual pajamas, and some wear none at all. I know a caregiver who has made a late-night Target run for a traditional pajama set, bucking the idea that all kids will have an extra, well-fitting, unstained, cute enough matching pajama set lying around in a dresser drawer. My son, who usually wears pajamas, rarely wears matched sets, and most nights before pajama days are spent trying to find both halves of a set in his laundry and ensure that everything gets washed and dried before we head out the door.
I would prefer that schools, instead of assuming that pajamas are everyone's comfort default, allow every child to choose their own version of comfort clothing for a theme day. That could also be an interesting exercise in not yucking others' yums, and also in seeing a diverse array of cultural norms; a child most comfortable in leggings might see a classmate kicking back in oversize sweatpants, or one child at home in Lululemon might see another who relaxes in a salwar kameez.
There are other ways to promote school spirit
I would prefer that schools, instead of using costumes as a way to promote spirit, used internal resources. I understand that time and resources are limited for most teachers and in most school districts, but I would like to see students work together to generate spirit instead of the burden placed on caregivers who may not be able to provide for students equitably.
A student art competition based on school colors or a school mascot, for example, could provide a backbone for a spirit week. Age-appropriate units during the school year about the school's history could provide more information about what, exactly, that spirit is about. Instead of a decade's day, what if students looked at the history of fads or trends over the years in student clothing?
I know that teacher pay is low; I also know that the curriculum is not always flexible enough to allow projects like the ones I've mentioned above, and some schools do not have art or library classes that might allow for them. But I do think that schools should work to instill school pride from within rather than sourcing it from families who often feel distanced from the classroom.
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