Byron's Babbles

The View From The Bottom Of The Tree

Posted in Education, Educational Leadership, Global Education, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on December 20, 2021

This is one of those blog posts that has taken me a little time to put together. I could have taken it in so many different directions and there were so many rabbit holes to go down. And, I’ve actually gone down a few of them here. But, the picture (featured in this post) of my niece’s son, Brooks, says it all and makes my point. My mother-in-law gave him a Christmas ornament for his birthday and he immediately got up, went to the Christmas tree and put it on. As I looked at the tree, most of the ornaments were around the bottom of the tree. Why? Because Brooks is two and doesn’t have a very high reach yet. I’ve watched trees being allegedly decorated by children only to have the ornaments moved by the parent, with phrases like “that would go better here,” “there’s too many on that limb,” “we need more at the top,” or “I’ll do that one so it doesn’t break.” What? Are we having a family Christmas memory generating activity or trying to win a decorating contest? And, oh by the way, none of those moves by the parent are informed by research. I googled it – nothing!

When we don’t let the ornaments be put where the child can reach and in her/his mind wants them to go, we are reinforcing the old binary model of one right answer and one wrong answer. Who is to say that the next great decorating craze might not be all the ornaments on the bottom two foot of the tree? Isn’t that the way great things happen? Some creative non-conformist said, “let’s try this instead?” If we want our young scholars to be creative we need to, well, let them be creative! I know, novel idea right? But, think about all the times this does not happen. And, come on, the sun will come up tomorrow if all the ornaments are on one limb. We give tests with questions that only have a right and wrong answer. I get that 4×1 and 2×2 always need to equal four (I think), but what about all the times in life that we have to choose the best out of three or four options?

Here’s another thing. We pesky adults trim the tree and cross the task off the holiday to-do list, but children view the Christmas tree as a modern day living art installation. If you watch children, they will walk by the tree and move an ornament of two. My son used to take ornaments off and then a day later put them back on. I love the iterative nature of this. I get that if you are entering a Christmas tree decorating contest that at some point it needs to be done. Also, I feel very sorry for you being so vain to enter in a Christmas tree decorating contest! But I’ve digressed! Toddlers and young children apparently have very flexible ideas as to what constitutes proper tree decor, and I can’t say I blame them. Think about the person who went wild one day and put cheese on a hamburger – voilà: the cheeseburger is born. Or, my favorite, from my hero, Thomas Edison, “I wonder if we could light the world with a little bulb run by electricity?”

Letting the kids decorate the Christmas tree is an incredible exercise and lesson to us adults in letting go of the fantasies about how the holiday decoration should look and allowing for how they CAN look. It is about living in the here and reality of now. We may not get the Christmas card-inspired tree, but honestly I love a good tree inspired by children. They are an honest reflection of our families. Don’t forget the Christmas tree in A Charlie Brown Christmas.


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