I’ve been doing the after school program this year, and one of the interesting aspects has been the combination of first, second, and third graders in these groups. In many classrooms, the spectrum of maturity is a pretty wide range; so when you get some of the “little kids” together with the “big kids,” the contrast is clearer than ever.
One of the big differences is belief. The little kids are more likely to believe in the whimsical parts of childhood. For example, I overheard this conversation in my after school group last quarter:
1st Grader: Sometimes when I lose my tooth, I have to wait to get the money from the tooth fairy until my mom’s next payday.
3rd Grader: Yeah, because the tooth fairy isn’t real.
1st Grader: No, because the tooth fairy has the same payday as my mom.
Darn tootin’ cute, if you ask me.
Today a third grade teacher confided in me that she’s having some rough times in her classroom with “mean” kids telling others that Santa does not exist, which is complicated by the fact that third grade is a really normal time to not believe in Santa anymore. So the classroom is a little like a minefield; there are kids who still believe, kids who no longer or never believed, and kids who are in different stages of questioning. And you can’t tell which kids are which until you’re already having a (possibly awkward) conversation.
But I think the whole believing in Santa/not believing in Santa is pretty decent practice for adult life. Every day I work together with people who believe differently than I do, and we make it work. It’s an exercise in empathy; you don’t need to believe the same thing someone else does to try to see where they’re coming from.
I was really proud of my after-school third graders today. One of our first grade friends is very much in a questioning stage of Santa belief. Last week he was very, very into writing a letter to Santa — to the point of insisting I personally deliver it to the North Pole on his behalf. This week, he was saying, “Santa’s not real,” then asking several minutes later, “Is Santa real?” I think he was seeking reassurance one way or another. My third grade friends metered it out in very measured doses, without definitively taking one side or the other. It was very interesting; I didn’t even participate in the conversation, I just eavesdropped.
So what do you tell other people’s kids about Santa? Typically I defer to the experts at NASA, but that’s just me.