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Can We Please Stop With Elf on the Shelf in the Classroom?

I know, I know. People have strong feelings about this. 

And I get it. I do. It’s been a rough few years, and who doesn’t need a little more joy? I don’t disagree. I just don’t think that joy should take the form of an Elf on the Shelf. 

That’s right. I said it. And I’m standing by it. 

The Elf on the Shelf doesn’t belong in the classroom. Here’s why:

It’s not inclusive.

Not everyone celebrates Christmas. In fact, about 1 in 10 Americans don’t. And before you come at me with “it’s secular,” think about it for a minute. It’s a symbol from a dominant cultural holiday. According to the NAEYC, “Regardless of how commercially advertised or widespread these approaches may be, they are grounded in specific religious and cultural assumptions.” In other words, you can’t separate Elf on the Shelf from the underlying meaning behind Christmas.

It undermines trust.

We’re talking about a fairly elaborate lie here. For the uninitiated, the Elf on the Shelf observes children’s behavior and heads back to the North Pole nightly to report on their behavior (naughty, nice, or otherwise). 

Yes, Santa is a lie too—that’s why both Santa and Elf are family decisions that don’t have a place in the classroom.

It erodes intrinsic motivation.

As a classroom management system, the Elf on the Shelf is pretty terrible. Having a spy in the classroom doesn’t exactly promote an environment conducive to respect, kindness, and learning. Now I know some of you have the Elf look for positive behaviors and reward those, but any way you slice it, the idea is that they should behave or they won’t get presents. Don’t we want our students to be respectful, responsible, and kind because it’s the right thing to do?

It invites chaos.

Some of you teachers are really creative, and your Elf gets into some serious shenanigans. I’m sure it’s exciting for students to come to school each day to see what the Elf got up to. But some of those setups (“OMG! He pooped Hershey’s Kisses!”) might invite more distraction than fun classroom magic. And heaven forbid someone accidentally touches or moves the Elf. Good luck getting through your math lesson when your students are crying because their Scout Elf lost its magic.

It’s a time suck.

That dang Elf has to be moved EVERY NIGHT. Who really has time for an intricate setup for the elf, ideally involving a clever pun, 25 times IN DECEMBER?

It’s a family choice.

There are just so many layers here.

One family might resent you for doubling up or outdoing their family tradition. 

Another might not like the way you do it (“We feel uncomfortable that your class elf promotes mischief.”)

Parents who wanted to avoid the whole Elf on the Shelf madness now have to explain to their child why they don’t have one at home. Other parents are dealing with the fallout of another child who ruined it (“You know it’s really your parents, right?”). 

The comparison is inevitable … and icky.

Your students’ families represent a range of socioeconomic conditions and cultural traditions. Not everyone is going to get a new iPad. So does that mean the child was bad? 

There are so many better ways to create magic in the classroom.

Host a classroom “read-in” in pajamas. Create a class service project. If the conditions are right, a pet crayfish. I’m just spitballing here.

I know the Elf on a Shelf is fun. But is “fun” enough of a reason to overlook some serious problems with a classroom tradition? 

IMHO, we’re best served by staying the heck out of it.

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