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A well-designed multicultural education curriculum brings other cultures to life for the students. It engages students at all levels and challenges them to learn through a multi-sensory experience. It should include information and experiences of music, art, knowledge, food, and compassion. It should shed light on the history and tradition of a culture while exploring how that culture is similar or different today from how it began.
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A Trip around the Globe
Choosing a multicultural education curriculum can be a daunting task. Some cultures will be specified by the district's curriculum for study, so check there before beginning. Besides this, it's a big world and there are seemingly endless cultures to consider. It is worth the time to contemplate which type of culture study best meets the needs of the class. Perhaps a culture that dovetails with a literature unit being studied or a specific ethnic diversity within your class could be cultures to explore first. Regardless, a quick spin of the globe helps break down some general areas to consider.
- Asian cultures – studies of the Far East and Southeast Asia may include investigating nations such as China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand.
- Pacific island cultures – this includes all of the minor islands of the South Pacific as well as Indonesia.
- Indian cultures – this includes the country of India and other nations on the Indian subcontinent, such as Nepal and Sri Lanka.
- Arab cultures – this includes all of the nations of the Middle East except Israel.
- North African cultures – this includes nations such as Libya, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. These nations are located along the Mediterranean coast and have their largest cities above the Sahara Desert.
- Sub-Saharan African cultures – this includes the region of East Africa all the way to the tip of South Africa including nations such Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, and South African. Many of these nations were influenced by British colonialism.
- West African cultures – this includes all of the smaller African nations along the northwestern side of Africa such as Guinea, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria. Most of these nations were influenced by French colonialism.
- Western Europe – each of the nations of Western Europe have their own distinct culture. This includes such countries as Spain, France, England, Germany and the Netherlands.
- Slavic Countries – this include most of Eastern Europe, such as Poland, the Czech Republic, and Russia.
- Central and South American cultures – this includes nations such as Guatemala, Brazil, Peru, and Argentina.
- Caribbean cultures – these are the island nations north west of South America and southeast of North America including the Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Barbados and many of the Caribbean island chains. Much of this region was influenced by the African slave trade of the 19th Century.
- North America – this includes Canada, the United States, including Alaska, and Mexico, although Mexican culture is more similar to the Central American nations.
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Bringing Culture to Life Through History
After you have chosen a nation to study, it is important to teach some of the historical elements of that region. This does not have to dominate your lesson, but should serve as a backdrop. Perhaps a simple description of the area's ancient history as well as a glimpse of life today would be sufficient. This is also a good opportunity to describe what type of work is common in the country you have chosen. For example, agriculture, hunting, tribal life, and factory work all have an impact on the surrounding culture, so it is useful for students to learn about. This element of teaching can be done largely through photographs and videos with worksheets and handouts to support the information.
- Asian cultures - show the students images of the time of the great emperors of Japan and China.
- Sub-Saharan Africa -- show images of tribal peoples as well as large cities to show the urban and rural nature of the country you are studying.
- Western Europe -- The Netherlands is a good example of a country with a rich history and modern flare. An explanation of the dike system that retrieved the land from the North Atlantic combined with images of wooden shoes, long garments and white pointy hats goes a long way to describing the history of the country, while a look at modern Amsterdam and other areas shows the current customs and the nature of change.
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Every culture on Earth has traditions. In the United States we can easily recognize our traditions by the familiar images. If a table is set with many side dishes around a large turkey, it's probably Thanksgiving. If everyone in a parade is wearing red, white and blue, it is most likely a 4th of July celebration. Red and green stockings hung on a fireplace indicate Christmas is coming. This same sense of familiarity is true in other countries as well. Showing children images of traditional meals, festivals, parades and holidays can help them begin to understand the comprehensive nature of culture. Pulling from those traditions to include a craft, a song, or a dance in your multicultural education curriculum will help cement these traditions as part of the multicultural learning process.
- Caribbean Cultures -- an exploration of the music and images of the Crop over Festival in Barbados help describe how the sugar cane industry developed into song and celebration for this island nation.
- North America -- the Mexican celebration of Cinco de Mayo and the significance of the May Pole can be a fun craft and music exercise while studying this border country.
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Exploring food from other nations almost always produces strong reactions. While some students love to try new things, others are terrified. Either way, offering a sampling of foods from the country being studied is one of the richest multicultural experiences you can provide for your students. Here are some examples of foods you can purchase or make with your students:
- Western Europe -- there are many easy ways to bring out the flavors of Europe, but bread and cheese are perhaps the easiest. Offering the students a taste of a soft French cheese like Brie and a slice of a long baguette while describing a small café along the Seine in Paris can make your multicultural food sampling a transporting experience for the kids. A little cheese research can go a long way for this food tasting.
- Indian cultures -- a simple curry chicken and rice recipe can be prepared ahead and brought in a crock pot.
- Arab countries -- items such as hummus, flatbreads and olives can be included in food sampling for countries in these regions.