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A great theme for preschool is to hold a multicultural week. The odds are good that you will once again rely on the tried and true activities from the years before, which, over time, have lost some of their impact. Nevertheless, the need for these lessons cannot be stressed enough, and Barbara Biles, M.Ed., an assistant technical assistant specialist in early childhood education, asserts that preschool years are actually formative years when it comes to the development of racial biases and racial identity. Thus, your curriculum for cultural awareness and activities is one of the most vital learning experiences the youngsters in your care undergo.
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Fresh and New Preschool Activities That Foster Cultural Awareness
A New Hello
Start off your week by resolving to teach a new way to say “good morning" or “hello" each day. This offers you five opportunities to introduce children to a new language and a new way to greet one another. If you have children in your class, whose native language you will be using, call on them to help you during this activity. On the first day, teach children how folks across the United States say hello. If you can mimic accents, you are a step ahead, and before the end of the day all the preschoolers should be happily saying “howdy." Days two through five are then devoted to a different language.
Next, you might consider a passport craft. Model it after an American passport with its blue cover and national bird or seal. If your budget permits, you might even purchase already stapled small booklets to which you may glue the American flag or eagle.
Plan on five countries to “visit," the first of which is the United States; if possible, include the countries that might form the heritage of children in your class. Thus, you might opt for Vietnam, Mexico, France and Japan, or any other combination of countries. Help the children to color the flags for the country, and take photos of them holding their flag printouts. Paste the photos into the passport.
Find out about the national symbol, a major tourist attraction, a classic national dish, and so on. Prepare printouts for the children to color, cut out and then paste into their passports. If your budget permits or if you have generous volunteer parents, you might purchase some traditional foods for the children to try (be mindful of food allergies).
If you happen to study China, Vietnam, Korea or Japan during your week of cultural activities, or if you decide on focusing on different eating habits instead, consider an introduction to chopsticks. You can probably ask your local Chinese fast food eatery for a donation of chopsticks.
Each child receives a package of chopsticks. As they unpack them, explain that in some countries these sticks replace forks and spoons. Offer each child a small paper ware bowl filled with cotton balls. Show the children how to hold the chopsticks and encourage them to practice picking up the cotton balls. Reiterate that the cotton balls are only pretend food, and should not be eaten.
Next, you might offer some cooked pasta for the children to try and eat. Opt for rotini, since the spirals help with the chopsticks’ grip. If you feel adventurous, you might even allow the children to eat their lunches with chopsticks, if appropriate.
Family Tree Craft
A family tree craft is an excellent way for children to understand how different cultures may be found within their own families. If you have a multicultural classroom, this can become a great show and tell activity. Simply ask the children to take home a preprinted family tree, and enlist the parents’ help in filling out the names of grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on, as well as their places of birth.
If you do not have a lot of diversity in your classroom, ask children to discuss their last names with their parents to trace their roots. Some children may discover that distant ancestors came to the United States from Ireland, Germany, England, Spain or other countries.Incorporate these distant ancestors into the family tree; if you cannot get names, you may use the country flags. Plan a trip to the library, and help each child to find out more about their distant relatives’ countries.
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Finishing a Week of Preschool Culture Activities
After five days, the children will have learned a lot about different customs, languages, foods, and habits. Celebrate the event by offering a special lunch that features Italian, Mexican, Chinese, and other kinds of take out food. Make it a family affair by inviting parents to join their children during lunch, peruse some of the artwork, and allow the children to explain their newfound understanding of previously foreign cultures.
Looking for more ideas? Try this Hawaiian culture lesson. It encourages preschool teachers to bring Hawaii’s exciting culture to life. If you are a preschool teacher and have been to Hawaii, this might be an easy lesson for you to incorporate.
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- PBS.org posts an article on classroom cultural awareness by Barbara Biles, M.Ed.: http://www.pbs.org/kcts/preciouschildren/diversity/read_activities.html