By Deb Stuebing, Lower School FacultyThis article appeared in the Spring 2020 Issue of the Tower Hill Bulletin
How do the young minds of Tower Hill kindergartners “travel around the world” and gain a global appreciation for the world outside the walls of their classrooms? Our kindergarten program has had a longstanding tradition of studying not only modes of transportation, location and geography of each continent, but also different cultures by partnering with parents to deliver authentic learning experiences for our students.
Throughout the school year, we invite parents into the classroom to share presentations about their family’s culture, traditions and celebrations. This particular unit of study sparks excitement and curiosity for our children, as they have a genuine desire to learn about the world and how people from other countries live, speak, dress and play. Having direct dialogue in the classroom about their own cultural identity and that of others is pivotal in building the framework for kindergartners understanding that we are all different. It also teaches our students, at an impressionable young age, the valuable lessons of respect, inclusion and kindness toward others.
As educators, we continually tweak our craft to enhance our teaching. In kindergarten, we have evolved into the 21st century with a strong growth mindset and incorporated more parent participation throughout the entire school year, dependent upon the holidays celebrated in our classrooms. Homa Sabet Tavangar and Becky Mladic-Morales, authors of The Global Education Toolkit for Elementary Learners, state, “Building intercultural skills does not happen in a vacuum of a single lesson or a single week but rather through meaningful exchanges and activities taking place throughout the academic year.”
Our focus lies in recognizing the similarities and appreciating the differences within each of our students’ families. Learning about their traditions and customs affords our youngsters a much broader understanding of their community and the world around them. Kindergarten is also the year in which Lower School students officially begin the Passport Program, where students have the opportunity to focus on a different region of the world in each grade. Our area of focus is the Asia-Pacific region. The Passport Program dovetails perfectly with our travel study, as families have often shared their stories of origin and ties to this specific area. Additionally, we end each school year with a culminating World’s Fair Day, gathering as a Lower School to share our different countries through the activities and projects we have created.
In October, we gathered as a kindergarten to celebrate Diwali with Monica Patel and Krupa Joshi, whose daughters Diya Patel ’32 and Vinaya Joshi ’32 were excited to share the making of rangoli art, Bollywood dancing and eating shakarpara, a special homemade treat. It was such a wonderful experience for our students to see firsthand their peers having conversations about family traditions and customs that bring them joy each year. The personal sharing of cultural practices and stories are invaluable; it’s something we as teachers can’t read from a chapter book, nor capture from a video clip. Each family offers such a unique perspective and an authentic glimpse into their own heritage.
Thanks to many of our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, we have “visited” a variety of countries, including Germany, Great Britain, Nepal, India, Morocco, Thailand, Egypt and Argentina, just to name a few. Having a grandparent in the room sharing stories and traditions brings another level of “wisdom” to our students. It is a proud moment for the child to witness both their parent and grandparent together offering a connection to their cultural heritage and family history in front of their classmates.
Brooke Vargas, the mother of Mia Vargas ’31, last year set up a Skype video chat with her brother living in Germany. He created a challenging trivia game for students to learn about the pertinent areas of Germany. Mrs. Vargas dressed in her German Bavarian clothing and brought a variety of chocolates for Mia’s classmates to sample.
We also traveled to India and Nepal with Aarav Parmar ’31’s mother and father as they shared a PowerPoint presentation with our students. Aarav’s father, Rishabh, was able to connect us with the Mind Tree School in India; the students sent us wonderful postcards sharing the various monuments and landscapes of India, while our students wrote back to them about prominent places in the United States. It was a fun way of connecting globally with others and integrating writing into our program.
The partnership with our parents and families is the key to making the program work so well. What my kindergarten colleagues and I appreciate most is the way the program gives our young students exposure to the world around them, offering them a “personal connection” to their peers and family celebrations. This cultivates the foundation for a strong community: one of respect, inclusivity and understanding.
“While growing up, we were lucky enough to celebrate our holidays and festivals and feel the excitement as if we were in India. We wanted our children to learn what we had been taught by our parents. What better way to do this than to teach them with their peers. We wanted them to feel comfortable and confident about our Indian heritage and embrace our background. If peers show excitement to learn, they will, in turn, feel the excitement to learn from us so they can share with their peers. By sharing with the kindergarten class the five days of Diwali, making rangolis, trying some homemade Indian sweets and learning a dance step or two, both Vinaya and Diya felt special in sharing something new.”
—Monica Patel and Krupa Joshi
Skyping in Germany
“Mia’s uncle was living in Germany and has many stories to share. Tower Hill was able to connect with him live
from class and project him right on the SMARTBoard in class. He was able to teach them German words with laughter, show them culturally significant landmarks, food, clothes and most importantly, chocolate! Being able to connect such an important person in my daughter’s life outside of school to the children in class where they would not normally be able to connect was a blessing. We improvised where we could and had a wonderful interactive meet and greet with laughter, learning and memories.”
Experiencing Mexican Culture
“The students’ curiosity and engagement through the hands-on presentation was very inspirational for me. It makes me feel really hopeful about the future of the U.S. to see kids having such an interest in diverse cultures. They were not just observers; they were actively experiencing Mexican culture. Each kid had a chance to make tortillas in the traditional Mexican way and utilize a “molcajete,” the traditional Mexican version of the mortar and pestle. My daughter was dressed in typical Mexican clothes and helping me facilitate. She was excited about sharing part of her cultural heritage.”
—Nati Tello Bernabe
Learning about India and Nepal
“Last year my husband [Rishabh Parmar] and I were invited to give a presentation about our native countries, India and Nepal, respectively. We prepared a PowerPoint with pictures and also carried local currency for the class to touch and feel. Thanks to Mrs. Stuebing and Mrs. Gillerlain, we both felt it was a great initiative for kids to learn about new countries and cultures as it was a very interactive session with a lot of questions from the curious minds of kindergartners.”