UN Day, Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, Diwali… These past few weeks have been rich in celebrations! At Tessa International School, our students and teachers come from more than 50 different cultures and carry with them even more international backgrounds. Students come to class with their own unique cultures, traditions and languages. We, as educators, work to develop curriculum and practices that meet the needs of our diverse student populations. As our students learn more about themselves and the world around them, they come to understand what makes people the same—we are all human beings with the same basic needs and feelings—as well as what makes us different and contributes to diversity—such as traditions, skin color, foods and special practices.
We encourage our students to accept and celebrate differences all year long by celebrating their classmates’ traditions and creating an inclusive classroom. This week at Tessa was dedicated to Diwali. Our parents came to school to celebrate and introduce the festival to the students. They created a beautiful display in the hallway, read stories, brought food, and organized crafts in the classrooms. Our teachers also studied the festival with the children: Diwali is India’s biggest and most important holiday of the year.
Self-awareness in children begins to develop when they first start to distinguish between what is “me” and what is “not me.” Around the age of two, children begin to recognize physical differences and colors, applying what they’re learning to themselves and others. Over time, they become more aware of physical differences and go from questioning how people get different features—and wondering if they’ll change—to understanding that racial and cultural identity doesn’t change; it makes them a part of a larger group with similar characteristics.
As racial and cultural awareness develops in students, they gain a better understanding of how all of us can be (and indeed are) part of many groups, including various races, families, communities, cultures, regions and religions.
At Tessa we encourage our students to celebrate the different cultures represented in the classroom and get them excited to explore these differences. Students seeing their own culture or the cultures of their peers represented in the classroom helps promote a deeper understanding of diversity through a collection of multicultural resources (books, toys, crafts etc.).
Holiday celebrations are wonderful opportunities for students to learn about the beliefs, traditions and values that are important around the world. At Tessa we celebrate Chinese New Year; Diwal,Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, Day of the Dead and more.
There are so many ways to celebrate diversity in the classroom! For United Nations Day, students dressed in clothing representing cultures they relate to or like. We organize show and tell, where students bring and present artifacts from their culture to the classroom. We celebrate U.S. cultures too! We help children to realize that people from countries outside the United States have cultural celebrations. UN Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving are important opportunities to underscore that we all have cultures.
Our parents sometimes join a classroom to present a tradition to the students, and organize a themed activity. Music, crafts and storytelling are all great ways to study cultures.
One of the greatest reasons for us to observe all these traditions at Tessa is the opportunity it offers students, teachers, and families to encounter one another in celebration of what we all bring to the table. It’s an occasion to have fun while strengthening the academic connections to students’ knowledge, background experiences, and ways of viewing the world.