In June I was extremely fortunate in being able to attend some wonderful professional learning in Portland, Oregon. Whilst there, learning about the role creativity has in promoting literacy for young children (a blog post for another time perhaps), I encountered teachers from all over the world. Two teachers I got to know fairly well were from a school in Canada teaching, as I do, children aged 3-5 years.
Whilst sharing experiences on our programmes, we felt it may be nice to stay in contact and for the children within our classrooms to share what it is like living in New Zealand (or from their perspective Canada).
|Nethra and Mercia wear traditional Sri Lankan clothes whilst proudly holding the Sri Lankan flag|
Mairtown Kindergarten is culturally diverse and we are lucky to have families attend who have links to, or have lived in countries such as Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, England, Ireland, the Philippines and Pakistan to mention a few. At the moment, apart from myself (I lived in Montreal as a child) no one else has lived in Canada, so our knowledge of this country is fairly limited.
Using the book ‘Children of the world: How we live, learn and play in poems, drawings and photographs’ as a resource I began some work with the children, which we hope to share with our soon to be Canadian friends one day, about where we live, where we have lived - basically our place in the world.
|Dammika reads in Sinhalese the extract about Sri Lanka|
For those who have not heard of this book, it is truly special.
‘The book covers a total of 192 countries each arranged alphabetically. Each entry focuses on one country and includes the country’s official name, its geographic location, a poem by a child in the original language as well as an English translation, artwork from children, a photograph of a child or children, and some interesting facts including the most popular local foods, sports, or activities. Each drawing is as unique as the child who created it’.
Yet as Emma noted as we leafed through the book reading and looking at the images, ‘The children, they all have different writing, but they are like me as they all like to play'.
Our first encounters with this book involved reading the entry and poem from the Canadian child and discussing the picture they had drawn. We then narrowed the question down we wanted to think about. Finally, we reached an agreement that we should think about what to tell the children in Canada about New Zealand and the other countries we may have lived in or is part of our heritage and culture; What do we like to do? What do we play? What do we eat? How do we dress? What do we speak? What is it like to be me?
What I could never have expected, or even hoped for, was the participation from our families towards sharing their cultural heritage and the stories that they bring from their homes – be it New Zealand or further afield.
Whenever we tell a story, we open ourselves to others, we communicate and share something about ourselves, and invite a response, either spoken or unspoken from our listeners. Stories always give rise to other stories - both similar and different. Whether they are personal stories or traditional stories, both the experience of telling and the shared meaning of the stories knit people together. When we choose to tell a story we make time for ourselves and for those we share our story with (Tanya Batt).
In order to support the children's thinking, I offered them opportunities to visually represent their ideas. Here are some of the beautiful art pieces created along with their cultural stories:
Mia: I live in New Zealand; I’ve always lived here. We speak English and Māori. Kiwi’s and beetles live in New Zealand. I eat fish pie and tuna. In the summer I swim in the sea. New Zealand has lots of nature. I have a dog called Zippy.
Max: I am from Whangarei, New Zealand. Daddy was from England. We live in a house, it doesn't have any stairs. In New Zealand we have dogs - I have a dog, she's a girl. We eat cake and party food.
Sharlotte: I have always lived in New Zealand but I was born in Auckland. I love the pool because I like going swimming. New Zealand has mountains. New Zealand is green.
Sienna draws her horse on a New Zealand beach: I live in New Zealand. I eat rice and spicy rice and nuts and seaweed. I ride horses, my horse is Billy and it's lots of fun. I like the beach, my nanna has a house in town and one at the beach. The weather is rain, sun, rain, sun, rain, sun in New Zealand and then thunder and lightening. I have an Uncle that lives in London, that’s in England.
Isla: This is nanna and poppa, they live somewhere different to me. They live in Russell. I think that's in New Zealand. In Russell there's a beach with rocks and mussels in the water. I live in Whangarei.
Jack: I live in New Zealand. I eat mandarins from my tree and toast and honey. When I am older I can play rugby like the other people. When I go to the beach I swim and it’s cold, and I go fishing with my daddy.
Lala: My mummy is from Japan, she speaks it to us, my daddy can understand a little bit.
Madison chose to draw a map of New Zealand as she tells me: This is the West Coast of New Zealand, and that little dot, that's a small Island. We get rain and sun and then you get rainbows. I've always lived here. We have sheep and chickens in New Zealand. I live at the top of New Zealand, at the very top there's a long beach. Our flag has 4 stars, the Rarotongan flag has circles.
Emma draws the Hong Kong flag (in purple her favourite colour) while telling me: I live in New Zealand in a house with neighbours. I haven’t always lived here because I was born in Hong Kong. I eat heaps and heaps of things like muffins and cheese. Down the bottom of New Zealand there is heaps of snow. Hong Kong has very big buildings and the only building that is little is the church. I lived right next to the church, I was one then and when I turned two, I moved back (to New Zealand). One day in Hong Kong it's sunny and then the next it’s rainy. And the buildings stick together. We lived at the top of the building and nanna did live with us, she lived in the second floor. My nanna has been to India and it was boiling hot and in the winter it was as warm as the summer in New Zealand.
Pippa: I live in a town in New Zealand. I like going to the snow. When it’s cold you get snow, I go to Wellington. We don’t get snow all the time in New Zealand.
Franchi: I live in Mount Tiger, it’s on a hill and there’s lot of grass. It’s too big a hill to jump off as it’s a little bit scary. I live there with me and mum and Juno and Joel my dad and puss puss and Inca. On my road there are pink and purple flowers.
Ruby draws her house and Kiwi's and talks about the NZ flag: I live in New Zealand, not the far of New Zealand. I normally eat pies. We have kiwi’s here and once I saw a real one out the window of my house. It was brown. Kiwi’s are a bird and they have long beaks and their food is on the ground. I have an Uncle that lives in America and my sister lies in Whakatane. The New Zealand (flag) has stars, 4 stars, the flag is blue and and the stars are red.
Sadie: I live in town in New Zealand. We eat vegetables, like broccoli and carrot and pasta. My dad plays hockey. I like going to the park to play.
Mercia: I live in Whangarei, I haven't been to Sri Lanka, mummy and daddy has. In Sri Lanka they dance, it's like a shake. It's hot there, we eat soup, curry, milk. I like go one day. This is my family in Sri Lanka.
As our New Zealand Early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki, states ‘There are many migrants in New Zealand, and, as in any country with a multicultural heritage, there is a diversity of beliefs...There is a growing understanding of the links between culture, language, and learning, and an increasing commitment to addressing the issues faced by children growing up in a society with more than one cultural heritage…The early childhood curriculum supports the cultural identity of all children, affirms and celebrates cultural differences, and aims to help children gain a positive awareness of their own and other cultures (p.18)
Nethra studies her photos from Sri Lanka before deciding to draw herself. She tells me, That my Sri Lanka school. There is a zoo, I see elephant, giraffe, lion, tiger. At school we jump, swing.
At Mairtown we work hard as a team to recognise the experiences that take place beyond the walls of our kindergarten, to understand both the learning that is taking place and the cultural and historical backgrounds of our children. It has been so empowering to see the children partake in listening to the stories, and looking at the pictures of one other; stories that have contained symbols and words from their own and from the cultures of others. It has been a totally wonderful experience for me as a teacher to get to know, really in-depth the history of some of our attending children, to see where they lived through videos and photo albums leant to me and through places pointed out on maps.
|Mercia's mum explains how to write 'Mercia' in Sinhalese|
Books can certainly not be considered a substitute for firsthand engagement and contact with other cultures and communities. I do believe however, this book initially sparked and therefore enabled many children to deepen and broaden their understandings of not only their place in the world, but those of their friends, and also possibly the people/children in the photographs who of course they are never likely to meet.
Mia draws Mercia's dress and reflects on her learning: The dress from Sri Lanka has different designs on it. There is one bit of her showing, her belly button. The dress is really a top and a skirt and it's exactly the same. If you're from Sri Lanka you look really beautiful and you wear a necklace and bangle on your hands.
As B Kupetz states ‘Early childhood professionals may find children's books to be one more avenue to seeing, understanding, and accepting the rich variety and uniqueness of persons. Rather than pretending that the differences among us do not exist, books help children discover what is similar and different among persons and groups of persons’ (Early childhood news).
As the teacher who embarked on this provocation, I also believe this work has not only been of benefit to the children, it has also improved my own cultural literacy. I have really enjoyed and learnt so much by sharing extracts of this book with some of our families from countries and cultures I soon realised I didn’t have that much in-depth knowledge of. There were many wonderfully proud conversations I shared with children and their whānau about different cultural perspectives to mine, which truly allowed me to recognise and affirm the primary importance of the child’s family and culture.
|Nethra's name in Sinhalese|
I have to say an especially big thank you to Lorraine and Dammika for sharing their knowledge, photos, books, flags, costumes, songs and lullaby’s, language and food (delicious pol sambol, string hoppers, ala hodi and pol pani pancakes) from Sri Lanka. I have learnt so much from you, as have the other children at Kindergarten, and I feel honoured that you have been so open and accepting of my questions. The stories you have shared have come alive for me – it is as if these stories have the power to bring a community together – thank you.
Thank you also to the children for their beautiful, and as always thoughtful work. I think our soon to be Canadian friends with learn a lot about Mairtown, the children in our community and ‘their place in the world’, wherever that may be.
For anyone wanting to know more about this book please visit www.artinallofus.org . Incidentally all proceeds from the sale of this book go to support ‘Art in All of Us’ programs, the not-for-profit organisation founded by Mr. Asael and Ms. Rabemiafara, dedicated to stimulating the creativity and curiosity for other cultures within children using art.
Mā te wā,
Mā te wā,