Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Multicultural (Asian) Awareness in Preschool

Incorporating the teaching of multiculturalism in the daily curriculum is not only important - it can be pretty easy to do!

Two weeks ago, my Head Start class spent time focusing on letter L as our letter of the week. Typically our activities feature math, science, nutrition and literacy activities that relate to the letter. Letter L seemed to be the perfect time to introduce my little ones (4&5 year olds) to the craft of Chinese paper lanterns. With the help of Creative Diversity, my students were able to explore a bit about the Chinese culture in a cross-curricular approach, through the use of their Asian Cultural Celebration Bag!

First, we read Paper Lanterns by Stefan Czernecki. Children sat relatively quietly, very interested in the bold, engaging pictures and discussing the text as it was read. The story was a bit lengthy and at times I felt as though I was "losing" them... however, I was able to keep them focused and we were able to finish out the story!

Czernecki, Stefan.
Paper Lanterns.
2004 (2001).
Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
Review copy provided courtesy of Creative Diversity by Hatch.

Old Chen, an elderly crafter of paper lanterns is ready to retire and pass on his craft to someone else, but is unsure of who to pass the tradition to. His two employees excel at other aspects of the crafting of paper lanterns, but they just don't have what it takes to construct the beautiful pieces of work. A little boy suddenly appears, interested and eager to learn. However, Old Chen feels he is much to young to be able to construct the lanterns. The little boy watches intently and practices for hours on end at home, hoping to perfect his own abilities and eventually the opportunity presents itself in which the little boy, known as Little Mouse, is able to show off his abilities to Old Chen, surprising the elderly man and convincing him that Little Mouse must be the one to take over the construction of the paper lanterns.

Upon finishing the story, I pulled children into the activity of decorating the paper lanterns by telling them that they were going to have their hand an being "Little Mouse." Boy, were they ever excited... they thought it was going to be so cool to decorate a fancy lantern like the dragon in the book! We quickly broke into our small groups, and I quickly made a sample lantern so they had some idea of how it would turn out or what kind of approach they could use. Some of the children were all about carefully coloring/designing their lanterns... others just couldn't wait to be done and on to work time (our version of center-based play).

The lanterns turned out amazing, as you'll see in the photograph below. It was definitely a great activity and way to learn a little about Chinese culture (and a perfect photo prop for our end-of-the-year photo shoot)! I will say they were very time consuming to put together. About half of the children were able to manipulate their fine-motor skills to tear the perforations without tearing the tops and bottoms of the outer lantern sphere. The perforating of the lantern spheres of the other half fell into the hands of myself, my assistant and my aide. We quickly were able to get these done, only to find out that the inner globe didn't quite fit inside the outer sphere when put together and we had to modify the construction of the lantern to move things along for our active bunch. Eventually we gave up trying to get them to help and sent them on their way to work time, finishing up the lanterns on our own! If we were to do this project again, we'd definitely just have the kids do the coloring and we'd do the constructing on our own time, instead of hoping that the children could help out! Needless to say, we were very impressed with how they turned out and were very excited about using them as photo props (seen below)!

The following day, for our small group time, we decided to spend a bit more time learning about Chinese culture, in preparation of getting the photo shoot set-up appropriately! Our classroom had previously acquired a copy of the Our World series and one of the titles was A Look at China.

Frost, Helen.
A Look at China (Our World Series).
Capstone Press.
Provided by school resource library.

Repetitive wording and phrasing allows young readers to engage fully in the reading while also learning about a new culture. A Look at China introduces children in a simplistic manner to the Great Wall of China, a small bit of Chinese language (hello, goodbye), Chinese New Year, weather, landscapes, population, modes of transportation, nutrition, currency and dress. Coupled with the photographs, children will gain a basic understanding of a lifestyle different than their own and will likely find an urge to learn more!

After reading A Look at China, children were given the opportunity to explore some Asian play food (sent with the Asian Cultural Celebration Bag) which we had placed in our House Area. It was a huge hit and had I been smart enough, I would have ordered some real Chinese food for sampling that day! While they were playing and exploring, we set up our photo shoot in the quiet area (including the Children's Chinese Festival poster) that came with the bag. We then had the students take turns posing as "Chinese children," dressed in their kimonos (also found in the bag), holding their homemade lantern and their choice of the Chinese dragon or the Chinese puppet (you'll find photos of both below)! Can you say hit? You should have seen the smiles - absolutely perfect for the end-of-the-year gifts we're putting together for parents!!!

Also provided in the bag was a copy of Kathy Tucker's The Seven Chinese Sisters, which was a huge hit! The kids loved it and several even asked for me to read it again a few days later! If you coupled it with Margaret Mahy's The Seven Chinese Brothers, you could have quite an interesting conversation on the similarities and differences of the two and find some pretty excited children in the process!

Tucker, Kathy.
The Seven Chinese Sisters.
Albert Whitman & Company.
Review copy provided courtesy of Creative Diversity.

Each of the seven Chinese sisters has a talent unique to themselves. Upon discovering that the youngest has been taken away by a hungry dragon, the other six must work together to help their sister, putting aside all differences and joining together as a unified force, each offering her unique talent to outwit the dragon.

The multicultural dramatic play materials were a huge hit in our class and I've decided I'm going to try and get a hold of more of them for my classroom for next year - through a school order or perhaps purchasing on my own. The craft activity (lanterns) were a hit with some of the children but also equally disliked by others (keep in mind I do have a VERY active class that sits still for such an activity very seldom) - given a few modifications (as mentioned above) the lanterns would have been a hit with everyone! The cultural celebration bags are definitely worth the investment, especially if you're looking to increase an awareness of cultural differences in your program/classroom!

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to Amazon.com. I am an Amazon Affiliate, so any purchases you make after clicking these images will result in my receiving a small percentage of the sale price!


style='clear: both;' Unknown said...

We are so overwhelmed, flattered and excited about your blog! You did an amazing, beautiful job. What a creative use of materials from our kit, coupled with a detailed guide for teachers to use multicultural items who might not be familiar with those cultures. I appreciate the praise as well as the criticism because that helps us to improve what we offer to customers. You and your viewpoints are extremely important to Hatch, as you are the reason we are in business – to support you and your work with children.

Thank you again!

Kami Periman on behalf of Hatch, Inc.

style='clear: both;' Centers and Circle Time said...

Wow you really got down to the business of the culture...I felt immersed in it! Fantastic Job! I just found your blog and FB too...I'm following both:)