Personal connection with the experiences of family and friends is a powerful way to provoke learning that is not only remembered but is embedded in actions and attitudes. These rich sensory inputs engage with a student’s senses and resonate with experiences and relationships.
Year 3 at The Knox School have had such experiences of late in a Humanities unit of study. The students investigated some of the significant cultural celebrations and festivals which take place around the world, reflecting the cultural backgrounds of the students in the class.
Many of the festivals and celebrations relate to religious beliefs and practices, a celebration of life (and death), historical events, theology etc. Rather than simply tell the children about festivals and celebrations, the teacher, Ms Lane, invited members of the parent community and their extended families to come in to talk to the children and show aspects of their family background and culture.
Our first guest was a delightful Muslim woman who spoke gently and captivated the students with her explanation about Ramadan. The children and adults learned that the period of fasting for Ramadan is designed to “demonstrate understanding of those who go without food” and that Islam has a sense of obligation as one of its fundamental pillars.
The children were asked to reflect after this visit – some of the insights were delightful building a sense of shared values, such as … I understand that these people are just like me.
Our second visitor was from India. She spoke to the children about the festival of Diwali and explained the history and religious beliefs associated with the celebration of the various Gods and Goddesses in the Hindi faith. She was a fabulous story teller and again, the children were entranced.
The next visitor was of the Hindu faith and she came to school dressed in a beautiful sari. She presented information about altars in the home which commemorate the dead, the way in which members of the faith believe in reincarnation and the importance of doing good in one’s life.
Finally, we were treated to a demonstration of traditional dance from one of our mothers who comes from Sri Lanka. She and her family had recently travelled home to attend a 5-day long wedding celebration. She also told us about Holi – the festival of colour.
It was noticeable during these learnings that the sense of engagement, wonder and excitement was strong from all the students, but especially those that came from these cultural and religious backgrounds. This learning was personal for many of them and for others it was clear this was very important for their friends.
The children talked openly about the traditions and “rules” of the various faiths. Children shared and explained the rules they followed; why they could only eat Halal food, why they were vegetarian or their avoidance of beef or pork.
It has been discernible since that some students have actually shown a significant growth in their confidence and their sense of cohesion and belonging in the group.
The children were expected to be respectful, attentive and ask questions in a respectful manner. This was modelled to them by their teachers and they responded positively. This has elicited much good parental feedback, with parents finding their children’s learning, comments and perceptions worthy of positive comment.
It was wonderful to have guest speakers, drawing on our broader community. The other main learning experiences were:
• Working collaboratively in teams to research and write a script about a festival or celebration
• Filming segments in the multi-media studio which is currently being made into a film – Celebrations around the World.
The groups looked at Chinese New Year, Ramadan, Diwali, The Day of the Dead (All Souls Day) and the especially beautiful Loy Krathong Festival from Thailand.
The children were also completed a mini investigation into other festivals.
They completed a poster, dressed a paper doll in national costumes and then presented their work orally to their peers.
Topics included Hogmanay, Holi, Australia Day, Halloween, St Patrick’s Day and Kwanzaa.
The study culminated with our international lunch, catered by parents. The culmination of this unit of work was celebrated with the universally known means of celebration – the sharing of food with friends. It was wonderful to see so many people attend.
It was certainly wonderful to see 8 and 9 year olds showing such respect, understanding and passion to learn about our common humanity in a country that has made such a success of taking in waves of immigrants over many generations.