The classrooms of today are perhaps more culturally diverse than ever before. While there can be challenges in a greatly diverse classroom, the benefits of that kind of environment are immense. By celebrating the differences in culture, both in your class and your school, the students and families are made to feel cared for and included. It also enriches the lives of other students by exposing them to the beauty of another culture.
Why is it Important to Celebrate Cultural Differences?
As our country becomes more and more culturally diverse, so do our schools. This gives educators the unique opportunity to help students learn how to celebrate the diversity in which they live. So, it is critically important that we take advantage of that opportunity for many reasons, such as:
By learning about another culture, language, religion, etc., students learn that people can be very different, and that diversity is a good thing. Sometimes children, especially younger children, believe that if you don’t agree with a friend on some opinion, then you can’t be friends. For example, I like football and you like basketball, so we can’t be friends. (I teach first grade. I hear it all the time.) This opens the door to discuss with students that differences should never be a determiner of whether or not we are friends with someone. You can start at a very young age helping students learn to embrace and enjoy differences among their friends and classmates.
In celebrating these differences, students can learn to appreciate the unique and amazing kinds of traditions, arts, foods, etc. from other places that they may not otherwise have been exposed to. It can open a door of interests that the student might not have encountered if continually sheltered inside their own culture.
Celebrating differences in cultures can also bring new understanding, which can help enlighten other students in a way that will overthrow existing stereotypes. As our children grow up in an environment that celebrates other cultures and ways of life, they learn that every person is a unique individual, regardless of where they are from. This helps us as a society overcome stereotypes.
Celebrating the different cultures within your school can also make those students and families feel more accepted and valued within the school community. It can make them feel special, while at the same time making them feel like a part of the larger group.
Preparing Kids for Life
It is important for us, as educators, to remember that we are preparing our students for life, not just for the next grade or year. The truth is, students will most likely experience a great deal of diversity in the workplace as adults. Do we prepare them by ignoring cultural differences and sweeping them under the rug? No. We prepare them by teaching them to accept and appreciate those differences.
Why are the Arts a Good Vehicle for Celebrating Differences?
The arts, in general, are great for students because the arts engage many different areas of the brain. Teaching the arts in schools can also increase student concentration and motivation. When you introduce multiculturalism to the arts instruction in your school, those efforts are enhanced by the rich traditions in visual and performing arts that can be found in other cultures. Whether we are talking about visual art, music, dance, or theater, students enjoy these kinds of activities. It gives them a break from the norm, while at the same time providing valuable enrichment.
Ways to Celebrate Cultural Differences through the Arts
Celebrate the English Language Learners
Begin by letting them share their experiences. Highlight what they know. For example, students that speak Spanish can help the class learn some of the Spanish language. Let them share what they know about their cultures and how they celebrate holidays. This is a great way to help the other students see those English language learners as leaders in their classroom and helps to highlight their strengths.
Create a Calendar
For each month, create a calendar with special events and holidays. Include in these calendars celebrations from other cultures, particularly those that are represented in your class and school. This serves as a reminder to you to discuss these events. This also lets your students from other cultures know that their celebrations and traditions are just as important as everyone else’s.
Enjoying performances is a great way to celebrate another culture. You might have a dance group come to perform a cultural dance. You can also perform readers theaters of traditional stories from other cultures. Music and singing can also be used to display someone’s bilingual ability and highlight the differences in these areas.
Many of our folktales are versions of stories that originated in other cultures. I like to select a folktale and read the different versions of the same story and discuss the differences. For example, there are many different versions of the Cinderella story from many different cultures. It is a great way to demonstrate the differences and also the similarities of the cultures.
Students seem to really enjoy art activities, regardless of age. By integrating art with unique technique and style from another culture, you are able to open your students’ eyes to a different kind of beauty found in another art form that they hadn’t been exposed to before.
Hosting a cultural fair at your school is a fantastic way to bring all of these activities together in a meaningful way. Use this evening to enjoy culinary treats from another country, while you highlight all the work the students have done in learning and studying about multiculturalism. Depending on your demographics, you may want to have different areas where different cultures are featured, celebrating multiple cultures in one evening.
Another way to do it, particularly if you have a large population from one culture, is to have a night that features just that culture. Include artwork, music, dance, food, etc. This is a great way to bring students and their families together in a way that celebrates their differences, while also giving them time to realize just how much they have in common.