York Avenue Preschool’s Culture Festival
A couple weeks ago, the Three’s Classrooms at York Avenue Preschool hosted a Culture Festival where they explored and celebrated three different cultures with their families and classmates. We chatted with Ms. Karyn, assistant director of York Avenue Preschool about Culture Fest, how she came up with the idea and where it’s headed!
How did you come up with the concept for Culture Fest? The concept for the Culture Festival was first introduced to me when I was teaching a few years back. I felt this was a great way to expose children to other cultures besides their own, adding a dynamic experience to their learning.
Each classroom represented a separate country: China, Egypt and Mexico. How was each country chosen? The teachers assessed their student’s interests and based the selection from there.
How was the Culture Festival incorporated into York Avenue Preschool’s curriculum prior to the event? We design our curriculum at the end of each school year collaboratively. We discuss what worked and what didn’t as well as brainstorm new ideas. The themes are loosely defined and can change as we go along, the teachers are very aware of their students’ needs and interests and any theme that may emerge from their play or day to day conversations. As we sat as a team we began the discussion on diversity and I explained the importance of exposing the children to different cultures. I shared my past experiences on the cultures theme and the teachers were really receptive to the ideas. From there we catered it to each classroom’s needs and interests.
How did the festival itself tie everything together for the students? Prior to the festival, students were learning about other countries and their own personal background. Each classroom invited families to come in and partake in an activity about their culture. Each day was a new experience for the children and their families. It was amazing to witness their level of excitement- to hear “I wonder what country we are doing today?” really gave us a sense of accomplishment and that we were on the right path of designing a well-balanced and exciting curriculum.
What is the developmental importance of introducing a variety of cultures (different from their own) to children in early childhood education? Early childhood educators are called to do many difficult tasks. One of the most difficult of these is providing students with diverse, multicultural experiences. Today, most family homes and many early childhood programs tend to be fairly homogeneous and quite similar to the child’s home background. For children to develop a sense of belonging they must see themselves, their families and their communities represented throughout their school and homes in books, posters, artwork, family sets, dolls, cooking utensils, environmental print in their languages, photographs, workbook illustrations. According to Piaget, preoperational children learn through concrete experiences. For example, if you have a biracial child in your program, that child must be able to play with biracial dolls, puppets and miniature toys as well as see pictures and photographs of interracial families that look like his.
Students need to learn about themselves through exposure to people, role models in the school and people in the community who are like them. To learn about and be comfortable with people who are different, young children also need direct, concrete experiences with people who are different from them: children in their schools, teachers, and people in the community.
This was the inaugural year for the festival. How do you see York Avenue Preschool continuing and growing this idea and theme?The first year was a huge hit and it can only get better in years to come. With any new idea, you have to review what worked what didn’t and what can we do to make it better, and we have already begun this process. One thing for sure is, this theme is here to stay!