Every day the world gets smaller. While Americans from the same cultural background could once live in isolated neighborhoods with little meaningful contact with others, this is no longer possible in a globalized, connected world. Cultural awareness should be made fun for students, so that from an early age, they know how to properly appreciate and respect people from different backgrounds.
Music and Dance
Make another culture come alive by teaching the music and dance styles of foreign cultures and their significance. For example, if you are teaching about Caribbean culture, have everyone wear sandals and colorful clothing, play reggae and calypso music and teach some basic dance moves associated with that style. If the class is culturally diverse, students can teach song and dance styles from their culture to the class. This allows students to get to know and respect each other and other cultures by literally putting their whole bodies into experiencing cultural awareness.
By tasting the food of other cultures, students make cultural awareness a part of themselves. Ideas for exposing students to different food traditions and their significance are: hold an international food fair; find people from different cultures and have them serve or lead cooking classes for traditional dishes, and have leaders explain what the dish means in their cultures; or have a day or week devoted to one specific food tradition. For example, Jewish food day could feature matzah ball soup, challah and gefilte fish coupled with a presentation on kashrut.
Younger children tend to think their holidays are celebrated all over the world, or that their beliefs are shared by everyone. Break them out of that bubble by celebrating the holidays of other cultures. In late winter, decorate the classroom for Chinese New Year, perform traditional celebrations, eat traditional foods, and teach a few relevant Chinese words and phrases, such as "new year" and "luck." Teach the deeper spiritual meaning of the holiday and its traditions to help students understand these things on their own terms.
A culture's stories make its values and world view dynamic and alive. By sharing a people's stories, your students will gain awareness of it as its own children do -- through the stories and fables that have been passed down from generation to generation. If possible, add to the experience by bringing in an experienced storyteller or writer from that culture, allowing students to experience it with the proper rhythms and voices from someone who deeply understands and loves the stories' messages.
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