The Secret to Raising Culturally Aware Children? Start with Toddlers

Is there any point in making an effort to celebrate different festivals with my two-year old? Will she or he even understand what’s going on or is it just a feel good activity for parents?

We spoke to Andal Aghoram, Principal of Veranda Preschool in Chennai, to sweep away the myths and get to the facts. 

Being born in India is an amazing gift. Unlike, most other countries where there are one or two religions and very little natural cultural diversity, our country has been blessed with so many different religions and cultures, many of them with further subdivisions.

We have even imported a few traditions from adopted countries across the world, pertaining to people from different ethnic backgrounds.

With a multitude of religions, costumes, ceremonies, foods and festivals, this country provides a colourful and varied tapestry for our children to explore. We have about 20-25 festivals and celebrations in a year and these are wonderful opportunities to teach young children about diverse cultures and lifestyles.

It’s never too early to start exposing our children to these aspects of life. As a matter of fact, toddlers are easy to educate, as they are eager to learn. The content just must be modified to make it interesting and easy to absorb.

The advantage of a school, is that children encounter people from different backgrounds and religions. Often, a playschool is the first place were children are exposed to festivals that they don’t get to celebrate at home.

At Veranda School, we are extremely enthusiastic about celebrating as many festivals as we can. We start from Ganesh Chaturthi and move through Christmas, Diwali, Eid, Halloween, Pongal and many more. We try to keep the experience as authentic as possible, while making sure it is simple enough for the little ones to enjoy.

If a festival is coming up, we start talking about it a few weeks in advance. We narrate stories, watch videos, learn songs (if any) and do a few crafts related to the event. On the day of the festival we decorate the school, cook special foods for our school meal that day, have a relevant activity and go over all the stories and songs we have learnt. When possible, we even ask parents to dress their offspring in keeping with the theme, and our parents actually enjoy this!

We recently celebrated Christmas, well in advanced of the actual day, as we are closing for the term. Since our students are too young to understand detailed and complex concepts, we emphasised the concept of universal love, the colours, the festivities and the sweets that people eat as part of the celebration.

We also had them make Christmas decorations, such as stars, to hang on our school tree and around the rooms. After handing out cute little Christmas hats, we told them a lovely story of Jesus Christ and his birth. We wove the story around Baby Jesus, his mom and dad and how they protected him from King Herod; how the wise men visited with gifts and were guided by a star and described the cowshed were the event took place. We had a little crib and manger to help them visualise the event even better.

We finally had Santa come in to dance and distribute sweets and we all sang Christmas carols. The celebration ended with a sharing activity. We had asked each child to bring in a small gift to give one of their friends.

We had them exchange gifts and it was a complete surprise to see these two-year olds giving away their gifts to their friends without a single moment’s hesitation! We realised that children are intuitively attuned to sharing, in contrast to what most of us believe. Of course, they were also happy to receive gifts from their friends and a special one from their beloved Veranda School, as well.

The ideas we adopted to celebrate this festival were really simple and a great way to introduce Christmas. There is absolutely no need to worry that a new concept, environment or activity will faze out young children. As long as, the content is tempered down to their level of understanding, toddlers are unbelievably open to new experiences.

Over time, the exposure that we give them in this manner, will provide them an ease in interacting with people from different backgrounds and cultures. A definite plus, or should I say must, in today’s shrinking world.

This wonderful day of celebration, was our small contribution towards rearing accepting and tolerant children, who can make a difference in tomorrow’s world.

To watch videos of our activities, stories and songs visit us on YouTube, Facebook  or our Website.

For free toddler approved menus, recipes, stories and songs contact us on:

admin@verandaschool.com or 9841030710

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