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Celebrating Culture and Traditions in the Classroom

Celebrating Different Cultures Starts with Inclusion 

I was in 5th grade and trying hard to belong, but just barely fitting in. I looked different than all my teachers and everyone in my class. Small things often reminded me I did not quite fit, like the color of the band-aids available in the nurse's office, questions like, “Where are you from?” or my teacher correcting my pronunciation of Samoa, where my family is from. All of this set the background for our Multicultural Unit. Each student chose a random country and gave a presentation on that country. When it was my turn to present, my teacher told everyone that “Krista is actually from one of these countries.” Kids then proceeded to comment on the ways I looked like people from the countries they studied. My teacher just sat there. As I reflect on this experience, I have two takeaways. The first one is that what you do all year builds a foundation for moments to create connection while celebrating all the ways we live our lives. 

Additionally, use language that connects unique differences to our shared experiences. For example, instead of focusing on “those countries” in this project, we could have focused on family traditions. Family traditions would be different for all students and would center around the idea that we all have ways to feel connected to the people we love, which is often shown through tradition. The following are some tips on how to explore topics of culture, traditions and identity in the classroom in inclusive and thoughtful ways. -Krista Olson

Invest Time in Getting to Know Families

Create space in your classroom to build and develop trusting relationships with both students and their families. Invite caregivers to share their backgrounds and expectations for their child within the classroom. Having these conversations can help you better support all students while being inclusive of different cultural backgrounds.

Getting to know your students and families will better prepare you to teach each child as an individual while building a supportive environment. We know that students are not all the same, and they have different life experiences. Taking the time to connect with students and families will help your students thrive in an environment where differences are celebrated and valued.

Defining Culture and Traditions 

When teaching students about identity, culture, and traditions, we must first define the following terms to children. Students should learn and understand that we all have cultures and traditions that are part of our identity. Here are some student-friendly definitions you can try out:

  • Identity 

The qualities and beliefs that make you, you. 

  • Traditions

The beliefs and customs you learn from your caregivers and continue to do each year.

  • Culture

A culture is passed on from generation to generation and can be represented through writing, religion, music, clothes, cooking, and activities. 

Many things make up a society’s culture.

  • Food
  • Language
  • Clothing
  • Tools
  • Music
  • Arts
  • Customs
  • Beliefs
  • Religion 

Exploring Family Tradition and Culture Around the Holidays

At a young age, children love coming into the classroom and sharing the different activities they do with their families and friends. Allowing students to share these activities will help classmates see the many ways people enjoy and experience life. 

We are all different in how we spend our time day-to-day and how we celebrate the holiday season. Finding ways to allow kids to look at their own family traditions and share them with the class can bring joy, spark interest, and inspire curiosity about the cultures and many traditions around us. 

It’s essential to give children the platform to share without pointing out differences between cultures as a whole. Instead, focus on how we create traditions within our families and how these customs keep us connected to the ones we love. Learning more about the cultures within your classroom can be done by letting children share their identities and family traditions. 

Activity Inspiration for the Classroom

  • Create a Classroom Cookbook

Ask students to work with their caregivers to write down and bring in their favorite recipes. Make copies of each recipe and create a classroom cookbook. At school, have students create art to go with their recipe. This could be a drawing of the meal or a picture of their family enjoying it together.

  • Throw a Music Dance Party

Each child can share a song that they enjoy listening to with their family. Let each child introduce their music and have a classroom dance party. 

  • Create Your Favorite Holiday Plate

Using a white paper plate, ask students to draw (or create using paper, glue, and other materials) their favorite holiday meal. Prompt students by having them close their eyes and imagine their favorite meal around the holiday time. What do they add to their plate? Recreate their perfect holiday meal and share with the class!

  • Slumberkins Otter Activities and Curriculum 

Enjoy this Slumberkins Otter Activity Pack that gives students the opportunity to define the most important people in their life: their Heart Family. While identifying family, friends, and pets, both here or moved on, students can think about and define what traditions are most important to them during the holidays. Our full “Building Connections Curriculum” offers more in-depth lessons that support the home school connection and encourages exploration of classroom and family culture.  

  • Have a Multicultural Classroom Celebration

Bring your students' culture to the classroom and celebrate together. Students can bring in items to represent their heritage or family culture. This can be a favorite food, piece of clothing, or even a game or activity. 

  • Traditions Around the World

Learn about different cultures through celebrations and traditions around the world. Share books that include stories highlighting a variety of cultures and traditions (see our list of recommendations below). To help students identify their own favorite traditions, try downloading this Slumberkins template for students to draw their favorite winter holiday activities.

Recommended Books List

Reading and learning about how people come together and celebrate around the world allows students to see a more diverse view than what exists within your classroom alone. 

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story   

Written by: Kevin Noble Maillard    
Illustrated by: Juana Martinez-Neal

Lailah's Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story

Written by: Reem Faruqi
Illustrated by: Lea Lyon

Soulful Holidays: An Inclusive Rhyming Story Celebrating the Joys of Christmas and Kwanzaa

Written by: Ciara L Hill 
Illustrated by: Christian Krabbe 

Our Favorite Day of the Year            

Written by: A. E. Ali              
Illustrated by: Rahele Jomepour Bell 

Priya Dreams of Marigolds & Masala      

Written by: Meenal Patel 

'Twas Nochebuena

Written by: Roseanne Greenfield Thong
Illustrated by: Sara Palacios

Daddy Christmas & Hanukkah Mama

Written by: Selina Alko

Our Moon Festival

Written by: Yobe Qiu  
llustrated by: Christina Lopez

The Shortest Day

Written by: Susan Cooper  
Illustrated by: Carson Ellis

Krista Olson, DEI Specialist
Kim Allen, Director of Educational Content

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