The FACE team included an article about honoring cultural identities because we believe that an important part of building relationships is learning about the things that make us different. The more we think about about the diverse communities in our district, the more it becomes clear that our differences are an asset to embrace!
Talking about immigration with your child can feel uncomfortable, and many caregivers might want to avoid the conversation. However, immigrant families who need to bring up the topic as a means of survival do not have the luxury of avoiding these conversations. That’s why it is important to bring up the topic with your family in a meaningful way.
When we help children understand how to navigate the world we live in, we are preparing them to become informed, empathetic, and active citizens. Children need a frame of reference to understand what they hear in the news and to understand the role immigration plays in our national and personal identities. If we want our children to be effective citizens, problem solvers, and leaders, we need to give them a strong foundation—one that will help them navigate complexity and see a positive future.
Why should all American students learn about immigration?
Immigration has always been a part of the history of the United States and has always been a controversial topic by its very nature—at least since King Philip’s War in 1675, when the Wampanoag Indians and their allies nearly succeeded in pushing British immigrants out of Massachusetts. Resources and opportunities can feel finite and be scarce or hard to come by; accordingly, competition for them is inevitable. However, history also suggests that our national identity is tied to the diversity of peoples and traditions we represent.
By exploring immigration to the United States, children gain an understanding of the variety of reasons why people emigrate, including war and famine; how attitudes towards immigration have changed and stayed the same; the importance immigrants have had in our history; and the rights and responsibilities of all citizens.
Learning about immigrants who have made significant contributions to America enriches and extends students’ understanding of American identity. A study of immigration in US history lessons also provides an opportunity for students of every background to feel valued and for teachers to help students embrace the opportunities created by living in a diverse population.
When should children begin to study immigration?
Even very young children will benefit from learning about people’s differences. Family stories can be a good place to start. Sharing your heritage with your children helps them develop a strong and complex sense of identity, as well as a sense that decisions made by earlier generations affect future generations.
When children start school, they have opportunities to hear about the backgrounds of their classmates and share their own experiences. Authentic sharing about family celebrations and traditions can be done with preschool age children. While these and similar activities do not focus on immigration as a formal topic, they do help children develop a broader understanding of the people who make up their schools and communities.
By 3rd grade, students are old enough to study immigration more formally. Students in 3rd grade can learn about the experiences of immigrants from all over the world from community members and through easily accessible sources such as StoryCorps and the Library of Congress. Questions such as Where do immigrants come from? What was it like where they were born? Why did they immigrate? What was the journey like? What happened when they got here? can be explored through these stories, providing children with a deeper and broader understanding of the complexity and variety of the immigrant experience. This kind of approach might lead children to ask, Why do Americans have different attitudes about immigrants? A question like this is a great jumping off point for linking their learning to current immigration issues around the world.
As children explore these questions, there is a natural flow into still more questions: What does it take to become an American citizen? What are the rights and responsibilities of an American citizen? Many Americans born in the US never explore these questions, but these rights and responsibilities apply to all of us.
What can I do at home to help my child better understand immigration?
- Every family has roots and stories. Create a family culture that fosters curiosity about the history of your family and that of other families. Help children understand the hardships, journeys, and victories of those who have come before them.
- When selecting books for your home library, be sure the collection includes stories from people of diverse backgrounds and experiences. Look for books that tell the story of an immigrant’s contributions to America, as well as books about immigrants and descendants of immigrants who have fought for the rights and protections we all deserve in America.
- Take your child to exhibits and events that celebrate the diversity of cultural heritage in the United States.
- Children learn a lot of values and gain in cultural competency by having thoughtful and respectful conversations about complex subjects such as this. In age-appropriate ways, you can use current events related to immigration to help your child be a critical thinker. Don’t be afraid of tough questions from your children. Sometimes it helps to respond with What do you think? to get a better idea about what your child is really asking. Sometimes children need just a brief answer. To help your child understand that there is a range of feelings and opinions on the topic, you can respond with Some people feel…while others feel…. When it is important to convey a personal or family value, you might begin, I believe…, and invite a response from your child.
Why is this topic a “must” for students in elementary school?
The United States is more diverse than it has ever been. There are people living here from all over the world. If we are to live peaceably, respectfully, and productively, we need to have a mindset that embraces diversity, advocates for others, and seeks social justice. Immigration has been a persistent, controversial topic in the United States since the end of the Civil War and is likely to remain relevant for generations. By teaching children about diversity in the US and about attitudes towards immigrants and immigration in the past, they can better understand current and future immigration issues.
Teaching our children to have eyes and hearts wide open and inquiring minds at work as they grapple with complex topics, with wise adult guidance, will lead to a safer, more inclusive American experience for all, now and in the future.
Activities That Teach Your Kids About World Cultures
Sample Family Calendar
Although your student(s) celebrate and learn about cultures through our curriculum all year long, having a calendar reminding busy families of heritage observances can be a great way to prioritize cultural exploration for your family. Here is a list of celebrations, holidays, and heritage months you can include on your family calendar:
|16: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
27: Holocaust Remembrance Day
|Black History Month
1: National Freedom Day
1: Chinese New Year, 2023
|Women’s History Month
8: International Women’s Day
March 13- April 15: Deaf History Month
31: International Transgender Day of Visibility
|Celebrate Diversity Month
Autism Awareness Month
2: World Autism Awareness Day
|Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
Jewish American Heritage Month
|Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month
15: Native American Citizenship Day
19: Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day
|July||26: Disability Independence Day
30: International Day of Friendship
|15-17: Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year celebration, 2023
September 15- October 15: Hispanic Heritage Month
|October||12: National Indigenous Peoples Day|
|National Native American Heritage Month
27: Native American Heritage Day
|December 7-15 : Hanukkah 2023
3: International Day of Disabled Persons
26-January 1: Kwanzaa
Create a Passport
International travel requires a passport, so start your foreign adventures by creating a passport. Before you begin, show your child the reasons we use a passport and what they look like.
Next, help her make a small booklet to serve as her passport. The pages should be blank on the inside. That way, you can draw, use a sticker or glue a picture of the country’s flag to stamp the pages of her passport as she “travels” from country to country to learn about world cultures.
Map It Out
Now that she has a passport, she’s ready to travel the world. Print a world map and use push pins to illustrate where the country’s located. Every time you learn about a new country, use another pushpin on your world map. See how many countries she can visit.
Study the Weather
Kids who live in Ohio won’t have to worry about a willy-willy. But where will you find these conditions? How’s the weather in Zimbabwe today? Weather is more than the basics of sun, rain, wind, and snow. Learn about the weather in other countries to give her the full experience of what it’s like for other kids who live there.
Make Muslim clothing when learning about Islamic countries. Try your hand at Mexican handicrafts when learning about Mexico. Take your world culture lessons even further when you let her create or wear the types of crafts you would find in that country. Beadwork, clothing, pottery, origami — the possibilities are endless.
Cook Authentic Recipes
How does Japanese food taste? What types of food would you find on a typical menu in Germany? Cook authentic recipes together. Find what foods are popular in the country you are studying.
Find a Pen Pal
Forget texting. Letters to pen pals are a classic way for kids to communicate with friends they may never get to meet. They’re also a hidden lesson in language arts and social studies. Search for a pen pal in the country you’re learning about with your child. There are many free websites that will match your child with pen pals around the world.
Learn Cultural Etiquette
What we might do in our home country isn’t necessarily appropriate in other countries. Learning about each culture’s etiquette can be enlightening for you both. Pointing your feet in Thailand is offensive. Your left hand is considered unclean in India, so pass all food or objects to other people with your right. Learn about cultural etiquette with your child. Try practicing this country’s dos and don’ts of etiquette for a day or week. What happens to citizens when they break the rules of etiquette? Are they simply frowned upon or is it a punishable offense?
Teach the Language
Learning a foreign language is fun for kids. Fortunately for parents, we don’t have to know how to speak every single language to help our kids. When you’re exploring world cultures, study each country’s official language. Learn basic words your child already knows. Teach both written and spoken form.
Keep a calendar of upcoming holidays celebrated in other countries. Celebrate national holidays just as people in that country do. For example, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom observe Boxing Day. The holiday’s tradition includes giving money and charitable donations to organizations and people in need. To celebrate, the two of you can box some canned goods for the local food bank, drop a few bills into a charity’s bucket or donate old items to a nonprofit.
Teach your child about the history of each holiday too. When did it begin? Why? How has it changed over the years?
Study up on each holiday as it approaches. Decorate your home as you would find streets, businesses, and other houses for their observed holiday.