Strategies for opening the eyes of children to the world around them
By Emily Kracht
My favorite quote, which encompasses the Global Awareness Curriculum at Loyola Catholic School in Mankato, MN, hangs in my classroom as a daily reminder: “Our first task when-ever approaching another person, another culture, another religion, is to take off our shoes for the ground we are approaching is holy … lest we forget and find ourselves treading on another’s dreams. More serious still lest we forget that God was there before we arrived” (author unknown). Mankato Loyola Catholic School strives for global competency at a young age. This sparks a yearning for lifelong learning of the cultures that comprise our diversified world.
The Global Awareness curriculum involves learning and gaining knowledge about the cultures and people of the world, simulating authentic experiences of those cultures, developing respect for all people of the world, and honoring their cultures with appreciation for their many gifts.
More than a decade ago, Loyola Catholic School started teaching Spanish language classes in the elementary grades. In 2006, we decided to open our curriculum to include many languages and cultures of the world; thus Global Awareness was initiated. The impetus for the switch was to create experiences which allowed the students to imagine life in a different culture. To love our neighbors as ourselves, we must walk that mile in their shoes. Though that may be difficult as a reality, we can certainly lay the foundation at a young age to foster an open mind whenever encountering any culture.
Our aim is that our students at Loyola Catholic School enter the world with a breadth of knowledge about the people who will be coworkers, neighbors, and friends.
Loyola Catholic School’s Global Awareness curriculum runs all year long. As the Global Awareness Coordinator, I come into each elementary classroom in grades K-6 for a thirty-minute lesson once a week. Time slots are back-to-back in each grade in order to combine all the classes in one grade when having a special speaker. I try to focus on one or two cultures per month in each grade, totaling 12-15 cultures per year, equating to 100 cultures in grades K-6.
I kick off the year with a theme such as Peace for All, God’s Gifts of Nature, Celebrate Service, or How Can I Be a Hero in the Eyes of God? These themes unite the student body as a community in the first few weeks of school as we start our Global Awareness class with a giant floor puzzle. Each child received a piece of this puzzle. On the front of the blue/green puzzle piece was a foreign word or symbol and the back of the piece contained a letter. The letter grouped six students together so they could put its portion of the puzzle together before joining the rest of the class. After each group completed their fraction of the puzzle, the larger group started to piece together the separate sections. In the end, they created a giant blue/green circle. When asked what the circle represented, the students all guessed correctly: the world. When asked what the different words or symbols signified, the answers included friends, world, earth, and – as most times one or more would guess correctly – PEACE. For younger students, we talk about the word peace using Todd Parr’s book, The Peace Book. They create their own illustrations to accompany the originals to make a wall of peace in our school. I have also made a wall of peace using the handprints along with the peace promise we use at the start of every day: “I promise to be a peace-maker by using my hands, head, and heart to do the work of Jesus.”
We Say “Hello”
The primary focus of the Global Awareness curriculum is to teach phrases and words of a new language. I like to remind the children that the universal smile can and does symbolize kindness and friendship, but we should take the next step to foster friendship by attempting to learn other languages. Typical greetings and the two important words of please and thank you are always included.
We Read and Act
We also learn about different people through literature by reading and acting out folk tales from various cultures. This is especially crucial in order to understand the core of each culture and the values and beliefs that are the basis of all cultures.
We Create, Sing, and Dance
Two of my favorite subjects include art and music. As students study the Plains American Indians in social studies, they learn a Native American song with sign language. They also learn a few words in American Indian sign language, read The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush by Tomie de Paola, and make their own “petal paintings” with flower petals and other items in nature.
I depend on help from our food service coordinator and nutritionists to help with lessons involving cuisine. For example, they have put together some yummy samples of “tapas” and fruit juice from Spain and a unique fruit salad and spiced tea from Russia.
We Move and Play
Movement throughout games and dance are two of the students’ favorites, which I often find time to include, especially for the last 10 minutes of class. In a few minutes we can play Up or Down from Pakistan, Ram Ram Rip from Malaysia, or Tick Tack from Scotland (a plethora of games can be found in Oriol Ripoll’s book PLAY WITH US: 100 Games from Around the World).
In the first game of Up or Down, I organize students into groups of three. All players stretch out their left hand with palms facing up. When a sign is given, players put their right hands over their left hands, with their palms facing either up or down. The winner is the player with his or her hands in a position different from the other two.
Ram Ram Rip is played with the entire class. One or more players extend a hand with the palm facing up. All the other players touch the palm of the hand with their index finger while saying, “Ram ram, rip!” As soon as the last word is pronounced, the first player closes his or her hand, trying to catch some of the fingers. Whoever’s finger is caught will be it.
In the game Tick Tack, I start by pairing up the students in the class. Players stand facing each other, about five yards apart. Each player takes turns moving forward, placing one foot in front of the other so the heel touches the toe of the other foot. When the players meet, the winner is the one who places a foot on top of the other player’s foot.
We Answer the Question “Where in the World?”
Of course, no unit on the countries of the world would be complete without geography. In kindergarten we often start each class with our floor map of the world. The children help me find the United States. We review our neighboring countries and find our new country of interest for the day. In third grade our students start by learning all the countries of Central and South America. By fifth grade they also know the capitols of these countries. Twister with our laminated world floor map is a favorite game to play to include this area. We all sit in a circle around the map while two students try their luck at geography and Spanish. “Ponga sus dedos de pie encima de Guatemala (put your toes on Guatemala); ponga su mano encima de Bolivia (put your hand on Bolivia).”
Everyone Can Be Involved
Much of what we do is meant to enhance the already existing curriculum that classroom teachers use by including an extra story, art lesson, game, song, taste-testing experience, dance, or language lesson. Classroom teachers along with the global awareness coordinator can handle many activities with the help from the music, physical education, art, and library faculty and the food service coordinator.
The key to this program is the number of special guests and visitors that come into the classroom. My goal is to try to have one visitor per grade each month. The visitors may be family, friends, teachers, staff, clergy, students (especially foreign exchange students in our school), or community members, including college professors, college students, members of our diversity council, etc. Examples of what a visitor may share include travel experiences and personal culture or ethnicity. These may include stories about what life is like in another country or locale such as weather, land, animals, families, school, food, language, and basic intercultural communication. These are real life connections which make Global Awareness come alive.
Loyola Catholic School Visitor Scrapbook
We have a retired teacher from our school with a strong German heritage. He grew up in rural Minnesota, speaking German at home and learning English at school. Our students enjoyed a Minnesota history lesson through listening to his stories. He also learned to play the concertina at a young age. He gave a demonstration of his instrument, and students learned how to dance the polka and waltz.
Members of our community “Sons of Norway” came to share about the Norwegian culture, led students in a craft project, and brought lefsa for all to taste.
A mom of one of out Vietnamese students came in with pictures and many stories describing life as she grew up in Vietnam. She also brought food for all to taste.
One year as we studied Vietnam in second grade I had two students who were able to share their own experiences with Trung Thu, the Vietnamese fall moon festival, and showed all their peers how well they could play Truyen, a Vietnamese game similar to jacks.
As students in first grade study Japan, I read them the story “Crow Boy” by Taro Yashima. There is a wonderful lesson about how we should find the gifts in all those around us. We also make an origami crow; play a Japanese butterfly game; learn and sing Sakura, a Japanese folk song about cherry blossoms; and learn a few simple greetings and numbers 1-10. A professor from a local university ends the unit with her stories and lively chopstick game. She explains how the children of Japan play the game as they learn to hold their chopsticks correctly.
Showcase Your School and Strive for Community Involvement
As Catholic educators, we are always looking for ways to distinguish our school from other schools in the community. Visitors are an excellent way to make community connections. They see our school and spread to other families. In Mankato, MN, there is a local International Festival. Our students get involved by making a mural to display at the event. We also had a group of students as one of the entertainment acts at the festival, singing a song they learned in Global Awareness.
We end each year with a Global Awareness Open House and Celebration. This is an opportunity to honor and show great respect to the cultures of the world. We put up artwork and feature projects (especially service projects) that the students have worked on throughout the year. This past year we were able to feature our local, national, and international service projects. For example, our students participate in Stuff-A-Truck each fall, in which they collect non-perishable food and toiletries for our local Food Shelf. We have collected new and lightly used winter gear for refugee families in need living in the state of Minnesota. During Lent this past year, our youngest students participated in the international project Pennies for Peace.
The evening of our annual Global Awareness Celebration kicks off with a supper in our cafeteria with foods from around the world. We then rotate between our gym and chapel for 10-minute programs by each grade, featuring songs, dances, and languages that the children have learned. Inviting the local TV and newspaper is always a good idea.
How Does One Start?
The first step to implementing a Global Awareness curriculum in one’s school is to find out what cultures and countries are already studied in each grade. It is easier to enhance and enrich the already existing curriculum. I have developed a curriculum of my own which changes slightly with each year.
I started with a dozen used books on children, games, and crafts from around the world, which I purchased from Amazon’s website. Two of my favorites that first year were Children Just Like Me and Celebrations! by Barnabas and Anabel Kindersley. I personally spent about $30 and spent only $200 of our school’s budget in the first two years of Global Awareness in order to put together a shelf of resources. We began our first year of Global Awareness with grades K-3; and by this, our third year, we have incorporated grades 4-6. It would have been quite overwhelming to build a curriculum from scratch for more than a few grades at a time. When first starting out, I could use the same unit with a variety of different grades since the Global Awareness program was new. It is a good idea to feature first the cultures represented at your school. The students can research about their own ancestors and foster a deep pride for their families’ roots. Use your library and resources around you. We often invite our School Sisters of Notre Dame the countries they have visited. They also have many artifacts to share. The Mission Society of St. Columban has a wonderful curriculum program to purchase or receive on loan called “Journey with Jesus.” This includes lessons for pre-k through grade eight. I have also found many great resources from Maryknoll.
The whole idea of Global Awareness can be based upon the Four Pillars of Christian Social Teaching. Teaching children to be proud of their heritage and ethnicity emphasizes the first pillar, Dignity. Through our many service projects and our mission emphasis, Catholic educators continually take time to strive for the second pillar of Common Good. As Father Greg Schaefer so wisely instructed in my recent mission trip to San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala, we as Christians should not only walk with people we are striving to serve, but more often allow them to lead as we follow compassionately support their needs and dreams. This is Solidarity, the third pillar. Finally, Subsidiary, the last pillar, I believe is the basis of Global Awareness. We shall never forget that all one’s beliefs are tightly woven throughout one’s culture. We cannot tear them apart or the effort will be lost. Through these ideals, we can foster a more tolerant society. It is one world-our world.
Emily Kracht teaches high-school language classes and is Global Awareness Coordinator for grades K-8 at Layola Catholic School, Mankato, MN.
This article was originally published in the November/December 2009 issue of Today’s Catholic Teacher.
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