Birthdays are so special for kids. Teaching at an international school means that within your classroom there are many different cultures. Don’t think that there aren’t many cultures in your school though! That means there are countless birthday songs and traditions to learn about. One way we work to make birthdays extra special is to sing in as many languages as possible. Kids aren’t put on the spot if they don’t wish to sing in their native language but the opportunity is offered to all kids. This is very important when building a safe space. Students should never be singled out or forced to explain their culture and they should never be asked to speak on behalf of an entire culture.
We always start with English because it is the primary language we use in the classroom. Next, we always sing in Polish because we live in Poland. Last year my class sang every time in English, Polish, French, German, Spanish, Korean, Ukranian, Russian, Flemish, and Mandarin. Every single birthday! It means that you spend a lot of time singing but the kids don’t mind it at all. In fact, it just makes birthdays even more special! This year my class is much smaller but still with a lot of cultural diversity. Now we sing in English, Polish and Hungarian each birthday.
Recently, something exciting happened. We have a student in our class who spoke no English at the start of the school year. Throughout the year this student has gotten better and better at English. This student was sitting on our assistant’s lap (more about that issue here). When I asked if anyone else wanted to sing he rose his hand. I was so excited and so surprised to hear that he wanted to volunteer. He sang in his native language for the first time! My kids were silent and were grinning ear to ear. When he finished they all started clapping and cheering! There were also a lot of thumbs up! It was such a magical moment in our classroom for him, the other kids and for the teachers.
This is just a small but important way to be culturally inclusive within your class.
What do you do to include cultural traditions in your classroom? I would love to hear from you!