At this time of year, the children at this nursery school learn about Festivals of Light, including Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali and Kwanzaa. The teachers present each festival with excitement, respect and delight. Since kids learn experientially, they learn about the festivals in circle time, but also with crafts, cooking, singing and games. Parents are invited in to help share in the learning and celebrating.
With a short reminder on what they learned last week about Christmas, the circle teacher started explaining about another Festival-Hanukkah. The moment the word Hanukkah came out of her mouth, the simmering excitement exploded around the circle. There was no holding back.
“We have a Christmas tree!” proclaimed one girl.
“We have Hanukkah at my house!” shouted another.
“We have Christmas AND Hanukkah at MY house!” came from another. This last child was propelled to jump up with pure glee as she gave her announcement.
If you look around this circle of kids and talk to the parents, you realize, there are many different faiths, cultures, races and traditions represented in the two classrooms. The teachers know it. The parents know it. But the little kids probably don’t know it yet, at least not in an organized way. But they are on their way to figuring it out.
How they figure it out matters quite a bit, it seems to me. Three and four year olds are just beginning to realize the complexities of themselves, of their families, and of others. At this point, they certainly know if they are a boy or a girl. But they have a long way to go towards full understanding of how else they are alike and how they might be different from others. They can’t yet understand very much about things like religion, skin color, ethnicity, socio economic status, sexual orientation, beliefs, and more.
Add a few more years though, and they will have grown leaps and bounds in their understanding of how different people can be, even while living in the same community. They’ll know the ins and outs of those Festivals of Light and a whole lot more about this great big world.
Face it, kids are sponges for learning. It’s fun for them. They are always in learning mode, soaking in facts and also attitudes of those around them. How the grownups (teachers, parents, and neighbors—ie, US) in their lives teach them about differences includes the words used, but also the subtle, and not so subtle, perspectives we ourselves hold. They learn the facts, sure, but they also learn about things like:
· respect (and prejudice),
· compassion (and callousness),
· cooperation (and disagreement),
· love (and hatred),
· politeness (and rudeness)
· fairness (and discrimination)
After sitting in on circle time, I thought how glad I was to see that group of Threes begin taught about differences with excitement, respect and delight. I thought about what it would be like if all children in Scarsdale grew up enjoying their own family traditions AND learning to respect the traditions of families different from their own. I hope each child is growing up that way in our diverse village.
And then I got carried away and thought about what it would be like if, not just the kids in Scarsdale are raised like this, but kids throughout the United States, and even the whole world.
I think we build bridges toward world peace when we raise kids who can
Special thanks to the Greenville Church Community
Nursery School children and staff for inspiring this article.