First-graders are avid learners of all things, including the cultures of people around the world. Full-blown lessons have a lasting impact on teaching children about different cultures, but so do smaller activities, such as a calendar with photos of children from around the world that you talk about when changing each month's page. Make use of both planned and spontaneous opportunities to model enthusiasm for cultural awareness and to give children a global outlook.
Experience the Arctic
The Lapland region, located in Sweden and Finland, offers one possibility for a cultural study -- pick a new area each month. Children can find countries on a map or globe, learn their names and explore what it would be like to live there. To learn how animals and people stay warm in arctic regions, ask the children to dip one hand in icy water wearing a cotton glove and one hand wearing a heavy leather glove. To learn about camouflage, children can make drawings of animals with white winter coats on a background of snow. Or, read a book about Laplanders and their reindeer, such as "Iina-Marja's Day," one of the nonprofit group Oxfam's children's books about life in different countries.
Music as a Common Language
Songs in a foreign language teach about the culture in two ways; children learn simple words and also facts about the region or country. Teach a specific song such as "Frere Jacques," and talk about the old churches with bells in France, or play music from a different culture and have a dance party in the classroom on a rainy day. First-graders can master a few simple salsa steps and have fun experiencing music that may be unfamiliar.
Arts and Crafts
As your class learns about a specific culture, include an arts project as one portion of the lesson. When the children learn about Mexico, make yarn "ojo de Dios," also called God's eyes, ancient symbols from native peoples in Mexico and Bolivia. When studying countries in Central America around the equator and the abundance of insects and butterflies, let the class create its own bugs by gluing sections of egg cartons together and embellishing the creatures with paint, glitter and sequins.
Create a Fund-Raising Event
Service projects connect your students to children in another country. As you study a country, talk about some of its problems such as the lack of library books in Afghanistan schools or the need for lunches for children in daycare centers in India. Discuss how money can help solve problems and brainstorm how the class can help raise funds. Ideas might include making a calendar with drawings and selling it to friends and family or asking other classrooms to bring in pennies, nickels and dimes and collecting them in decorated jars.
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