Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Exploring Culture as Part of Your Curriculum

A week or two ago, I ran across this article, which stated that "learning a new language should not be just about learning vocabulary and grammar, it is also about experiencing culture and traditions."

This makes sense, no? I mean you can’t really do one properly without the other, in my opinion. If Juanita Doe decides to learn Spanish but knows absolutely nothing about Latino culture, more than likely she will find it difficult to understand certain aspects of the language. But it is also very possible that she will be lost in a conversation with a native Spanish-speaker. (She's actually German/Irish, but was named after her mother's best friend - a Latina!)

Naturally, this got me to thinking about the diversity of the Latino culture. How often I marvel with mis amigas over the differences in our traditions, foods, dress, and yes, language.

Exploring a culture can really cover most subjects in your curriculum: geography, social studies, language, art, writing, science, math, reading, and more.

Here, then, is a list of ways to explore different cultures with your child. I am emphasizing Spanish-speaking countries, but you could easily substitute any country. Incorporating some or all of these ideas into your curriculum can be easily done if you take your time, and focus on one aspect at a time. The sections can be as simple or as complex as you want to make them, depending on the age and interest of your child.

A simple unit study can go something like this:

Can you guess which country we're working on?
Week/Day 1: Geography

Pick a country then spend a week finding it on a map, discussing the continent, hemisphere, closest ocean, and distinct geographical features (i.e., mountains, deserts, rain forests, coastline, peninsulas, lakes, waterfalls, etc.) Ask: How large is this country? What shape is it? How close to the equator is it? What type of seasons does it have (dry/wet, winter/summer)?

Week/Day 2: Zoology

Closely related to geography, this topic makes a nice transition to literature. Crack open those field guides and discover a world of exotic animals! Have your children create flash cards with a picture of some of the native fauna and have them label them with both their English and Spanish names. On the back of the card, have them list some facts about classification, habitat, diet, courtship rituals, nesting habits, and anything else you want. Or maybe you could have your children create puppets and tell stories about them.

Week/Day 3: Literature

Find stories about the country, or tales that were written for children from that country. The International Children’s Digital Library is an awesome resource for children’s literature from around the world. This would probably be the first place I hit to find original, native stories.

Week/Day 4: Notable Figures

Research and compile a list of important artists, inventors, politicians, musicians, scientists, etc. This can be as comprehensive or as simple as you want it to be. For younger children, look for coloring pages for them to fill out. You can also print or cut out a picture of your famous person and have your student label him/her or show an example of their work.

Week/Day 5: Traditions

Customs and traditions are possibly the most fascinating aspect of a country. Children are often most interested in the traditional costumes, or the way people dress. Do a little investigating and find pictures of local people and have your child draw them in their native dress. Perhaps, this too varies. It could be influenced by:

• different tribes, cultures, or groups living within a country.

• the geography where they live in the country. For example, those who live high in the mountains may wear different or heavier clothing, than those who live along the coastlines.

Week/Day 6: Holidays

Holidays can tell a lot about the people who observe them. Is the holiday religious in nature? If so, what is the dominant religion? How do people celebrate a specific holiday? Do they wear special clothes? Eat certain dishes? Create unique artwork or other crafts?

Some distinct holidays from the Latino world that come to my mind are: Día de los Muertos in Mexico, Holy Week in Guatemala, the festival of San Fermin in Spain (Pamplona’s running of the bulls), etc.

Week/Day 7: Cuisine

Ah! La comida! Your kids will really have a blast with this one. Scour the Internet or your local library for traditional dishes from the country you are studying. Pick one or two and cook it together with your children. To really get into the swing of things, decorate your dining room with symbols of your country of study.

Week/Day 8: Statistics

Spice things up by having your student create a mini-book with simple data such as: What is the capital city? What is the national language? What type of currency do they use? What does their flag look like? What is their main export?

Week/Day 9: Videos

There are many online resources for videos on any of the topics mentioned above. You can find generic videos on the country itself, or narrow it down to a specific subject, like a famous person, nature series, or geographical feature. Some of my favorite sites:

Week/Day 10: Field Trips

Contact your local museums, or look on-line for clubs, embassies, or organizations related to the country. Maybe you are studying Spain and your art museum has a special exhibit on Goya, Picasso, or El Greco. Local universities may also have international teachers or students who would be willing to sit and talk about their country over lunch or dinner. To go a step further, have your child think up some interview questions, and take along your flip camera to record the meeting.

I’d like to explore each of these topics a little more in depth and discuss related activities, so be looking for future articles in this series!

Con mucho cariño…


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