Play – our way! Chinese New Year celebrations the Sleepy Hollow Inspired way
Happy Year of the Rat !
Good fortune, wealth, and happiness to all!
新年快乐 (Mandarin) 春节愉快 (Cantonese)
We love celebrating cultural diversity – its embedded in our practice especially as the former Managing Director has a very diverse cultural background himself. For years he would be very frustrated when in our inspection process we were asked to demonstrate how we incorporate multi cultural play into our curriculum – he was adamant it was more than having ethic dolls, dress up, books and plastic food on display. For years we have celebrated cultural events as part of EVERYDAY ethos in Sleepy Hollow – luckily now our inspectors totally ‘get’ our approach and many record it in our reports as excellent practice (with one or two new ones into the sector each year still questioning our WHY on this stance until we offer our explanation)
Good early years practice and playwork needs to support equality from the earliest months of childhood BUT plastic food and a ‘culture’ book are meaningless to young babies and toddlers.
Take for example our Chinese New Year celebrations last week – play materials, books and other resources were offered in a constructive way by reflecting on how young children learn about culture and cultural identity. Our Sleepy Hollow inspired ethos is based on the following understanding
Shared culture is communicated through the events of daily life, such as food – tasting food, learning a language or alphabet.
- Posters, photographs and other visual images can give the message, even to very young children, that all these people who look different in many ways are part of our nursery, our school age childcare settings and our communities. Children see themselves and people who look like their family every day in our settings and that reflects whichever culture or background they are from.
- Art and craft is another wonderful way to incorporate learning about cultures
- There are plenty of quality story and information books that reflect the fact that Northern Ireland is a culturally diverse society. We tend to visit the library to borrow these books particularly about festivals and cultures which are topical that week – there doest need to be an expectation that you have books stored away which just come out of a cupboard or storeroom once a year.
- Children benefit from stories with characters who look like them. Children can feel excluded if ‘people like me’ only appear in books about ‘children from other lands’. Another reason why its very important to learn about our own cultures and backgrounds which Early Years – the Organisation for children and young people have captured so well through their Media Initiative
- Sensory play – there are lots of different variants of sensory play activities which can add value to cultural celebrations. For example we used red sand last week for a mark making activity around the cantonese and mandarin alphabets.
- In another example last week we used ‘utensils’ (Chopsticks) for fine motor skills activities
Resources for pretend play should be much more than dolls and small play figures, dressing up clothes or the home corner equipment – we use proper food, spices, utensils, crockery, outfits (not dress up). All cultural celebrations should be offered with equal respect, as part of somebody’s normal life. For instance, the words ‘multicultural dressing up clothes’ are used in some catalogues to describe non-European clothing. The phrase could imply that there is ‘normal clothing worn by us’ and ‘exotic outfits worn in other cultures.’ We need to move on from this mindset.
A key message for equality practice is that there is no rush. Children become confused if early years practitioners feel pressure to rattle through a long list of ‘multicultural activities’, including many celebrations, before children enter formal school. A few quality experiences can start children on the road to appreciating diverse cultures and traditions.
In our school age childcare settings of course we let children take the lead and we are co-leaerners with them on their journey of experience of learning about other cultures. They research and we learn together! So next time you are embarking on a cultural celebration – remember to think about your why and what message are you sharing with children and young people about inclusivity and good practice.