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Are celebrations tokenistic?

Katie Langford

Katie Langford, the PYP Coordinator, Parkview International Pre-School (Kowloon campus), Hong Kong

This article explores the rich learning that stems from school celebrations and how this links to the PYP attitudes and learner profile as well as developing an internationally minded community.

In November we celebrated Diwali at our school and it turned out to be a much bigger celebration than we had anticipated.

Our kindergarten has a very diverse community with a large percentage of students from India, Korea and Europe. I have often heard in discussions how celebrating festivals such as Diwali or Christmas is a tokenistic gesture towards being internationally minded, but actually I think becoming internationally minded can begin from respecting different events and festivals and lead to rich opportunities for learning. Celebrating these when they arise is part of our school’s commitment to respecting other cultures and developing tolerance within our community.

We transformed the entrance of our school to reflect Diwali, opting for traditional decorations and garlands. We also created a display with books, traditional costume, diva lamps, replica candles and examples of Rangoli, whilst incense and Indian music filled the air. Some of our teachers dressed in traditional Indian clothing and others opted to wear bindis to celebrate this special event. The result was a really special, multi-sensory experience that welcomed families into our school.

As the parents and children entered the building, they were drawn to the bright display and it was wonderful to see families from different cultural backgrounds learning more about Diwali. For families celebrating Diwali, it was an opportunity to embrace their culture, teach their children and take pride in the fact that the school recognized an important event in their calendar. For others it was an opportunity to learn about new cultures and traditions. Families unfamiliar with Diwali thought Christmas had arrived early, so this was an opportunity for parents as well as children to learn about our diverse community.

Diwali came at the perfect time for our upper kindergarten classes who were just beginning their unit, Celebrations. The transformation of our school entrance became a provocation for them, and was followed up in the classrooms with discussions and the chance for children to role-play with festival clothing from around the world. Parents were invited into school to cook traditional Diwali foods, whilst other parents came and read stories. For other children across the school, it facilitated teachable moments and engaged children in thinking about themselves and others within the school community.

Indian families across the school were thrilled that we had so proudly marked Diwali as an important event in our school, not just the usual Christmas, Easter and Chinese New Year celebrations. At the end of all these festivities, discussions and explorations of Diwali, I had time to reflect on the impact of this celebration on the school.

As PYP educators we encourage our children to be open-minded and respectful of others, and this really does begin in the early years with the support of parents and teachers. As a school community I hope we have planted the seeds of tolerance and curiosity within our children, enabling them to understand that our friends can be similar and different to ourselves.

Bringing focus to our Diwali celebration was more than just a tokenistic gesture towards being internationally minded. It was a celebration rich in opportunities for learning many of the PYP attitudes and learner profile attributes, as well as bringing our whole school community together.

Katie is the PYP Coordinator at the Kowloon campus of PIPS in Hong Kong and has been an early years educator for over eleven years. She has taught in both local and international schools in Hong Kong and has a clear passion and drive for inquiry-based learning.

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