When you teach Kindergarten, much of your time is spent deciding what information is relevant and comprehensible to people who have been alive for less time than most of the makeup in your bathroom. It’s challenging because they are expected to join many activities that don’t make any sense to them; either because they have never done them before or because they aren’t meaningful to them (and thus they do not care about them).
There is a certain scope of things that are usually meaningful and interesting to young children. Most of the time they prefer things with which they are familiar, such as their parents. They do not always choose things that are not recognizable to them, such as their new teachers. Many parents are surprised when their children cry at school drop-off for the first few days (or more, if you are a very lucky teacher), but it isn’t at all surprising for the teacher who is trying to smile while gently prying their little hands from around their moms’ necks.
So once most of the crying and the prying is done, Mexican Independence Day is upon us, and we teachers have to get the children through a loud, colorful, fun experience that involves a lot of incomprehensible history and in-depth cultural explanations. I mean, I guess we don’t HAVE to, but then they are just standing there looking confused yet adorable in their Mexican garb. And then the fireworks start and everyone’s crying again. So advanced preparation is key, but here’s what we are up against:
Young children don’t want to hear about Father Hidalgo, because he lived a long time ago, and he’s not their dad.
Discussing El Grito means condemning your adult ears to “Viva Mexico” being screamed during all parts of a six hour day, including nap time.
You are going to help make a lot of green, white and red flags at art time, because that’s what’s on demand, and darn if choice time isn’t part of your educational philosophy.
Your Friday will start with organized chaos and fun, and then you are expected to teach the rest of the day.
So what I did was use the upcoming holiday to introduce the project of Mexico’s Birthday to my students. Birthdays are definitely something children relate to, because they all have them, and they all use them as a carrot to dangle when someone isn’t being as friendly as they should (you aren’t coming to my birthday party if you don’t share your snack with me!).
I created a web of information that included everything they knew about Mexico and her birthday. The first day, I wrote everything they told me. Most of the things were questions, such as:
Will there be gifts?
Will the gifts be for me or for Mexico?
How can we even give Mexico a gift?
Will there be piñatas?
Will there be candy inside?
What kind of candy?
However, there were several things children remembered, such as the colors they wore and the music that was played (mariachi). They also remembered the fireworks. After some videos and some pictures reviewing last year’s celebrations, we were able to add other things, like parades, horses, costumes, a guy who rang a bell once, and El Grito (which kicked off a loud, nostalgic round of it).
I pointed out that we could make our own maracas for the celebration, and, being a particularly sneaky teacher, pointed out how patterns could be used to decorate the maracas. They are learning how to pattern and they don’t even know it (imagine me cackling here)! They are also learning a bit of history, as we have now applied a name to the guy who rang a bell once (Father Hidalgo, I am honestly doing my very best).
I love the beautiful, loud, colorful celebration of Mexico’s Independence Day, and I love being a kindergarten teacher. It’s also a such a privilege to be able to pass on a bit of Mexico’s cultural heritage to some of her youngest citizens.