Multicultural Understandings in the Classroom

Multicultural Understandings in the Classroom

Multicultural understanding is not just something that we want our students to know about—it is something that we are committed to helping them develop as global citizens who not only feel and demonstrate empathy and curiosity about the world around them, but who also are prepared to create a secure and sustainable world for all. We equip children with a keen awareness that an appreciation of others enriches and elevates all people and experiences. It is both learned and lived.

Members of the Green Acres community participate in a wide variety of meaningful experiences that focus on multiculturalism, with the Family Heritage and Traditions Fair, author talks during the book festival, IDEA training and events, and staff and parent SEED groups being important examples. But how does multicultural understanding reach into our classrooms? What curricular studies contribute to children’s grasp of multiculturalism?

Thematic units in the Primary Unit focus on people and cultures in different parts the world. For instance, during their study of sheltersstudents learn that all people share universal needs, with shelter being a critical one. A conversation might start with a "see, think, wonder" prompt about the shelters in different countries. Students examine the impact of lifestyle, resources, climate, and traditions on shelters, why some people might not have shelters, and actions they can take to make a difference.

When studying roots1st and 2nd graders and their families celebrate and share their own family traditions and cultures. Other themes studied in 1st and 2nd grade are examinations of specific countries, such as India and Ghana. Students study the culture, geography, religion, and food of other countries, enabling them to “travel” to other places to explore their cultures and traditions.

Third grade finds children studying Native American tribes. They come to understand that the land in this country belonged to indigenous people and that it was unjustly taken from them. During this study, 3rd graders talk about how stereotypes can be unfair to groups of people, including Native Americans. Students select a particular tribe to research, and, in order to imagine the perspective a person of Native American descent might have, each student assumes the identity of a Native American child with a unique name and family story, culminating in the creation of a journal filled with entries that describe that child’s life and culture.

The study of world geography in 4th grade opens students’ eyes to the vastness of our world and the many continents and countries that compose it. Fourth graders also embark on a world celebrations unit, which teaches them that celebrating is a universal human experience. Many celebrations from across the globe share important elements and themes, which the class investigates.

At Green Acres, thematic units are a vital means of developing in students an awareness that, while people have differences, we live together in one common world. Throughout all of the grades and within each unit, our teachers steep students in multicultural literature that focuses on what all people contribute to our world and which enable children to recognize themselves on the pages of the books that they read. They learn that human experiences can be both different and universal and that appreciating the cultures of all people is paramount. Throughout these themes, students develop a healthy pride in one’s self and family, learn to respect and value similarities and differences in others' families, cultures, and traditions, and become aware of history and the ways in which people’s lives are impacted by their group identities. With this knowledge, students are empowered to make the world a kinder, more inclusive place.

Primary to the construction of this understanding is that there are multiple ways of being in the world. We want our students to look through a lens that focuses on what individuals and cultures bring to their class, school, community, society, and world. Our goal is to build in children empathy, an openness to and acceptance of other ways of living, and an appreciation of differences. Perhaps this is best captured by the historical African American spiritual that we sing at our Thanksgiving feast each year, entitled “The Welcome Table,” a table at which everyone is invited to sit.


Written by Tracey Marks, Ph.D. Originally published in Lower School Quarterly Vol. III No. II in December 2020.