Laura Dean Bennett
It was as though Marlinton Elementary School had become a mini version of Disney’s Epcot Center last Tuesday as students took a whirlwind tour around the world to learn how people elsewhere celebrate their special holidays.
“Holidays Around the World” Day was a school-wide event devoted to sampling a tiny bit of culture from 13 different countries.
Kaitlyn Wratchford, Special Education teacher at Marlinton Elementary, had a good idea.
She knew that her students enjoyed learning about the holidays that other countries and cultures celebrate, and she thought that all the students at the elementary school would, too.
Her friend, Shannon Anderson, a kindergarten teacher at Marlinton Elementary, agreed.
“What a good opportunity for our kids to learn about other cultures and have fun at the same time,” Anderson said.
They took their idea to the “powers that be” and sure enough, it received a warm reception.
Using an online educational package on the subject, which included an outline as to how to organize the event, and piles of craft materials, Wratchford and Anderson began planning.
“We started getting organized and pulling everything together before Thanksgiving,” Wratchford said.
It all came together December 18, which was designated “Holidays Around the World” Day.
“We got a really good response from the community,” Wratchford said. “And the kids really enjoyed it.”
It truly was a group effort.
Marlinton Elementary PTO paid for the materials and paid for lunch for the community volunteers.
And the eleven community volunteers really got into the swing of it.
They spent the entire school day doing presentations – some wore costumes and some brought special holiday foods to share with the students.
Several teachers made presentations, too. With faux passports in hand, the students began their international adventure.
Each classroom was designated a different country, and the students were given 25 minutes to make a craft, play a game or enjoy a presentation about a holiday celebrated in each country.
The countries represented were: Italy, Netherlands, Israel, Mexico, England, Germany, Australia, Sweden, American Kwaanza, France, Greenland, India and Canada.
In “Italy,” the youngsters were treated to homemade pizzelles made by Greg and Cathy Mosesso.
Pizzelles are round, waffle-like traditional Italian Christmas cookies.
Greg Mosesso shared the pizzelles as he talked about Italian Christmas traditions.
They learned about a holiday called Las Posadas and painted poinsettias in “Mexico,” colored and cut out stockings in “England,” played the dreidle game in “Israel,” and wrote “Dear Santa” letters in “Canada.”
Visiting “India” was really interesting as teacher Christina Smith explained Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, while wearing her beautiful sari.
And the students visiting India tasted an Indian dessert called carrot halwa.
They got crafty and made gingerbread men in “Germany,” and a kinara as they learned how Kwaanza is celebrated in America.
During Kwaanza, seven candles are placed in a kinara, which is the Swahili word for candleholder.
There were Dutch shoes made in the “Netherlands,” reindeer crafts made in “Greenland” and koala crafts in “Australia.”
Many children found Australia to be particularly interesting.
Fifth grader Braelyn Gibson said that she would like to travel to Australia some day.
Tanner Smith, who is in the fourth grade, was quite surprised to learn that kangaroos can also pull Santa’s sleigh.
Kindergartener Jason Ligget loved making the koala bear craft.
“We had to have a hat on it, because it’s Christmas!” he said, laughing.
In Sweden, they were treated to a visit by St. Lucia, convincingly played by Luci Mosesso, who arrived wearing a traditional candle crown and carrying St. Lucia’s requisite tray of coffee and pastries.
As the students visited the Netherlands, they made paper shoes and learned that on the night of December 5, Dutch children leave their shoes out for Sinterklauss the way we leave out our stockings for Santa on Christmas Eve.
The staff and students all agreed that the day spent traveling the world was a day well-spent.
Multicultural educational activities like this are more than fun – they are also an important tool in teaching our children to acknowledge, embrace and respect people’s differences.
“I got several comments from teachers the morning after ‘Holidays Around the World Day,’ telling me how much their students enjoyed learning about the different countries and the different ways kids in other countries celebrate holidays,” Wratchford said. “That makes me so happy.
“It’s important for our students to be exposed to different customs and cultures to understand that there’s a whole wide world outside of Pocahontas County.”
Christina Smith contributed to this article.