Ahmet, a 5-year-old from Turkey, was new to our school. He was very outspoken about some things—usually his ideas about the world—yet almost reluctant to talk about all things internal—whether family, friends or feelings. He would cling to what he knew about the world. His parents read with him a lot at home. This showed at school: He was an expert on the physical world. If there was a question about ice, sand, light or rocks, Ahmet was the one to ask.
Beyond this set of facts, Ahmet didn’t entertain much. When he was angry, everybody knew. His face would contort and he would become a piece of hardened clay. He never freely spoke about his feelings. Eventually, his anger would dissipate and he would return to his usually more emotionally reserved state. And while he often worked and played with other children, he didn’t often seek out any other student. And in kindergarten, friendships are front and center, as children seek out each other during all parts of the day. The social curriculum (and the challenges therein) runs parallels to the academic curriculum. So the fact that Ahmet wasn’t really connecting with other students, even through November, began to trouble me.
Drawing pictures of families and homes can help children identify themes common to them;
such experiences are also fountains of possible curriculum ideas and activities.
I talked to Ahmet’s mother at the end of the day. She mentioned that one of his most requested books at home was a book that his old school in Turkey had made for him. It contained photographs of children and the words they had dictated to their teacher. Every night, his mother recounted, he requested that they read the book together. He had memorized all of the pictures and their accompanied words, yet it was a book he still looked to again and again.
So I suggested his mother ask Ahmet if he would bring in his book to share with the class. Story time is a crucial part of our school day; it’s a time for children to rest, relax and often reflect on the content of picture books. In our classroom, we welcome age-appropriate books that come from home. When a child brings a treasured book into school to share, peers and teachers learn more about the student.
Ahmet brought his book to school. It was wrapped in a simple blue cloth. At story time, we took out the book, and as we showed the pages to the rest of the class, Ahmet was brimming with joy as he described his old friends, his old school and his old life. His was a joy that we had not yet seen, and this was only the beginning.
Reflecting back, I started to think of the many possible extensions of such an activity. Not only could other children bring in old photos or drawings from their old schools or classrooms, but the experience could spark a whole exploration of children’s personal histories: their families, their schools, their neighborhoods. This might be especially useful for kids in transition. For activities on family background and composition for younger children, there are resources here and here. Children can draw pictures about their families and share it with the class; an example of a child who was inspired to do so is included. In highlighting our individual backgrounds, we grow closer to one another and rejoice in what unites us all.
Palenski is a kindergarten teacher in Connecticut