Events, features and things to do for families in New Hampshire
By Karen Plumley
At Country Village Montessori School in Amherst, Director Claire Doody has plenty of preschool activities planned for the holiday season.
One of the reasons is that a number of the school’s students have diverse cultural backgrounds so they celebrate many different holidays to teach them to appreciate a wider world of beliefs and traditions. The fall/winter holiday season is one of the most cherished times of year for preschool children, and can be used to increase their understanding of the world and appreciate their own heritage as well as the alternative cultures of new friends, according to Doody.
At Country Village, the preschoolers will be observing many holidays this season, including the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah and India’s Dwali. They will also delve into other unique traditions, such as the Spanish holiday of Las Posadas (now primarily celebrated in Mexico and Guatemala), the Netherlands’ St. Nicholas Eve, and the feast of Santa Lucia, a Swedish tradition occurring in early December.
Bringing Hanukkah to Life
Pelham mom of three, Deb Leuteritz, volunteered annually for many years in each of her children’s preschool and kindergarten classrooms at the Merrimack Valley Montessori School in Salem, to teach the youngsters about the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
In a short presentation, Leuteritz shared with students the way in which her family celebrates the Jewish Festival of Lights — a victory celebration and reverence of a 2,000-year-old miracle in which a day’s worth of lamp oil lasted eight as Jews worked at night to rebuild their destroyed temple in Jerusalem.
Leuteritz spoke with the children about how her family lights a series of eight candles each night for eight days, while exchanging small gifts and eating traditional foods such as potato latkes and jelly donuts. During her lesson plan, Leuteritz used an entertaining and age-appropriate story titled, Sammy Spider’s Hanukka, and then she taught them how to play the dreidel game. The kids then played the game with each other, and took home the dreidels Leuteritz gave them.
At Country Village, Doody explained that for Hanukkah this year, students would have the opportunity to taste some delicious potato latkes with applesauce and learn about the story of Hanukka. For a prop, the class will be using an unlit “jar of light” to illustrate the meaning of the holiday.
Diwali Through Arts & Crafts
Interestingly, Diwali is also known as the “Festival of Lights” although it is celebrated between October and November in countries such as India, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Country Village has chosen to honor this holiday with the children and they have an expert to help them plan the festivities — one of their own teachers is from India.
According to Doody, the teacher will dress up in customary Diwali holiday clothing and perform a traditional dance to help express the holiday and enhance her students’ understanding. Also, children get to make their own Diwali diyas oil lamps (votive holders) out of clay.
At Hampstead Academy, a private school with pre-kindergarten through Grade 8, the holiday of Diwali is also part of its preschool curriculum.
According to Admissions Director Heather Wheeler, one year they had a parent volunteer come in and teach the young students about Diwali through hands-on art. Making Rangoli floor art is a tradition of the Indian culture and Diwali, and children were able to make their own floor art using colored rice during their multicultural lesson plan.
Multicultural food, music and role play
Wheeler notes that cooking together is one way the younger grades in her school learn more about other cultures.
“Cooking with children is a wonderful way to teach them about different cultures by using a hands-on activity,” she said. Many Hampstead Academy parents will come and share a food with students by getting the class involved with cooking and preparing it, she explained.
According to Doody, young students celebrate the Swedish tradition of Santa Lucia by having the oldest student bake and share sweet treats (such as a cake) with the class.
During class, he or she is crowned with laurel and berries, while the other students follow behind him/her with candles (unlit) in a procession that is a tradition of this Scandinavian celebration.
To celebrate the Spanish tradition of Las Posadas, children at Country Village will learn how to sing traditional Spanish songs and taste the aromatic and spicy delicacies of Spain and Mexico.
Nativity and Polar Express
Finally, many schools including Hampstead Academy and Merrimack Valley Montessori School have in the past had a Polar Express-themed activity to celebrate the Christmas holiday.
In honor of the Caldecott Medal-winning literary work of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg, students at MVMS one year were allowed to come to school in their pajamas, get their boarding tickets and hop the “train” to the North Pole. During their train ride, they were served hot chocolate and other goodies.
At Hampstead Academy, the Nativity scene was created in one preschool classroom, and finger puppets were used to illustrate aspects of the Christmas holiday, as well as many others.
“It is a wonderful characteristic of a school to be multicultural. It teaches kids that there are different ways of thinking. Young children, especially, are open to alternative customs and are eager to share their own. Our students are truly enriched by the experience,” said Wheeler.
Karen Plumley is a freelance writer and mother of two from Pelham. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Last updated by Morgen Thiboult Nov 30, 2011.