By Jackie Beach
Much research has been gathered regarding the development of racial and ethnic biases in children. For one, we know that children as young as 3 months old can show a preference for own-race faces, according to a study published in the National Library of Medicine. While that likely has a lot to do with familiarity, children’s identities and biases are starting to form much earlier than is commonly known.
Cultivating knowledge of and respect for varied cultures is an essential element of what I bring forth as a preschool teacher.
Sharing customs and traditions fosters kids’ sense of self and familial pride, and it orients the entire class toward a genuine appreciation of differences and similarities. One way we do this is through snack time.
It’s no secret among those who know me that I love all things related to food—cooking, baking, recipes and, of course, eating! In sharing beloved recipes with my pre-K class (ages 2 to 4) at the Waldorf School of Baltimore, I realized that snack time is not only a delicious vehicle for introducing the children to new flavors and textures (and providing opportunity for all of the learning that comes with sharing a group meal), but it can also be a window into cultural diversity.
At the Waldorf School, where my three children also attend, we encourage children to notice and learn about the beautiful differences among people, as well as explore the many ways in which we are beautifully similar.
This school year, I decided to bring a treasured part of my identity and home life into the classroom and make kimchi with my class to enjoy on our Rice Day. In late summer, we prepared mool kimchi, or water kimchi, a nutritious and easy-to-prepare cooling kimchi made with in-season vegetables that the children took pride in chopping themselves, preserved in a brine slightly sweetened with apple and Asian pear.
Many classmates were eager taste testers, thrilled to add the crunchy, refreshing bite to bowls of aromatic rice, sunflower seeds and seaweed (called gim in Korean). Later in the year, we made perilla leaf kimchi from plants grown in our class garden, layering the leaves with spices, sesame seeds and grated carrot. We have also made cucumber and cabbage kimchis. It’s been a tasty and rewarding endeavor.
Sharing a piece of my Korean culture with my students has been meaningful as I ponder my early education years and consider how it would have felt to have a teacher who diversified the landscape of our classroom. I consistently extend invitations to my class families to share parts of their family lives with the children as well. Families have shared apples and honey (with the honeycomb—so fun for the kids!) for Rosh Hashanah, pan de Muertos for Dia de los Muertos, chai and rice pudding for Diwali (the children loved scraping vanilla beans and grinding fragrant cardamom, cinnamon sticks, cloves, fresh ginger and star anise) and tteokguk, rice cake soup, for Lunar New Year.
While offerings are often centered around special holidays and cultural celebrations, sharing other unique traditions and favorite family rituals is a way to bring everyone in to connect with each other and provide important “windows and mirrors,” a framework for inclusive curriculum.
I also love finding books that combine culture sharing with food traditions such as Kevin Noble Maillard’s “Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story,” containing a recipe for fry bread in the back, or Aram Kim’s “No Kimchi for Me!,” which shares a recipe for kimchi pancakes. That reminds me, I still need to make these with my class!
I look forward to continuing this invitation to growth and adventure that meets the children where they are, nurturing all of their senses through gardening, cooking, and eating together, all the while fostering a sense of inclusivity and belonging in the classroom and the world. T
Jackie Beach is an Early Childhood teacher at the Waldorf School of Baltimore. She lives in Baltimore with her partner and three children, ages 11, 10, and 7.