mardi 15 mai 2012

Haiti in the Kindergarten Classroom

Last week I taught a lesson about Haiti in my son's K0 class.  I had spoken with the teacher about coming in to do some kind of a French lesson, but as I planned and spoke with my son, it evolved into a lesson about culture.  Really, I suppose I have J.Perry to thank for this—the song Dekole is on the playlist we listen to daily in the car, and my son is soo into this song.  He sings at the top of his lungs “Haiti for life!”  and “Dekole ole ole ole…”  My favorite is the passion he brings to chanting “Pa pale m mal” during the second part of the song.  Anyway,  my son said he wanted to play this song and dance to it with his class when I come to school.  At this point a light bulb went off in my head and I decided to make the lesson one about Haiti.  There are actually a lot of Haitian and Haitian-American families at the school, and with May being Haitian Heritage Month here in Boston, I thought what better time to do so?  

Since my audience members would be a class of 3 to 5 years old children, I had to choose the content wisely.  My goals were to teach them things about Haiti that they could remember and relate to in ways that would be fun and interactive.  So I divided the lesson into three sections:  History, Language and Art.  

For the history part, I used the theme of the “Avengers” which is a hot pop culture topic in the US these days, what with the movie having just been released.  My son and his friends are in the superhero phase of life -- they spend a lot of time discussing which superheroes they want to be, what their attributes are, and who the strongest is. Of course I have to give credit to historian Laurent Dubois here because his book Avengers of the New World is a thorough look at the Haitian Revolution that I often use to teach in my classes. Using this idea, I    
   told them that over 200 years ago in Haiti there was a team of Avengers who fought for their freedom, but instead of having names like the Hulk, Iron Man and Captain America, they had names like Boukman, Makandal, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and Toussaint Louverture.  (As some of you may know, my boys’  
names are Bediako Dessalines and Kwaku Toussaint and as soon as I said those names my son said “that’s me Mommy!  I was there?”).  I explained to them that these Avengers were fighting for freedom and what they did not only gave us the place we know as Haiti, but it changed the world forever.  I ended the section by showing them the Haitian flag and telling the famous story about its origins which they also loved.

The next section was on language.  I explained to them that Haiti has two official languages that are different from each other.  I taught them basic words and exchanges as well as a few basic commands in both Kreyòl and French.  The best part was getting them to stand up and sit down by saying “chita…kanpe…”  or “asseyez-vous…mettez-vous debout…”  They took turns being the leader on this to see who could remember the words in the right language. 

For the art forms I used visual art, crafts, music and dance. I began by showing them a painting of a market scene of women selling fruit with lots of bright colors.  I asked them questions about grocery shopping, then connected this to buying fruit at the market (I was careful to explain that there were regular grocery stores in addition to the market option). Then we talked about some of the different kinds of fruits you can get and each of them talked about what their favorite fruits were. I then brought out a few wooden crafts that I let them touch and look at.  I explained woodworking as a tradition that has been practiced for years and let them give the crafts as gifts to their teachers.  One of the crafts was a mug with the Haitian coat of arms so I tested them to see how many remembered the image from the flag.  My last object for this section was a tanbou which helped us to transition into the last part of the lesson on music and dance. They all went around and took turns beating on the drum, then we all got in a circle.  I showed them two dance moves, Kongo and Yanvalou (which I learned in graduate school by attending a few Haitian dance classes at the Dance Complex in Cambridge). We danced around the room trying these moves for a while and then finally we played Dekole and did some freestyle.  

That morning was the highlight of my week!  I especially enjoyed thinking about how to translate what I do to a small child.  It forced me to think creatively and less complexly to render the message about things I think about every day.  Of course, by far the best part was seeing my son sharing his knowledge with his friends--at different points he mentioned traveling there and eating Haitian food-- beaming with pride for his cultural heritage.