Our World Is Colourful! A language celebration kindergarten project

Post by Eva-maria Schnelten

St. Agnes Kindergarten in my hometown of Lastrup, Germany, embarked on a 7- week project called “Our World Is Colourful” in April 2016. In the context of growing tensions on a global scale regarding refugees and migration, this project was developed to help the children within the kindergarten understand each other’s backgrounds and everything that goes with that: obvious differences like languages, but also subtle cultural differences like playing games. My mother, who runs the kindergarten, came up with the idea.

A full week of activities and learning sessions was dedicated to each of the seven nationalities present in the kindergarten: Germany, Turkey, Poland, Romania, Spain, the Netherlands and Syria.  For every country, they first held a short introduction in form of a presentation, including pictures and photos of the country itself, of the country’s capital, the flag, the people, the different regions and landscapes, and cultural aspects such as food, dance or religions. In the course of each week, the children would then cook or bake typical food such as Baklava from Turkey or Poffertjes from the Netherlands, as well as do arts and crafts about the country. They would also get together in cross-group exercises to play games that the children of the respective country would then teach their peers.

Within this context, the children learned some of each country’s language through songs and books.  “Brother John”, “Bruder Jakob” or “Frere Jacques” (as it is most commonly known) was the song used in every language, to show the linguistic differences paired with a common, shared melody.

For every language, they also had a parent, sibling or speaker of the language come in to read a book. Each page of the book was read in both the new language and in German. This is where I became involved in the project. Having studied in the Netherlands, I am a speaker of Dutch. Since the Dutch children’s parents couldn’t make it, my mom asked me whether I would be able to read for the children. They were all familiar with the story beforehand, which helped them understand the foreign language even better. Every now and then, the children started laughing and shouting “I understood that word!”, or “That word sounded funny!”, which made the whole experience really enjoyable.

The following week, the next country was Syria. At the time, I was teaching German as a second language to Syrian refugee kids. Their siblings attended the kindergarten, so it seemed a good idea for my students to come and read the children’s book in Arabic. Their German was good enough to translate the book, so they had a chance to practice their German too. Both my students and the children really enjoyed it, taking turns in reading and translating, asking each other questions and answering them together. Making the children aware of a linguistic difference was probably the most challenging, since they would not understand (most of) it, but probably one of the most effective approaches to make them aware of why the bilingual children sometimes don’t know words, make mistakes or sometimes don’t even dare to say anything.

The children clearly enjoyed the project and got a lot out of it. It sparked curiosity about each other, and led to them asking other children about their families, and in general, talking a lot more about the things they were introduced to.

Multilingualism and multiculturalism in rural Germany aren’t traditionally big topics, but because of the recent developments and current political discussions, I think it is more important than ever to show that foreign cultures and languages should be not only tolerated and respected, but embraced and celebrated. This project was a perfect example to show every sceptic that we can learn a lot from children: their openness and enthusiasm to embrace differences was inspiring. Rather than feeling negative about their differences, what’s more important is making friends, learning new things and, most importantly, who gets the last piece of baklava.