“Unless we remember, we cannot understand.” ~ E.M. Forster
This past week in our classroom we took time to honour Remembrance Day and Diwali. At our virtual assembly, we joined the world in a moment of silence to show our gratitude for the peace and freedom we enjoy today because of what others sacrificed so long ago. And we brought a celebration of light, important to one of our families, into our classroom, and our world got bigger and brighter for it. Each of these experiences involved helping children to understand something outside of their daily lives, whether it is wars fought long before they were born, or festivals that are enjoyed by cultures different from their own. We tried to make their learning concrete and meaningful, through sharing stories, and providing hands-on experiences. We integrated music, dance, art and poetry into the lessons so the children could represent their understanding in many ways, and see the beauty in what is sad, as well as what is joyful. What I valued most was the emotional connection to what was being learned, something I hope reached the children. Personally, I felt very moved by sharing a photo of my grandfather in his pilot’s uniform, as it brought back many memories, and was touched by a film about Diwali and how lit diyas could help to build friendships despite bad weather. Below are some of the things we learned and created in our classroom, to show we honour the past, and celebrate our unique and diverse families.
“Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven, Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
In the days preceding Remembrance Day we prepared for the school’s virtual assembly. This would be the first time our school would not gather together in the gymnasium to share poems, songs and wreaths of handmade poppies. We would not have our guest speakers there to explain the importance of this day. We would not be side by side, humbled by the moment of silence. Still, the children worked busily at the art table, creating poppies of different kinds – from red felt, which they would wear on November 11th, and torn tissue paper glued to poppy shapes. For the virtual slide show we created vibrant poppies in a salad spinner, using paper plates, glitter and red, green and fuchsia paint. The children were photographed together, each one holding their poppy in front of their heart in order to participate in the on-line assembly. We read the books A Poppy is to Remember by Heather Patterson (with its stunning illustrations by Ron Lightburn) and Proud as a Peacock, Brave as a Lion by Jane Barclay. The first book provides an explanation of Remembrance Day and the symbolism of the poppy that young children can understand. The second is a more personal account, where a young boy asks his grandfather to share his experience of the war, as they prepare to attend a Remembrance Day ceremony. Lastly, throughout the week the children learned to recite the lovely poem Little Poppy. We discovered how poets, authors and artists lend beauty to remembering those who were lost to dark times in history.
“An occasion to celebrate victory over defeat, light over darkness, awareness over ignorance…An occasion to celebrate Life…” ~ A Saying for Diwali
As a contrast to the solemnity of Remembrance Day, we were also fortunate to have the opportunity to learn about Diwali. I was so pleased that a child in our class could proudly share this joyful and vibrant celebration that is so important to her family. They provided clay diyas for the children to paint, though we also attempted to make our own using plasticine. Each one was unique, and they put a lot of time and care into shaping the plasticine into little lamps. Images of rangoli (an art form involving creating images on the floor) were provided for the children to colour. The children even had a chance to learn some dance moves representing different aspects of Diwali! I was happy to discover that the book Lights for Gita by Rachna Gilmore had been made into an animated film by the NFB. We were introduced to why Diwali is important and what the celebration involves (e.g., special foods, fireworks, lighting diyas, honouring Lakshmi). When Gita’s party was almost ruined by an ice storm, one child in the class cheered when she and her friend admired how the lights from the diyas caused the ice on the trees to shine like exploding fireworks! What I love about the film is how sharing things that are special to us can build bridges of mutual respect and spark the light of understanding. It is nice to know that a pandemic (like an ice storm) could not cast a shadow on our special celebration.
“It takes one thought, one second, one moment or positive memory to act as a catalyst for the light to gradually seep in again.” ~ Fearne Cotton