I remember being asked to create a family tree when I was in elementary school. It was a fun exercise for a child—hearing about older relatives you may never have met. It wasn’t until we presented our family trees and I heard about the histories of my classmates’ families that I began to feel cheated that so many of my relatives had been born in Canada — everyone else’s family felt so much more exciting than mine!
I expect the same will hold true for my daughter Alice when she’s asked about her family tree. But what’s great about Alice growing up in a diverse city like Toronto is that there are kids in her class from all over the world—not just Germany or the UK like in my hometown. And what’s even better, those family trees won’t have to come as a total surprise to her: Alice’s teachers have been embracing the cultural backgrounds of her classmates since she was in junior kindergarten.
One terrific way they’ve done so is by inviting parents and grandparents to their classes, to work with the kids on activities reflecting their heritage. There have been sushi and origami classes, a Hanukkah celebration with dreidels and gold coins, and dates and henna tattoos for Eid. After each visit, Alice couldn’t stop talking about what they’d done and what they’d learned.
I haven’t yet figured out how to represent my Canadian culture to Alice’s class, but I will. And as the parent of a little girl who has been so fortunate to be exposed to a wide variety of friends from a wide variety of backgrounds, I encourage you to ask your children’s teachers how you might be involved in their class. I bet you’ll find a rapt audience of young students, so open to what you, and the world, has to teach them.
Jennifer Canham is the publisher of Owlkids, creators of Chirp, chickaDEE and OWL magazines and Owlkids Books. She writes about issues affecting Canadian children including education, media and health. She lives in Toronto with her husband and six-year-old daughter.