Today was Narayan’s first day at his new school, starting Kindergarten (KG). In the past years he has gone to a small montessori school where there were either Sikh Teachers, or other Sikh kids. This time around he is the only Sikh kid. The school he is starting at is a new Charter school and is a language Immersion program. This means that half the day he is learning in English and the other half totally in Spanish. This should be quite different than what he is used to.
In order to help him acclimate in the new school environment I asked his teachers if it would be ok if I came to the school and talked to the kids about why we wear a turban, have long hair, dress differently, etc. The teacher thought it was a great idea and suggested that I come on the first day of school.
The past few days as the first school day came closer I became a bit nervous; thinking about what I would show/say to the kids at school. Hey, I’m not expert either! This is new to me. The challenge was how to relate my message to 5 year old kids in a way that they would relate to and understand. As time got closer and I had to really think about all this. I spoke to a friend who works in some schools and got some ideas from her (Thank you Sangeet Kaur!). I looked on SikhNet and elsewhere, but didn’t find anything for younger kids or for parents.
Arjan and Charanjeet came along with me for support. I just figured to try to get the kids involved somehow and keep it simple. I didn’t give much religious information because 5 year olds wouldn’t relate to most of it. In a nutshell… I ended up talking about the hair and turban. Most kids know of the story/movie Aladdin (and The Genie)…so I used that example to relate how turbans used to be worn by only kings, and royal people, and how Sikhs came about wearing turbans. I showed them a map so they could see America and where India was (where Sikhs came from). I talked about why we grow our hair and don’t cut…dress differently, etc. Related the hair to Native Americans (a few of who were in the class and had long hair in a braid).
Then I did the “hands on” part. Me and Narayan took our turbans off. I then showed them my long hair, how we brush it and tied it up in a knot on top. Then I got some volunteers to help me roll the turban. More than 5 kids wanted to help so they all grabbed one part of it and I rolled it up. We then we did a bit of “tug-o-war” to pull it tight which they had fun with. Then I crouched in front of a mirror and the kids crowded around watching me tie the turban again. They were all so close I could hardly see the mirror! :) It was quite fun and very interesting for the kids. I then tied Narayan’s patka too and summarized.
Above picture: I tie a double wide turban (double patti) so it was quite wide when rolling. Some of the kids were amused by the huge cloth and sat under it
Too often people see outward differences and don’t understand, so they feel a separation. Doing these things I think helped take away the “gap”. It involved the kids and gave them a better understanding of us as Sikhs. For me this was the least I could do to help Narayan.
Too often we hear about Sikh kids getting bullied, teased and have a hard time trying to fit. I feel that getting involved with your children and their school is a very worthwhile action. This of course takes motivation and time to involve yourself as a parent. The people around us will only know who Sikhs are if we all take it upon ourselves to educate those around us. It is a grassroots effort that everyone should take responsibility for. We are all busy…so it is about making this a priority and looking for the opportunities to educate others (in whatever small way you feel you can).
I am just starting to get into all this, so I’m just sharing what little I have seen so far. I’m sure there are many challenges that parents go through that I have no idea about.
I realize that while there are Sikh organizations creating curriculums for teachers to use in schools (which is awesome!), there are no resources (that I could find) specifically for PARENTS to educate students. (If there are, someone please let me know)
So, here is what I have been thinking. We should create a list of ideas and information that Sikh parents can read to assist them in getting involved with their child’s class/school. I am not sure if schools allow parents to do a “show-and-tell” and get involved…..so I would be interested to hear what others think if you do know.
The information would need to be organized by Age/Grade to make the best impact. Too much info for young kids can be overload. If you are a parent and want to help spearhead this idea it could be a great addition to SikhNet. Drop me an email to let me know if you want to help with this (and how).
April 15 2013 – Here is a video that Paven Kaur (Australia) made which has some other nice ideas you can use to talk to kids in school.