Kids at School and Being a Sikh

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.

Get Involved

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 2013Here is a video that Paven Kaur (Australia) made which has some other nice ideas you can use to talk to kids in school.

30 Responses to “Kids at School and Being a Sikh”

  1. Manpreet says:

    wow, tht was great. you surely are a great parent and a great Sikh.

  2. Ekoankar Singh says:

    Great! please do recored video for this kind of lectures because they became great source of resources. We can merely share them over and over with online world. Thanks!

  3. Ekoankar Singh says:

    Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa,
    Waheguru ji ki fateh,

    Singh ji, please record your next hands on lecture because that will make a good introduction for others. We can easily share that with friends and families who are not Sikhs. The video is very easy way to convey our message to others.

  4. HARPAL SINGH says:

    It is a good idea, at least you have done something to make other race children and teachers aware about our turban and hair. Or else you will find them distrubing or even removing our children’s turbans, and also other problems will arise such as nasty names been used on us. It happens in my place. Hope you will be successful.
    As for first day in Kindergarten it could a havoc for parent and teaacher. As the child will cry and insist for the parent to near her/himor take back home, if the child had not attended nusery or first in family.

  5. Inspiring post.See, ive been trying to do something similar in singapore for quite sometime already.I’ve made it my personal mission to wear the bana with the 5 kakkars, as much as i can, even in public, in a hope to educate singaporeans about sikhism.Im sure you’ve been to singapore already, and you yourself might have realised this lack of sikhi amongst our people here.

    Singapore can boast alot about racial harmony but the sad truth is, there are racial politics going on in our everyday lives.I had a hard time at school while growing up.Being a sikh and having a joora meant you being the constant butt of jokes,facing discrimination amongst your peers,etc.Eventually i got sick of it and cut my hair when i was 15. With guru ram das’ kirpa,i kept my hair back, and took amrit at 20.I realised there was a lack of education about sikhism for the common man here, in regards to the 5 kakkars and the bana.Even when I went to the gurudwara dressed in a bana,dumalla and shastars,this one sikh man actually picked up an argument with me about… this is not how sikhs dress,you shouldnt wear the kirpan… etc.See our own people dont understand its significance.

    Therefore, i wear the bana, with the kirpan slung outside, in hope that, people come up to me, ask me questions, who i am, why do i dress like this, what is the kirpan for, etc.If the police were to arrest me, im determined to fight for this cause and legalise the kirpan, regardless of length, whether worn inside or outside.And, im also thinking about ideas on how to spread this message across the whole of singapore, so, when tomorrow, my kids go to school, i can rest assure they wont go through the hell i was going through.

    Good post gurmustuk ji, a real inspiration.

  6. Computer dummy says:

    Khalsa Jee

    Just curious to know, Why don’t you admit saintly narayan to miri piri academy in Amritsar?.

  7. Prithipal says:

    Sir, I think what you did took a lot of courage. It helps remove alot of mystery and ambiquity which people associate with Sikhi due to a lack of knowledge/ignorance. Your son in indeed blessed to have such a devoted father. By talking to the kids in a language they understand, you’ve not only opened their mind up and also in away made Narayan more acceptable to them. Best wishes from Malaysia.

  8. Kiran says:

    I think this is a brilliant idea. Not being a parent myself…but I think this kind of eduaction is good for the adults of the future….Will drop and email if I get any ideas as to what the children should be told at a certain age….not knowing much myself doesen’t really give a me a good headstart.

    Lots of Pyar

    Kiran

    p.s We have grey clouds in London today with highs of 22*.

  9. Hey man! What you did was awesome! Now the kids will definitely be more understanding of narayan. Hey they may even get jealous! they would wanna be like aladin too! kidding..
    good job bro!

    hope to see you soon. hopefully i can start saving for next years solstice soon :)

  10. Gurumustuk Singh Ji,

    Your initiative was indeed a courageus one whci will go a long way in helping young Nayaran find his place in the places where Sikhs are still a mystery, and what a way to begin with kids! You have already inspired me into what I’ll need to do when my own son/duaghter begins school (I’ll be a father in December), though that’s still a while to go, at I have realised that I too need to prepare for him/her to face the world.

    This is what every Sikh parents needs to take the initiative in helping bring up their kids as they find their place in the world.

  11. Amarjot Singh says:

    Satnam Ji,

    What a wonderful way to introduce the outlook/bana of Sikhi to these young souls. There could not have been a better way. I believe that the best way to communicate with anyone is in the language/style they would understand. For kids it has to be fun rather philosophical that is how they learn and understand. Last but not the least I believe that everyone is curious to know the difference (why Sikhs look different) if they never find out they either grow to be scared of it or make a joke about it, but if their piqued interest is given attention they grow to respect and acknowledge it and above all feel comfortable with it.

    Satnam!!

  12. Sifar says:

    Bhai Gurumustuk Singh jee…

    You did something really awesome like something that Bhai Roop Singh jee is doing. He independently promotes the Sikh Religion and visits over 100 schools per a year and reaches over 30,000 students per a year in the UK. He also conducts workshops worldwide with college students and professionals at conferences and retreats throughout the year.

    For more info on Bhai roop Singh jee, visit sikhyouth.info orclick here.

  13. Thanks for all the comments! It actually wasn’t that big of a deal to do. You all could…and should do something like this too if you have kids. Try talking to teachers at school and see if they are open to something like this. :)

  14. SatSundri Kaur says:

    Sat Nam, Gurumustuk Singh ji –
    Yes, let’s do this. August/September is a good annual outreach time (although any time is a great time!) with back-to-school and in US – 9/11 observances upcoming. Great time for a community to focus on being known, connect with schools and protective services (Police, Fire, Sheriff, Constable) and set a good tone of interaction for the year. Then, they are a little educated, know who to contact for questions, etc. This can be expanded as the network grows. Build up to the elected officials – Or, if you already know your Mayor, and not your Principal or Police – use that reference to introduce yourself. Parenthood! A great motivator. We have the best – Dasmesh Pita… Wahe Guru…SatSundri Kaur

  15. Gian Kaur says:

    Share this with Narayan’s class, a great movie of South Africa children engaged in yoga and drumming. Amrit Singh met the organizer of these efforts at the European Yoga Festival. It is inspiring to watch.

    The website offers a downlodable movie here.

    http://www.20000drums.org.za/bbh/index.htm

  16. Gurumustuk jee,

    That was great, I did something similar for my elder son last year and will do it again this year for the younger one. Sometimes public schools are a bit scared of violating the separation of religion and state, so you have to negotiate with Principal and individual teacher.

    Another good tool I found, was donating book “A boy with long Hair” to the class and school library. Teacher actually read the book in class and kids have been taking it to their home to read with their parents, which spreads the message. The book is published by Sikh Foundation.

    THE BOY WITH LONG HAIR
    Written & illustrated by Pushpinder Singh
    Paperback, coloring story book, 26 pages
    (Teachers’ Notes available)

    Gurinder…

  17. Prabhu Singh says:

    It’s really great what you have done Gurumustuk. I think things have changed a lot since I was in school.
    For one thing the community is so much bigger now that most people in Northern New Mexico have seen Sikhs. Another thing is there are more cultures/races present in the area, which should help.
    I started to write a little bit about my experience being one of two (my brother and I) Sikh and Anglo kids in the whole school. I deleted it because I don’t want to frighten people and I think things are different. I’ll just say, stay in close contact with Narayan and know how he feels. I think we all are hopeful for Narayan, and I think he’ll do fine.

  18. Manjit Singh says:

    Satnam Gurumustuk,

    Thanks for posting. And, Gurinder Ji, thanks for the book title.

  19. Lionchild says:

    This is great! Some of us are getting out into he community. It’s just sad; some of us sikhs come from far off places, settle in North America, then a good portion just simply go and hide in the suburbs and form these impenetrable (sometimes elitist) communities that no one else can join or be part of. As sikhs, we should get out and get our presence known; instead of just hiding from everything and only associating with ourselves. Go out and walk downtown, go and teach other about sikhi, do seva for the public… and wear your kakars and be proud to be sikh!

  20. Satkirin Kaur Khalsa says:

    Hey Beta ji,
    did you film your class w/Narayan’s class mates?????

  21. Haha… Mataji… no…I left my “film crew” at home. Arjan went along with me and took a few pictures with Charanjeet on her with the sling.

  22. Did the little kids ask you why you wear a dress? Does Narayan wear a kurta or pants?

    Little children are seeing things for the first time, and only have a limited amount of past predjuces to relate to. Never the less, it is sometimes the kurta more than the turban which gives children problems. (Not to mention the kirpan.)

  23. gurusharan says:

    I used to go into my son’s school also when he was little and a do lot of what you did. The one other thing which I did that the kids really enjoyed was to do more hands on activities. I used to bring in extra turbans, patkas, chunis and kurtas for them to try on. I would also bring in an Indian snack of somekind. Participation in PTA and volunteering for school activities also a must to keep in touch with school staff and students.
    Good Luck.

  24. singhni says:

    Waheguru ji ka khalsa Waheguru ji ki Fateh

    Wow! I almost missed your exciting post. First of all congratulations for entering into real parenthood. Kindergarten!!! how cute! Perfect timing for mommy and baby charanjit to bond in those 3 hours; uninterrupted by anyone else.

    I think, you took a very important step by talking to the little ones about this and you did very well. From our experience as parents who have been giving the Sikh presentations in different schools every year since our son entered his first grade six years ago; it was more helpful to educate parents and teachers than the little ones who do not really care how the other friend looks as long as they are nice to each other and ‘share’. I will e-mail you my article that I wrote about our first presentation.

    We all know how involved father you are, so your mere presence at the school campus is a great support to Narayan. I am sure he is more confident than ever due to that.

    Keep up the good work!

    Guru Raakha!

  25. upinder kaur says:

    Congratulations Gurmustuk
    You have done a great job and shown others a path.Arjan its really brave of you to take those lovely pictures with charanjeet on you with the sling.
    May Waheguru bless you all!

  26. RANA SINGH says:

    waheguru ji ka khalsa
    waheguru ji ke fateh
    i visit your blog saveral time. i wnat to thank you for a what a great sava you are doing for sikhi . again thank u very much. rana singh

  27. Shailender Singh says:

    WaheGuru Ji Ka Khalsa, WaheGuruJi Ki Fateh,
    I grew up in a Sikh school, surrounded by fellow Sikhs. We used to have Shabad Kirtan recital in the morning assembly and every Gurpurab was celebrated with a lot of fanfare. Inspite of all that, I see a lot of my batchmates ( including myself) no where near or close to Sikhi in our hearts and souls.
    My daughters now go to a school which has no religious affliations, but is obviously leaning towards Hindu rituals and teachings. I make no conscious effort to make them un-learn what they learn at school. My wife, my mother contribute to their modest acclimitisation with Sikhism.
    When I see an effort like this by our esteemed Veer ji, I feel humbled, and a bit guilty.
    And yet, in this world of growing fundamentalism, I ask myself- Do I want them to grow up as “Sikh” or use the learnings of Sikhism to instill in them the values of being good , responsible, tolerant, open minded human beings? Would I wish for them to know what the 5 K’s stand for and hope they would lead them to a path I have not been able to follow inspite of that knowledge?
    In a world where religion is only becoming a cause of acrimony, are the symbols of religion- like the hizab or the turban- relevant? Are these symbols acts of division amongst the common thread which binds us- humanity? Didnt the Guru’s say- Manas ki jaat sab eke pehchanbo? By teaching the kids the “significance” of symbols are’nt we causing them to start diffrentiating? OR would the understanding of other peoples religion make the future generation more tolerant and acceptable of these differences?

  28. Mandeep Singh says:

    WaheGuru Ji Ka Khalsa, WaheGuruJi Ki Fateh,

    Congratulation Gurmustuk ji. I am in similar situation but would like to get suggestions from everyone. I got the opportunity to speak with young childern, at the Kindergarten class, but now I have been requested to talk to middle school childern. I am thinking of presenting a formal presentation with some informal activities. Some time ago, I had seen some Powerpoint presentations on Sikhnet or other websites, but can’t recall. Does anyone have any experience with middle school kids in Southern Virginia or West Virginia area. Can anyone give me some suggestions? We will be talking about sikhism in general, our appearence and celebrating Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s birthday

    Mandeep Singh

  29. Manpreet says:

    WOW! it was really intersting real life story