Cultural Awareness in Special Education

by Angela Stevens on February 1, 2010

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One of the things that teachers must do, to varying degrees depending on the student population, is encourage cultural awareness and acceptance. Small towns and big cities are both apt to have children from a variety of cultures within a single classroom. When students have a learning disability or have limited proficiency with English, they are often evaluated and assigned a special education teacher to help them meet their educational needs. As a special education teacher, there are several things that can be done to within both inclusion classrooms and special education classrooms. Some of the best ways to include a variety of cultures into any type of classroom is through fun activities.

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Food

Exploring cultures through food is always popular. Depending on school policy, each child can bring a favorite dish made by parents, or teachers can bring popular dishes in if food sharing isn’t allowed. Finger foods or foods that can be enjoyed in small servings are an excellent choice. Some popular choices include Thai spring rolls, Greek baklava, Venezuelan arepas, Brazilian cheese bread, or any popular food from a student’s country of origin. Be sure to include some classic American favorites such as pizza, corndog bites, or apple turnovers. This helps expose all students to foods from the individual cultures represented in the classroom, and ensures that everyone will have at least one thing they know they like to snack on.

Books

Books are great way to introduce new cultures, especially with younger classrooms. Fairy tales from different cultures can be read, with similarities to more familiar stories pointed out. This may require a bit of planning, as it can be difficult to locate fairy tales or other children’s books from other countries that are printed in English, so it may be necessary to visit a large county library and have them use the interlibrary loan system which would allow them to pull resources from libraries from around the country. If that doesn’t work, there are many beautifully illustrated books that talk about differences in culture, race, and beliefs. Regardless of the book chosen, have the children enjoy a story day. Read the story aloud and plan craft and reflection activities based on the themes covered.

Holidays

Many American children mistakenly believe that holidays are the same all over the world. In part, this is often due to the fact that America is such a large country, and the customs so similar from one area to another, that their entire world does indeed seem to celebrate everything the same. However, many countries have holidays that could be incorporated into an American classroom. As all children enjoy a reason to celebrate, it can be something fun to look forward to that is based on the cultures of new students. When new students join the classroom, ask about special holidays from their home and put them on the class calendar. Planning special activities for those holidays provides a fun and educational experience for the whole class.

Regardless of what methods are used to introduce cultural awareness to students, it is important that all students realize that differences are fun and interesting, rather than something to make fun of. How do you introduce various cultures into the classroom or school?

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