In the vibrant hallways of The Sammamish Montessori School, the spirit of cultural diversity and inclusivity isn’t just a concept – it’s a joyful celebration of our global family. We believe that the early years of education are about learning the basics and embracing the world’s rich tapestry of cultures. This commitment to diversity is a cornerstone of our philosophy: ‘Beyond a school; We are a community.’
Jabeen Hussain, Head of School, passionately shares, “At Sammamish Montessori, we don’t just teach; we open windows to the world. Our diverse cultural celebrations are avenues for nurturing open-minded, compassionate individuals who appreciate the beauty in our differences.”
Cultures through community celebrations
Our curriculum is a colorful mosaic of global traditions. From the twinkling lights of Diwali to the heartfelt stories of Ramadan and from the vibrant dragon dances of Chinese New Year to the warm melodies of Christmas and Hanukkah, each festival is a thread that weaves our community closer together. These celebrations are more than just fun; they’re a journey into the heart of what makes each culture unique and a reflection of the diverse backgrounds of our students and staff.
Learning begins in the classroom
Ruchika Aggrawal, Room #7 Montessori Lead Teacher, along with her co-leads Madhavi Lath and Sahana Desai, explains their approach towards cultural studies in her classroom. “We plan activities to suit the general skill set of all students, so they are inclusive and get all of our children excited.” The teachers continue, “We read books to children focusing on core cultural values rather than religious topics.” Skills like fine motor skills are developed with practical life works and creative thinking skills are learned through open-ended art projects.
Take, for instance, how we explore festivals from around the globe – Diwali and Christmas share many similarities. Both are times of joy, with colorful lights, family gatherings, gift exchanges and delicious food. It’s insights like these that spark curiosity and empathy in young minds.
Diversity’s contribution to peace education
The children delved into the art of making rangoli. These vibrant floor designs are visually stunning and a window into cultural practices. These hands-on activities guide our children to be open-minded to different cultures and ethnic backgrounds, helping them grow to be global citizens.
Our celebrations culminated in a heartwarming moment where everyone gathered, holding their handmade diyas and singing “Light the candle for peace.” This isn’t just a song; it reflects Dr. Montessori’s vision for peace education – an integral part of our learning journey.”
Teaching diversity at all ages
Age isn’t a barrier to these cultural explorations. Even in our toddler classrooms, our tiny tots broaden their knowledge by singing songs and reading stories. As Anna Buckley, our Room#11 Toddler Lead Teacher, along with Carolina Gonzalez and Shima Kokatsu, puts it, “Throughout the year, we ensure that most celebrations and holidays are presented to children through art, language, music, and sensory stimulation.
For Thanksgiving, we made apple pie bites as part of a classroom feast and read a book on the first day of Hanukkah explaining the meaning of the holiday. Children glued flames to candles for a menorah and did color-matching dreidel work. For Christmas, we did candy cane transferring work, a Christmas puzzle, and a winter sensory bin that included art activities involving painting, gluing and stamping.
Key to success, parent involvement
We encourage parents to join us in these celebrations and post information to all of our parents in our monthly newsletters on how we celebrate each holiday and how they connect back to our core Montessori philosophy.”
Involving parents and community members in these events is critical to our approach. They bring authenticity and personal stories that transform each celebration from a simple lesson to a lived experience. When a parent shares a traditional Diwali diya or a child dons a costume for Chinese New Year, it’s not just an act of participation; it’s a statement that says, “Your culture is a part of our community.”
For parents looking to reinforce this ethos at home, we encourage curiosity and open dialogue about cultural practices. Engaging with local cultural events and discussing what children learn at school fosters a home environment that mirrors our school’s inclusive and globally-minded spirit.
Different but together
Our approach goes beyond the festivals themselves. As students engage in these celebrations, they’re also diving into interdisciplinary learning. Painting a diya isn’t just an art project; it’s a lesson in geometry, history and cultural symbolism. When children learn about the significance of a menorah or create a rangoli, they’re not just exploring art; they’re connecting to a world much larger than themselves.
These cultural explorations lead to spontaneous moments of learning and connection. A conversation about traditional Indian attire might turn into a geography lesson, a discussion about food can become a moment of cultural exchange. Our students learn the most valuable lesson in these everyday interactions: we are all different, but together, we create a tapestry of unparalleled beauty.
Beyond a school; We are a community
At The Sammamish Montessori School, we’re not just educating children; we’re nurturing global citizens who appreciate and celebrate the diversity of our world. Our mantra, ‘Beyond a school; We are a community,’ is embodied in how we celebrate and learn together. Regardless of their background, each child contributes to and learns from these celebrations, fostering a sense of belonging and mutual respect. Each day is an opportunity to strengthen the bonds of our community, united in the joy of learning and the celebration of our shared humanity.
About Sammamish Montessori School
The Sammamish Montessori School (SMS) in Redmond, WA, was founded in 1977 by Joan Starling with just six preschoolers. Over the last 45 years, SMS has provided Montessori education to over 5,000 students. SMS has grown into one of the largest Montessori schools in the Pacific Northwest for 18-months to 6-year-old children. Check out the website for more details.