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Cultural Celebrations and National Days 1
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Cultural Celebrations and National Days

After the excitement of Christmas, January can feel a little bit lacking. This is true for adults and children alike.  While adults understand the significance of a New Year, young children may feel confused that the Christmas decorations are gone and the numbers representing the year have changed all within a week or two.

The most important days in January in England are probably Blue Monday (Monday, 17th) and maybe National Cheese Lovers Day! (Thursday, 20th). 

As you can see, an English calendar is likely to be looking fairly sparse when it comes to important days in January. However, the same is not true of every country.

For example, January for the Scottish is all about Burns Night. On the other side of the world, Australia Day takes precedence.

This is the perfect time to introduce young children to some other cultural and national celebrations. If you have children from other countries in your care, you could incorporate their national holidays into ‘news time’.  If you are unsure how to adapt activities to include every child, our short course on Inclusion may help you feel more confident.

Taking note of national holidays in other countries and other important national and international days can help you to plan EYFS activities.  Activities must celebrate rather than appropriate. There must be no offensive stereotyping, however well-meaning.  If using British Sign language, be aware that some of the signs are controversial, particularly when it comes to describing nationalities.

Instead, look at how different countries celebrate their national holidays.

Embracing other cultures will help speech and language skills, as you are likely to be talking about food, customs and possibly animals that the children are not familiar with. You can perhaps learn a few simple words of the native language together too. 

You can also look up the places on a world map, and practice drawing and colouring in the national flags.

Burns Night

Taking place on January 25th each year, Burns night celebrates the life of the poet Robert ‘Rabbie’ Burns. Scots around the world gather with family and friends to eat, drink and be merry.

For little ones, it is a chance to embrace all things Scottish. While you probably don’t want to put haggis on an under five’s plate, other delicacies such as ‘neeps and tatties’ and oatcakes and cheese may be more palatable.

Of course, there’s always shortbread. A traditional Scottish biscuit, shortbread is an easy bake that requires only a few ingredients. This makes it ideal for a group baking activity, as part of your ongoing teamwork teaching.

The children can also design their own tartans. Show them some examples, explaining the check design and the significance of different tartans signifying different clans or families. Generic tartan can be worn by anyone without causing offence. Interestingly, wearing a clan tartan has now become a sign of respect and kinship rather than the insult it was previously interpreted as.

You can look up Scottish songs and nursery rhymes on YouTube, giving the children the chance to hear some different Scottish dialects.

There are some excellent Scottish characters that children may already be familiar with, such as Shrek, (despite being voiced by Canadian actor Mike Myers) and Brave’s Merida.

You can also find plenty of Scottish children’s books to give an authentic Scottish voice, such James Robertson’s ‘The Boy and the Bunnet’ and Kathryn Selbert’s ‘Ye Cannae Shove Yer Granny Off a Bus’. Rabbie’s Rhymes: Burns for Wee Folk features digestible snippets of Burns’ verses accompanied by bright and colourful illustrations.

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Australia Day

The official national holiday of Australia takes place on January 26th and creates an opportunity to teach children about a different part of the world. The meaning of the holiday is controversial as it marks Australia’s first occupation by British settlers. However, for many, it is simply a chance to celebrate their country.

For young children, Australia is often a magical-sounding far-off land where strange animals live. This is a good opportunity to look at some of those animals and their natural habitats. For sensory play, you could get hold of some eucalyptus . Let the children smell and touch it, and explain that this is a koala’s main food source.

Koala’s kangaroos and the duck-billed platypus are interesting-looking animals that the children can practice drawing or collaging.

You can also explain that while it’s winter here, it’s actually the middle of the summer in Australia.

There are many iconic Australian foodstuffs to try from vegemite on toast to Tim Tams and Pavlova. Australians (and New Zealanders) also serve ‘Fairy Bread’ at children’s parties, which is literally slices of bread and butter with hundreds and thousands sprinkled on them!

When it comes to an Australian child’s disco, you’re spoilt for choice! Kylie and Jason Donovan are the obvious kid-friendly options, but there are several Australian children’s party songs available on YouTube.

It’s important not to ignore the Aboriginal Australians, and Aboriginal Art includes some excellent sensory techniques that the children can try to emulate. Dot painting and sand painting are probably the easiest to recreate. You can find tutorials on YouTube.  Since aboriginal art is often based around stories, you could ask the children to depict a character from their favourite book, film, or TV programme.

Didjeridus are essentially just wooden tubes used as musical instruments, so you can have a go at making your own versions from cardboard tubes. Other native Australian instruments include gum-leaves and the bullroarer, but they may be harder to come by.

Boomerangs are another uniquely Australian tool courtesy of the aboriginals. Part weapon, part tool, part musical instruments, they are fascinating objects that can be used to like a Frisbee for throwing and catching. Not all boomerangs are designed to come back to the thrower but those that do can be used to demonstrate the science of the shape and width for aerodynamics.

Of course, these are just some suggestions. You may have different ideas about how to celebrate other countries’ national days, or prefer not to mark them at all.

The important part is that the children are exposed to other cultures and understand that some days are special to other people.

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