Last week I volunteered for a few hours in my daughter’s kindergarten class in Berkeley, California. I loved this glimpse of multiculturalism at work in her class that I witnessed.
Scene: I am sitting at a table with Chu-hee, Amir, Zaire and Rihanna. They are practicing writing “I like to” and gluing a picture of what they like.
Zaire asks me as he glues, “Who lives in your house?”
Me: Me, Jasmin, Lila and their Baba. (I realized after the fact that I should have said that with proper grammar-I obviously wouldn’t make the best teacher.)
Zaire: Baba? Who’s that?
Me: That’s the Dad. Baba is Dad in Arabic.
They were all quiet for a second. I wondered if they even knew what Arabic was. I had a fleeting moment where I pondered if I should have just used the word “Dad” instead of “Baba.” I notice at school Jasmin always uses “Daddy” when referring to her dad, as she has already made the distinction that “Daddy” is what everyone says whereas “Baba” is not a word everyone understands or uses. Then the silence was broken with something unexpected.
Chu-Hee: I speak Korean!
Me: How do you say Dad in Korean?
Amir: I speak Spanish!
Me: How do you call your Dad in Spanish?
Zaire to Chu-Hee: You speak Chinese, not Korean.
Chu-Hee, Amir and Rihanna: NOOOO! She speaks Korean!
I loved how they all rallied to correct Zaire. Then everyone at the table went around and told me how they called their “Mom,” before switching back to “I like to” sentences. Sharing languages, learning new words and correcting misperceptions all tucked into less than three minutes of a routine kindergarten morning. That is multiculturalism in practice with five-year-olds, I thought. And it makes me so happy my daughter gets to experience this as her norm from a young age.