“Wait, no, we don’t throw rice over our heads!” I explained to K.S. a (JK) student playing at the sensory bin. Our sensory bin is currently filled with rice and alphabet letters for students to discover, and in theory, students would quietly engage in exploration and find the hidden letters, and perhaps even identify them along the way. Soon, another student joined K.S. and he began throwing rice over his head too. They both giggled, and as the rice flew in different directions and landed on our classroom floor, I wondered if the rice in our sensory bin was a good idea.
I stopped for a moment. And then I realized, K.S. was not ‘throwing’ rice, she was mimicking a gesture commonly used in South Asian rituals and ceremonies. Because of its life sustaining properties, rice has a deep spiritual and ritual significance in the Indian culture; it is often believed to be a symbol of auspiciousness, fertility, and prosperity, and and as such, it is used extensively in rituals to celebrate occasions such as weddings, the birth of a baby, and harvest festivals. I thought back to the many South Asian weddings, birth ceremonies, festivals and religious rituals I had participated in as a child, and realized that K.S. was simply ‘playing’ with the rice in a way that was meaningful to her.
“Is this what you do with rice sometimes at home?” I asked.
She nodded and smiled. We both laughed and began to dig for some letters together.
This little realization got me thinking about the role of culture in play. Ontario is an incredibly diverse province (Pascal, 2009; Pelletier, & Corter, 2005), and as such, our Kindergarten students often come to school from a variety of cultural backgrounds, bringing with them, unique interests and prior knowledge. These interests and understandings are often influenced by the experiences young children participate in with their families and communities (Hedges, Cullen, & Jordan, 2011), and are considered to be ‘funds of knowledge‘(Hedges, Cullen, & Jordan, 2011; Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992) – a term used to describe the body of knowledge young children make meaning from and with the world around them. Recognizing the unique and specific funds of knowledge children bring with them into the classroom helps towards a stronger interpretation of their interests, and can therefore be considered a meaningful starting point for educators to understand and further extend authentic learning opportunities (Hedges et al., 2011; Moll, et al., 1992).
For K.S., ‘throwing’ rice over her head at the sensory bin connected to the cultural ceremonies she had participated in with her family. This is where our learning will start. I wonder, what kinds of ceremonies has she participated in? What might she want to tell her peers about these special occasions? Through her funds of knowledge, the opportunities for literacy, oral language, mathematics, and the Arts are endless. Maybe she will write a story, or draw a picture, or make invitations for pretend play.
As I begin to think about how our learning will unfold over the course of the new school year, I am increasingly drawn to the importance of engaging each and every one of our students through their unique funds of knowledge. For me, this means making sure to ask why they might be playing with materials in a certain way, and how their play connects to what they already know. This possibility excites me as it means that for our students, there will be opportunities for many conversations, learning paths, and best of all, stories to tell.
Hedges, H., Cullen, J., & Jordan, B. (2011). Early years curriculum: Funds of knowledge as a conceptual framework for children’s interests. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 43(2), 185-205.
Moll, L. C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms.Theory into practice, 31(2), 132-141.
Pascal, C. E. (2009). With our best future in mind: implementing early learning in Ontario: report to the Premier by the Special Advisor on Early Learning. Toronto: Government of Ontario.
Pelletier, J., & Corter, C. (2005). Toronto First Duty: Integrating Kindergarten, Childcare, and Parenting Support to Help Diverse Families Connect to Schools. Multicultural Education, 13(2), 30-37.