10 May 2001

Lower Primary Grades K, 1, and 2


"Are Foreigners From The Same Earth As Us?":
First Impressions of the Self and the Other

  Children begin defining themselves in terms of their immediate  family, their neighborhoods, and their local state, region, and nation, with little global context. Mass media in the late twentieth century certainly exposes kids to the world, but the exposure is often haphazard and the impressions children gain are stereotypical at best, lacking in content depth. And because most schools still do not include formal classes in global studies, world history, or world geography until the sixth or seventh grades, much more can be, and arguably should be done to make children feel more of an interconnected part in the world. 

  Comparing and contrasting children's developing world views through the early primary years reveals the need for a more concerted effort at global studies. These pages will begin to make such comparisons as well as summarize new standards and special programs in Japan and the U.S.A. (Georgia) which lend themselves to putting more global contexts into the classroom across the curriculum.


  Since 1987, Japan's national Ministry of Education (MOMBUSYOU) has employed 200 foreign college graduates to teach and interact with children of all grade levels in the public schools. That number has increased every year and now exceeds 5000 a year since 1998. As a participant in the program between 1995-1998, I rotated between three primary schools three days-a-week and was able to teach each class in every grade level 1 through 6 at least once a month for three years. This experience and a year each teaching in Hokkaido in 1990-1992 before graduate studies in world history at the University of Hawaii, gave me a good idea of children's developing views of the world and the potential that exists for global studies at earlier ages.

  The question, "Are foreigners from the same earth as us?" is an example of the type of broad questions young primary school students asked me on occasion during our free talk sessions at the beginning of my classes. I tried to respond to their cute, yet sincere, questions appropriately through stories and exchange activities with their peers in other countries. Through homemade picture books, included here in the students' section, tried to teach a geography of the earth including the earth in  space, and then a history of life on earth including human migrations around the earth. I tried to show them how they were connected to humans around the world in human history. Such lessons would be relevant to American students or any primary school students in the world who have the tendency to define themselves exclusively in local/state/national terms.

Georgia (U.S.A., 1998)

  There are numerous possibilities for bringing more global perspectives into the existing curriculum objectives, however. In my home-state of Georgia studies of the local begin with studies of the self. The state's Quality Core Curriculum (QCC) standards even stress that students understand themselves in relation to others in the world. Even at the kindergarten level there are specific objectives that facilitate more global perspective in the classroom:

  As there are yet few curriculum resources for implementing such standards in Georgia schools, however, the experience of foreign teachers in Japanese primary schools might be of some value. For kindergarten and first graders, a global geography lesson like my School Bus Rocket story board was effective in giving students a basic introduction to a foreign language and culture while discovering that we share the same planet with different cultures around the world. In the English version of the story on this site, I introduce Japanese as the foreign culture and language. With these fundamentals at least made familiar at the Kindergarten level, in the following year, students would be ready for a simple exchange with their peers in another culture on the globe. Before I introduce a successful exchange project we completed between first graders in Japan and Boston, U.S.A., look at how well certain Georgia objectives correspond:

First Grade Objectives in the QCC:

  Working as an Assistant English Teacher in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, I assisted one first grade teacher in Nakamichi-cho, Japan with her e-mail correspondence with a first grade class in Boston, Massachusetts. The exchange activities fit nicely within the objectives of art (Zukou), language arts (Kokugo), and lifestyle activities (Seikatsu-ka).

  The exchange began by introducing student first names and the names of their hometowns to the homeroom teachers. Then we assigned a name to each student and asked them to imagine and draw the other students' face. Although the students were only six years old, they already had formed impressions of foreign people. Most of the Japanese kids drew the Boston kids with blonde hair and blue eyes. The Boston kids drew the Japanese kids with black hair. The students included themselves in the picture too and described their favorite activities (skiing, baseball, cars, etc.)  After the initial exchange, we exchanged actual photographs and were surprised to find out that the foreign students looked like many of our classmates. The only words taught to the kids was their own names was "to" and "from." They copied the words on to their cards. A final exchange activity included the Boston kids sending the Japanese kids photos of team projects commemorating the 100th day of school. Each team had made something using one hundred things. The Japanese schools had nothing comparable to this activity. In return the Japanese kids sent photos student pairs who described one of their favorite school events during the year. By the end of this phase of the exchange in March, the Japanese school year was coming to a close. By the end of the six week unit, the kids had begun to view the other kids' town and school being nearby.

  In the second grade there are global studies-related objectives that overlapp those of the kindergarten and the first grade. In Japan, I reviewed global geography with the second graders using the School Bus Rocket story-board lessons. Then we moved on to another story-board lesson called Everyone's Birthday Party. This story continues the introduction to a foreign language while exploring how all human cultures are connected in the history of earth, or "Big History." Depending on the teaching methods and content focus, this story board has uses in the upper primary grades as well. A continued introduction to Japanese language in this context is in keeping with Georgia's QCC objectives for the second grade:

Of course exchange projects could continue into the second grade, building on what was begun in the first grade, or doing a new exchange with another part of the world. Second graders really enjoy myths involving animals from other cultures and such stories would make an excellent focus for an exchange. Kids could video-tape a puppet show version of a local myth or even do a play. In Japan, I gave a story-board adaptation of a Cherokee Indian creation story, I named Turtle Island.

As the story unfolds a the students draw a picture. While continuing to learn elementary vocabulary of a foreign language, students begin to appreciate elemental cultural symbols of another culture. They should also begin to see how peoples around the world create and pass on stories about their society interacting with the natural environment.

Between 1996 and 1998, a web-site called cyberschools.net proposed a global social studies project beginning with the first years primary school.

This is a project which is designed to be one step more than what is already done in schools all over the world. It is a project that will build a usable database over time.
Each grade level will work on a project based on the social studies curriculum. They will create a
web page. (If you don't have other options, Cyber Schools can host your pages for a nominal fee). As these projects are posted on the Internet or on your school's intranet, then all the pieces will fit together like a big puzzle. Cyber Schools will host an index that will link all the different pages. As children look at the work of others they will be able to see and experience the world through the eyes of another child.

Unfortunately, for whatever reasons, the Cyber Schools project has faded away, but the proposal remains model for databases which catalogue and build upon children's work.  Young children's impressions of themselves and his peers in another country are a valuable windows on origins of international understanding and misunderstanding. The above mentioned Georgia QCC objectives correspond well with the Cyber Schools objectives for each grade:

Kindergarten "Each kindergartner will draw a self-portrait to be scanned onto their web page. Each portrait will be accompanied by information about the individual. They should talk about their favorite things. (Color, book, food, TV program, movie, person, games, sport, music)
Then they can go and look at other Cyber Schools in their Network and see what they can learn about kindergartners who live in other places. They will compare and contrast their favorite things. You can graph any of the items. (*This project would be fascinating if you did it each year with each grade. You would be able to see the growth of the children and the increase in their abilities. You would also be able to compare and contrast people and how they change over time.)"

First Grade Each first grader will draw a picture of their family. They will talk about what kinds of things their family likes to do.  They will focus on the areas of food, favorite books, favorite activities, parents and siblings. They will also be expected to draw a picture of where they live. This will be an item of particular interest as children compare their homes with other first graders around the world. They will also be able to compare and contrast their parents and siblings. Once again, all kinds of spin-offs can take place in this project. For math, students can graph everyone's favorite food or how many people there are in the family. They can talk about the different types of families and then read about families in different books. They can even write stories based on the information they gather. They could pretend that they lived somewhere else. The possibilities are endless."

Second Grade Each second grader will need to draw a map of their street or block. A point of particular focus is to describe what kinds of things happen in your neighborhood and in your school.
They will need to interview other members of the neighborhood to find out what their neighborhood used to be like. They will also interview their parents or grandparents and find out what their neighborhood used to be like and what kinds of things they used to do.
Once again, as they are able to read about what other neighborhoods and schools are like, they will gain a better understanding of their own school and get a better feel for what the world is like. 


rainbowline.gif (1873 bytes)