Monday, February 15, 2016

An Integrated Approach to Learning about Different Cultures: Ireland and St. Patrick’s Day

Are you looking for fun ways to bring more culture into your home and celebrate diversity?  This is the second post in a series of monthly posts filled with ideas, resources, and inspiration!  Last time we learned about China and celebrated the Chinese New Year as described here.  Now let’s have some fun learning about Ireland and preparing for St. Patrick’s Day which is celebrated on March 17th.

Teaching our children about different cultures fosters an understanding of different people and their customs and beliefs.  We are also preparing our children for an increasingly global world.   Looking for more reasons to learn about culture?  Check out this short article that summarizes the key benefits.  

As described in my last post, our family loves to learn about different cultures by anchoring our learning around specific holidays or celebrations that occur throughout the year.  That way we are grounded in events that are happening in real time, making our experience more meaningful.  Each month we learn about a specific holiday, and integrate our learning into other areas such as history, geography, visual and performing arts, world religion, culinary, and political science of that specific country or region of the world that the holiday is celebrated in.  The children have so much fun choosing a new holiday each month and have created passports that are about the size of a small book out of construction paper that are used as a way to journal about their learnings. 

In our imagination, we travel to a different parts of the world and add some of our favorite things about that region into our passports, it may be a drawing of a famous landmark, a description of the holiday, a phrase written in that country’s language, or thoughts on what it was like to cook a traditional meal.  Whatever resonates with the children is what they decide to add to their passports.  This monthly experience of learning about different cultures is a part of our family rhythm.  To learn more about how to create a family rhythm click here.

The children and I start off our new monthly adventure by going to the library and picking out books to read on the region and holiday we are studying about.  Here are some of our favorite books on Ireland and St. Patrick’s Day:

Folk and Fairy Tales

Folk and fairy tales from the region are fun to read and are filled with wisdom.  One of our favorite stories from Ireland is Brave Margaret: An Irish Adventure it is a story of a young, courageous woman.  Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potato is another great folktale.  For more stories, check out the collection Irish Myths and Legends.  This month the children want to draw their version of Brave Margaret in their passports.

Some fun books on St. Patrick’s Day:

Learning about Ireland:

Count Your Way through Ireland by Jim Jaskins and Kathleen Benson is a fun one with beautiful illustrations.

We also really enjoy reading living books such as Children of Ireland and Children of Northern Ireland by Michael Elsohn Ross.


YouTube is a great resource for looking up videos on any certain area the children want to learn more about.  We will be watching some on Irish Dancing.  It’s always fun for the children to watch other children perform so we will enjoy watching this video.   Riverdance is of course very famous, you can watch the opening scene here.  We will also try to learn some Irish dance steps ourselves by using this video.


I play traditional Irish music for the kids while they draw in their passports by creating a station on Pandora, but you can also get a CD from your library.  


I don’t always like to have an art project planned as I like to have the children come up with their own ideas.  Last year they decided to paint pictures of rainbows, pots of gold, and shamrocks.  This year I think we will try to make these cute shamrocks as described here only because I’ve been saving up corks and I don’t know what to do with them, there are several other craft ideas on that site as well.  Maybe the children will feel inspired to add the shamrocks into a landscape painting of Ireland.  

Children were inspired to paint rainbows, pots of gold, and shamrocks.


We’ll have some fun cooking a traditional Irish meal together.  Sheppard’s Pie is a favorite in our home. Martha Stewart also has some fun recipes and other St. Patrick’s Day ideas here.

We’ll also visit a local Irish pub and enjoy some fish and chips.


We’ll have some fun learning a couple of words and phrases in Irish Gaelic, we like this little video.

Other Resources:

National Geographic for Kids is a great resource as well; click here for information on Ireland.

Local Community:

We like to leverage our local community as one of the primary resources for learning, in support of our value in place-based education.  Therefore, we will be visiting Chicago’s Irish American Heritage Center.  Check out your local Irish cultural center if there is one available to you. Talk to your friends, neighbors, or people in your community!  We enjoy listening to grandma’s stories about her Irish heritage.   

Attend your local parade or celebration.  We are fortunate enough to have several local parades to choose from as well as the big parade in Chicago along with dyeing the Chicago River green as described here.

As you can see, there is a lot you can do.  You can go as deep as you like or make it a light-touch approach, choosing from a couple of books and activities.  We follow our children’s interests as we travel throughout the world without ever getting on a plane!

How will you be celebrating St. Patrick's Day and learning about Irish culture?  Share in the comment section below.

Next month I will be writing about Orthodox Easter and how it is celebrated in my parents' home country of Greece.

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