Orange Shirt Day in Kindergarten

What does it mean to wear an orange shirt on September 30th? 
Why are you wearing the shirt? 
How do you go about sharing the topic of Orange Shirt day and Residential schools in your classroom? 
What does Orange Shirt mean to Kindergartners? 

Orange Shirt day is this Saturday, September 30th. For more information on what Orange Shirt Day, why we have it, and how it started please click here.  Without an explanation, teaching and lessons behind Orange Shirt Day, lots of children would assume it was another school spirit day. The link would make sense in their innocent and beautiful minds, as we dressed up for our School Spirit Day last Thursday wearing black and red.

The importance of introducing and teaching about Orange Shirt day is something I feel we must do. When I begin to think about introducing the topic with five year olds I have a lot of feelings. I feel obligated, sad, heartbroken, hesitant, compelled, and a bit apprehensive. In no means am I trying to be disrespectful by sharing these feelings, I am just hoping to be honest and share how I feel, why I feel this way and how I am introducing and teaching about Orange Shirt day in my classroom.

I feel obligated to share about residential schools, children’s experiences, and orange shirt day because this is the history of the people whose land we live on and share. I feel that in my school experience topics surrounding Indigenous education were minimally touched on. In my own experience and my observations of my peers this resulted in a lack of understanding, connection, and knowledge of this significantly important culture.

I feel compelled to share about the heartache, unfairness and suffering Indigenous people endured, and continued to endure today. We have an obligation to work towards reconciliation, my heart says we must. We, as teachers, have a duty to share true and real perspectives of Indigenous culture, both today’s and yesterday’s. The children in our classrooms deserve to understand as full of picture we can provide, the truth. We can begin a conversation about reconciliation with our learners, the future of our world.

I feel a bit apprehensive to introduce this topic with such young learners as it is a big topic, full of sadness and heartbreak, but I know I must.

I feel a bit hesitant as it is not my culture, and I am forever working on being respectful and not overstepping in a culture that has been repeatedly stepped over. I am hesitant, but I know this feeling must pass. I value real discussion with kindergartners and I value the truth.

With all these feelings close to my heart, here is how I began introducing the topic with my Kindergartners today.

A wonderful colleague of mine shared a book with me, Amik Loves School. Before reading the book we talked about what we love about school. “Friends, singing, playing, recess, dancing, learning about birds,” the list goes on. We then talked about celebrations we love to celebrate at school and with our families. “Birthdays, Easter, Halloween, Hanukkah, First Day of School, Christmas,” the list goes on. We then talked about how it feels when we are at school, and when we are participating in celebrations. “Happy, fun, laughing, excited, warm, hyper, hungry,” the list goes on. We then imagined what it would feel like if these things that we loved and were important to us, and our families, we taken away from us. “Sad, hurt, upset, crying, scared,” the list goes on. We then talked about First Nations people and how a long time ago this happened to the children when they attended school. We talked about how it must have felt for them at school, not being able to celebrate special things, not being able to see their families or siblings and not enjoying school like we do.

Bit of background: We have been talking lots about how we share the First Nations People’s land. We have learned that the land we live on belongs to the First Nations people, specifically the Esquimalt and Songhees people. We are beginning to understand that we are very fortunate to share this land with them, and once a long time ago it was just their land. We have learned that people (settlers) came and took their land away from them. We have talked about how sad this would be and thought about how it would make us feel.

We then went into reading ‘Amik Loves School’. This book is a great way to introduce the topic of Residential Schools to young learners. It is about a boy sharing with his family member, Moshoom, about how much he loves school. Moshoom shares that he did not love school because he attended a Residential school. He shares how his teacher was not very kind, the school was very far away, how he did not get to celebrate things that are important to his family, and more. My Kindergarten learners shared that they felt sad for Moshoom. They also shared that they wished they could invite Moshoom to our school so he could “feel fun and loved”.  We talked about why it is important to remember these types of memories, even if they make us feel sad. I shared that this happened in the past, and it is something that must never be repeated. I shared that the more people that know about it, the more we can help to support people who’s hearts hurt from this and the more we can make sure it is never repeated. We talked about how everyone is welcome at our school and that we are interested in learning about everyone’s culture and celebrations.
Image result for amik goes to school

This was our conversation today. This is how I began introducing the topic. This is a real experience from a real Kindergarten class. This is a step towards reconciliation. I am grateful for my colleague, and her willingness to share her book with us. On Wednesday we will be welcoming and thanking an Elder into our classroom who is a survivor of Residential Schools. This week is very important in Education, it is our opportunity to share the truth at an age appropriate level for our learners. It is an opportunity to introduce a tough subject. It is an opportunity to step towards reconciliation, a path that will be forever long. It is an opportunity to open the hearts of young learners and involve them in this important topic.

How will you be involved in this opportunity?
I would love to hear what you are doing with your learners. 

Thanks for reading,
Rebecca

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