I remember my first real jolt about cultural knowledge. It was my first week in a Title I public Kindergarten classroom. Since it was the beginning of the year, a great way to get to know the students' writing and comprehension levels, as well as information about their families, was to have the students draw a picture of their families.
As I observed one child draw a picture of herself, a woman, and a man (who she did call Mom and Dad), I noticed that she colored both of them wearing orange. I commented that she must like that color. She told me that orange was the only color she ever saw her mom and dad wear.
I knew she lived with her grandmother, who picked her up every day, but had not been told that she visits her mom and dad each month in the local prison.
Yet another child drew a picture of himself, his mom and dad, and his brothers and sister. He then drew small circles next to his family. When I asked him to tell me more about his family, he explained that his mom and dad got jobs in the United States and he and his brothers and sister moved here with them. The circles were all the family and cousins he had to leave behind in Mexico. It had been a while since he had seen them - he was forgetting what they looked like.
I have learned that the best way to learn about our students' and families' cultures is to just ask. Most families want to share their experiences and knowledge, yet many times people do not want to offend them. So, instead of learning new experiences, customs, and sharing the families' knowledge, they are just ignored. How are we to learn if our way is right, or if there is a better way, if we do not ask. Asking families to share their cultures, traditions, foods, music, art, and stories in the classroom not only gets them involved, but also teaches acceptance and curiosity to the children. Be polite, but just ask!