In both the countries of my residence, it is the beginning of the festival season, that goes well into the New Year. Adults approach festivals either as harbinger of joy, laughter, socio-cultural interactions or the “been there (many times over), done that (many times over)” syndrome, harbinger of the holiday blues. For kids it is fun, fUN and FUN, year after year, after year-a time for revelling in colours, lights and sounds.
In Canada, there is a wide range of festivals from pumpkin picking to apple picking and Halloween to Santa Parades. There is an amazing sense of celebration, multicultural and cross-cultural, that engulfs the country and its people, making the most of the outdoor life before the onset of severe cold. The Fall Season itself is a multi-sensorial experience with the leaves showing off their richest hues, farmers harvesting their best yields, people savouring all sorts of freshly baked pies, music, theatre and film festivals dotting the city’s calendar. Special efforts are made to make the festivities child-centric, to maximise their sensorial experience. Schools design curriculum around these events and teachers plan out students’ learning using the festive environment. For instance, the autumn leaf can be an interdisciplinary unit in itself. The vibrant shades and shapes of leaf can be a lesson in art. The falling of the leaf and life cycle of trees and its adaptation to its environment can be a lesson in science. The song “Autumn Leaves Are Falling Down” by Shari and Jerry Tallon can be a lesson in music while early Math is easily discernable in counting and patterning of the leaves. Foliage can be an interesting road to traverse in Social Studies comparing foliage in different places – Canada and another place. Nature walk or simply jumping on the pile of fallen autumn leaves can be a piece of physical education.
In India, the whole year is marked with festivals but they are in very quick succession between September and January. The sights, sounds and flavours that mark Indian festivities make them memorable experiences. I recently took my three-year old to the neighbourhood Ramlila, a dramatic re-enactment of the epic Ramayana that goes on for 9 to 11 days. Ramlila, in itself, is a multidisciplinary and cultural unit. There is a script, prose and poetry, on which the drama is based; the rich genre of folklore and mythology. There is Math in the measurement – area of the place, seating arrangements to be made, tickets, costs etc. There is a huge component of Art – both visual and performing arts. The science of sound and light is most obvious; social studies is prominent in the study of land and its culture.
Not only do festivals provide a learning opportunity and multi sensorial experience; but it also provides the opportunity of strengthening our family ties, in an era when the hurried living is taking a toll on the very values and virtues that these occasions celebrate. For adults, these celebrations may be routine or ritualistic but for children there is novelty in all these festivities. We can infect them with our cynicism or joie de vivre. The choice is ours.