SHEFFIELD LAKE — They stood in line as quietly as possible. After all, they were eagerly waiting for a stamp in their passports that would allow them to "travel" to Australia, at least for the next 40 minutes.
Fortunately, for second-grade students at Sheffield-Sheffield Lake's Forestlawn Elementary School, it was just a short walk down the hallway and not far from where they visited China a few days earlier and would visit France a few days later.
For six days, students visited a different classroom transformed by their fellow students and teachers into Mexico, France, Greece, Italy, China and Australia as part of the school's annual Culture Days.
The overall learning objective is to introduce 7- and 8-year olds to people and cultures around the world. While many of the hands-on activities are fun, they also meet Ohio learning standards including map-reading skills and respecting different cultures and their traditions, said teacher Patti Hicks.
For the past four weeks, each class learned about aspects of the country they would introduce to fellow second-grade students. That might include the flag, food, art, dance, clothing, sports, language, animals and historical places. In addition, before a class visits a country, students discuss the continent they are heading to, which direction it is, and how long their flight will take, Hicks said.
Students carry handmade "suitcases" or folders in which they place items they collect on their travels. Before they enter a classroom, they present their handmade passports and receive a stamp.
Intervention specialist Emily Carl traveled to Australia with her students. "It's neat for them to see different cultures." Her students said they liked learning Australian slang terms. That might explain the crowd around an area called The Great Barrier Reef, where students used a fishing pole with a magnet at the end of the line to catch words. Once the words were hauled in, the students practiced the English and Australian meaning for different words — like a biscuit in Australian is a cookie to Americans or a nappy is a diaper. Isabelle Caspar said she had fun learning that Australians call cotton candy "fairy floss."
Visitors colored tropical fish and tried their hand at creating a boomerang. Others stopped by a table to sample a chocolate Tim Tam biscuit or Fairy Bread, a piece of buttered bread with colorful sprinkles. The third item, Vegemite, considered a staple in Australian households and made from brewer’s yeast, left many unimpressed.
Hicks said when her students return home, they debrief the experience. She sent along a sampling of what her second-graders learned. Noah Padgett: “I loved looking at and making Grecian Pottery." Hannah Dodson: "I learned about the Eiffel Tower. It even has lights on it." Lauren Holcomb: "I liked how China made a lot of loud noises to scare away the evil spirits and has a big New Year's party." Anabella Rodriguez: "In Australia Vegemite is very popular to eat, but I tried it and it was nasty." Alejandro De Leon: "In France they have a festival called Mardi Gras. I liked making the masks."
Hicks said Cultural Days creates lasting memories for students, adding her own children went through the experience several years ago and still talk about it.