logo of the International Decade for People of African Descent

Empowering the Future: The Significance of the International Decade of People of African Descent in Elementary Education

Picture: UN Promotional Materials

The International Decade for People of African Descent (IDPAD) emerged as a pivotal force in pursuing a more inclusive and equitable education system. Focused on championing the rights and contributions of individuals of African descent, this global initiative carries significant implications for elementary education, where foundational values of respect, understanding, and embracing diversity are imparted to young minds.

This decade was positioned to act as a catalyst for promoting cultural diversity within elementary schools. By integrating the history, heritage, and achievements of people of African descent into the curriculum, we cultivate a learning environment that authentically mirrors the world’s diversity. This enhances the cultural awareness of all students and fosters a sense of inclusion for those of African descent.

In the formative years of elementary education, children are shaping their perceptions of race and ethnicity. The IDPAD represents an opportunity to disrupt stereotypes by presenting a more accurate portrayal of people of African descent. The use of diverse educational materials and narratives enables students to gain a comprehensive understanding of the contributions and achievements of African communities.

Incorporating the principles of IDPAD into elementary education is crucial for creating an inclusive and fair learning environment. By celebrating the diversity of cultures, traditions, and perspectives within the African diaspora, schools contribute to breaking down barriers and fostering a sense of unity among students of all backgrounds.

Moreover, educators must recognize the importance of showcasing the achievements of individuals of African descent to inspire their students. By highlighting diverse leaders, scientists, artists, and historical figures through the lens of IDPAD, elementary education offers a broader range of role models for young minds to emulate.

IDPAD goes beyond fostering a global perspective; it emphasizes collaboration and understanding on an international scale. Lessons exploring the experiences of people of African descent contribute to global awareness and nurture a sense of solidarity with diverse communities worldwide.

Educators play a pivotal role in shaping the values and attitudes of students during their elementary years. IDPAD equips them with the tools to address racism and discrimination by fostering an understanding of the challenges faced by people of African descent. Educators nurture a generation committed to justice and equality by engaging in open and honest discussions.

Now, more than ever, educators must incorporate IDPAD principles into their teaching practices. The global call for justice and equality underscores the urgency of instilling these values in young minds. By integrating the lessons of IDPAD, educators contribute to developing socially conscious and empathetic individuals ready to navigate and challenge the complexities of a diverse world.

Beyond symbolism, the International Decade for People of African Descent is a resounding call to action in elementary schools worldwide. By embracing IDPAD principles in education, we empower young minds to embrace diversity, challenge stereotypes, and contribute to a fair and inclusive society. Elementary education becomes the fertile ground where seeds of understanding are sown, cultivating a generation prepared to shape a world where everyone’s story is acknowledged, celebrated, and valued.

 

References:

United Nations. (n.d.). International Decade for people of African descent. United Nations. https://www.un.org/en/observances/decade-people-african-descent/background

The International Decade for People of African Descent: Who have these ten years served? Black Agenda Report. https://blackagendareport.com/international-decade-people-african-descent-who-have-these-10-years-served

Outdoor Education

I love learning outdoors! To me, the outdoors is an extension of the learning that happens in the four corners of the classroom, except there are no walls and no  barriers to one’s imagination in the outdoors. I believe learning occurs everywhere and at all times; what better way to show students the art of experiential learning than through outdoor education. 

 

What are the benefits of outdoor education?

From all of my experiences as an educator, a physical education specialist, and from all that I have learned and read about the art of teaching and learning, there is no doubt in my mind about the positive benefits of outdoor education. From the development of physical skills, mental health, spatial awareness, self-esteem, problem solving and communication skills (just to name a few) to the love, appreciation and respect for nature and all living things, outdoor education transforms lives and student learning to a whole new level beyond the classroom. I find that, though important in student’s overall growth and development, traditional curriculum tends to focus on test-based learning, leaving less emphasis on experiential, play-based outdoor learning. When students are engaged in outdoor education, their academic performance increases, their focus and attention increase, their mental and social health increase and they develop a deeper connection with, and respect for, the environment. 

 

How can schools/teachers incorporate outdoor education into their teaching practices? 

  • You can always take the lesson and/or activity outside (snow, rain or shine). As long as you prepare for the weather conditions and student safety, many activities, with some minor adjustments, can be accomplished in an outdoor setting. 
  • Consider taking part in the OPAL outdoor play education program. Schools are supplied with equipment and resources that students use in various innovative and explorative ways through free play. For example, students can build forts, balance on large wood spools, swing from tire swings and engage in pool-noodle sword play (just to name a few).  For more information, check out Outdoor Play Canada
  • I have also come across many articles that talk about the benefits of outdoor education and outdoor play in many subject areas: the arts, health and physical education, but also including literacy and numeracy. There are also many resources and organizations that are able to support teachers in building strategies to incorporate outdoor education into their teaching practices. I have used resources from Right to Play and OPHEA teaching tools and found them to be very practical and engaging for students.

If you are new to the idea of outdoor education, my suggestion would be to do a little research of your own, talk with other colleagues and/or your administrators and engage your students in a discussion about outdoor education. Another suggestion would be to start small by focusing on one subject/concept at a time and maybe just doing one activity with students. From there, you can set specific goals and measure success through feedback from participants, looking at improvements in academic performance as well as students’ emotional and social well-being. Overall, the benefits of outdoor education speak volume, in terms of student success, student development, and student mental health and well-being. Outdoor education is beneficial to every child in every school community, and it’s a strategy that I hope will one day be commonplace in all school communities across the province.

Alternative Curriculum Programming

I am very fortunate that I am the teacher in a contained class for students with developmental disabilities. Every day is a unique experience with lots of laughter and learning. As my students would be unable to complete the expectations in the Ontario Curriculum, they all follow an Alternative Curriculum. In order to provide a successful alternative program, it requires regular input from parents,  daily assessment data and a thorough understanding of the student’s profile (which can be found in the OSR).

Recently, I was asked what my students do all day as they follow an alternative curriculum. Below are the parts of my program. For students who are going to school in an inclusion model or a contained model you could adapt part or all the pieces of a similar program to meet the needs of your student(s).

Morning Meeting- First thing in the morning, we run a meeting on our interactive whiteboard for the entire class that includes review of the date, weather, months and seasons. It also works on communication, social skills and independence as my students run the meeting with little to no staff intervention.

Hygiene- In the bathroom, we take groups of students to work on brushing their teeth, washing their face and putting on deodorant. Some of my students are close to being fully independent and others need full support and are  working on tolerating the feeling of a toothbrush.

Snack time- This is a great social time for my students. Everyone has a chance to chat while they are eating which is great for those working on communication goals. Others are working on finding their lunch bags and bringing them to their tables.

Gross Motor- We use equipment ordered for us by the Occupational Therapist and the students do a circuit through a hallway at school. It gives them time to move and build their coordination. It also teaches them how to wait their turn, do tasks in a sequence and listen to instructions.

Activity Time- This is a block of time in the day for students to work on reading, writing, mathematics or fine motor skills independently or with teacher support. In my class, a few students complete independent work, while others work with a staff member on fine motor skills, another group of students work on reading and writing and the fourth group at the interactive whiteboard playing math games. The students rotate throughout the week.

Bathroom- Some of my students require support with toileting. They are supported to become as independent as their cognitive and physical abilities will allow. We also use this time to do teaching about things like changing pads for menstrual cycles.

Art- Creating art pieces gives us lots of time to work on cutting with scissors, holding pencils or markers or being comfortable touching unusual textures.

Lunch/Recess- Similar to snack time but with a 20 minute period outside with the rest of the school. Some of my students can play with other students quite successfully and others are supported to improve in this area.

Grade 8 Buddies- Our grade 8 buddies support us with playing games, completing art, cooking, playing basketball etc… My students absolutely love them! This activity supports students goals around communication and social skills.

Cooking/baking- Once a week we cook lunch. We take this time to work on food preparation and safety, tolerating new foods, cleaning and setting and clearing a table.

Coffee Cart- We run a business selling coffee and tea to the staff once a week. My students are fantastic at selling and are quite the entrepreneurs. This activity works on communication, following instructions, listening to others and completing simple tasks.

Music- My students have music every day. They enjoy playing with the musical instruments and are working on staying focused on a task for an extended period of time.

Life Skills- After lunch everyone has a job to do. They do the job for a full week to give them time to learn the skills necessary to do the job successfully. The jobs include watering the plants, doing the dishes, wiping the tables, tidying up, vacuuming and pushing in the chairs.

Afternoon Meeting- This time is spent focusing on skills we need to practice as a class such as distinguishing between milk and cream for our coffee cart. On Fridays, we do a wrap of the week where I share pictures and we reflect on all the awesome things we did.

Integration- Some of my students join other classes for gym. But ultimately, I am always on the lookout for school wide events that my students would enjoy such as staff/student dodgeball games or the Terry Fox Walk that we join in on.

Every portion of our day is focused on developing skills and learning. My students are incredibly capable and with the right supports and practice they can achieve the goals created in collaboration between school and home!