Elements of Cultural Identity in Pre-School Education
Cultural identity as a person’s self-conception and self-perception of belonging to a distinct culture. Cultural identifiers: nationality, ethnicity, language, history, religion, and cultural arena. Cultural identity as a characteristic of the individual and of the culturally identical group of members sharing the same cultural identity. The impact of globalization upon cultural identity. The “melting pot” versus Unity in Diversity. Cosmopolitanism versus preservation of cultural identity. The Jean S. Phinney’s Three-Stage Model of Ethnic Identity. Unexamined cultural identity as a characteristics of pre-primary school age. Pre-school curriculum and cultural identity. Experiential domains as "integrated cognitive fields " The Language and Communication Domain and the opportunities to develop language identity as cultural identifier. Language as the main cultural vehicle and mark of cultural identity. Suggested activities. The Man and Society Domain - nationality, ethnicity and religion as cultural identifiers.. Activities in the Aesthetic and Creative Domain – specific cultural identifiers. The Psycho-motric Domain- opportunities to form and develop elements of cultural identity. Cultural identifiers and the main themes of the annual programme of study: Who Am I? /Who Are We? - What and How Do I Want to Be? - How and What Do We Express What We Are Feeling with? - When, How and Why It Happens? - How Is It, Was It and Will It Be Here on Earth? - How Do We Plan / Organize an Activity?
Keywords: Culturecultural identitycultural identifiersexperiential domainscognitive fieldsintercultural education
We all live in a global world and we are both actors and spectators in the process of international
integration arising from the interchange of world views, products, ideas, and other aspects of culture. As
the anthropologist E.B. Tylor (1974, p.13) defined it, culture is "that complex whole which includes
knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a
member of society." Historically used to describe the assimilation of immigrants to the United States, the
“melting pot” metaphor seems to have transgressed the North American boundaries with a devastating
impact upon national and local cultures.
As opposed to this fusion of nationalities, cultures and ethnicities, the concept of Unity in Diversity
(unity without uniformity and diversity without fragmentation), adopted by the European Union as an
official motto, shifts focus from unity based on a mere tolerance of physical, cultural, linguistic, social,
religious, political, ideological and/or psychological differences towards a more complex unity based on
understanding that difference enriches human interactions. The motto means that, via the European
Union, Europeans are united in working together for peace and prosperity, and that the many different
cultures, traditions and languages in Europe are a positive asset for the continent.
Chldren’s Cultural Identity in Postmodern Society
Seen from this perspective, cultural identity as a person’s self-conception and self-perception of
belonging to a distinct culture seems to give prevalence to the preservation of cultural identity as opposed
to cosmopolitanism. Cultural identity as characteristic of the individual and of the culturally identical
group of members sharing the same cultural identity is both encouraged and supported by the European
Union official policies.
The term ‘culture’ refers to the language, beliefs, values and norms, customs, dress, diet, roles,
knowledge and skills, and all the other things that people learn that make up the ‘way of life’ of any
society. Culture is passed on from one generation to the next through the process of socialization and
enculturation. Children’s culture is strongly influenced by non-formal and informal learning they are
exposed to. Norms, values, attitudes and behaviors circulating in the community or society, penetrate
school and fall sometimes at odds with those promoted - explicitly or implicitly - by the educational
institutions. Is school able, as an institution, in the current context, characterized by diversity,
globalization, alterity, dynamism, informational explosion to keep up with the society in which it exists?
Studies in this area show that there is a gap difficult to overcome between society and school:
society is in the postmodern age, while school still remained in modernity. In a postmodern society,
knowledge must be functional, useful; you learn not just to "know" and store certain information to
demonstrate how "educated you are," but you learn to "do", "to use" what you know, "to apply" what you
have accumulated in your benefit and for the benefit of the others. “Knowing what to do with what you
have learned is postmodern education’s major desideratum "(Vocila, 2010).
Cultural identity is about how individuals or groups see and define themselves, and how other
individuals or groups see and define them. This identity is formed through the socialization process and
the influence of social institutions like the family, the educational system and mass media. If people did
not have an identity, they would lack the means of identifying with or relating to their peer group, to their
neighbours, to the communities they live in or to the people they come across with in their everyday lives.
Cultural identity therefore ‘fits’ individuals into the society in which they live. The identity of individuals
and groups involves both elements of personal choice and the responses and attitudes of the others.
Individuals are not free to adopt any cultural identity they like, and factors like their social class, their
ethnic group and their sex are likely to influence how others see them.
Teaching Culture in Pre-primary School
Can culture and cultural identity be taught? As a researcher and practitioner in the field, H. Ned
Seelye has a positive, encouraging answer to this question: “The parameters of a culture-based instruction
are limited only by the experiences and imagination of the teacher-guide.” (1993, pp.22-23). In his book,
Seelye provides ideas that can be helpful for teachers who want to enhance their students’ understasnding
of their culture and of other culture.
Jean S. Phinney’s (1990, pp.502-503) three-stage model of ethnic identity formation can be taken
into consideration and used as a starting point in the analysis and implementation of the elements of
cultural identity in pre-school education. The model consists of the following stages: • Stage 1:
Unexamined Ethnic Identity (Diffusion-Foreclosure) • Stage 2: Ethnic Identity Search/Moratorium •Stage
3: Ethnic Identity Achievement. Stage 1: Unexamined Ethnic Identity: Individuals have not explored
feelings and attitudes regarding their own ethnicity. Ethnicity is a nonissue, which leads to diffusion. The
acquired attitudes about ethnicity are from parents or other adults, leading to foreclosure.
This stage is, in our opinion, characteristic for pre-primary school age, "a stage where one's
cultural characteristics are taken for granted”. Culture, therefore, must become an object of study, and the
educator helps children to come into contact with the cultural identifiers, becoming the main knowledge
facilitator. Pedagogical relationships are based upon teacher’s authority; the informative function takes
the primordial role in the enculturation process. Structurally, the curriculum for preschool education has
the following components: the aims, the contents, and the training time for instruction and evaluation on
two levels: children 3-5, and 5-6 / 7 years old. The frame objectives are formulated in general terms and
they represent the competences to be developed in kindergarten in five experiential domains.
Experential Domains as Integrated Cognitive Fields
perceptive experiences, sensitivity to different levels of quality manifestations, and appreciation of beauty
These experiences can be present in any curricular component, but especially in the context of those
disciplines requiring personal responses, imaginative, emotional and sometimes actionable to stimuli
(music, artistic activities, drama, eurhythmy etc.).
relations with the social environment, as well as the ways in which human actions affect events. That is
why it is estimated that preschoolers can be put into contact with this domain through the manipulation of materials and performance of activities related to practical skills, and by finding out that the materials can
also have aesthetic qualities such as texture, color or shape, etc. It is also important for preschoolers to
understand that present situations are rooted in past situations, to notice similarities or differences
between people or events, to imagine life in other historical periods.
It also considered that the introduction of concepts or the development of general skills should use
children's personal experiences as a starting point. From this point of view, they are encouraged to engage
themselves, humanly and socially, in active exploration of the area or neighborhood where they live.
Their families, the physical human and social environment, can be used as learning resources. On the
other hand, the literary text, images and other audio-visual materials can be used as sources of
as well as the ability to understand verbal and written communication. By listening and expressing
themselves in group situations, preschoolers become able to explore other people’s experiences. They are
expected to speak confidently, clearly and fluently, using appropriate means of expression for different
categories of audience. The use of literary works specific to their age refines their way of thinking and
their language. The best suited activities for this way of learning are: memorization of words and
sentences, of songs and musical games, the use of language games. Thus, the child will be encouraged
and stimulated to learn some elements of the country’s and region’s culture (local history, specific artistic
creations meals, traditional activities etc.).
experience and the understanding of nature being modified by the human beings interacting with it. The
domain includes logical thinking abilities and problem solving ones, basic child’s mathematical
knowledge and those referring to the world and to the environment.
mobility and stamina, movement abilities and fine handling. Preschoolers are brought into contact with
activities that involve body movement, competition between individuals or groups.
These experiential domains are true "integrated cognitive fields (L. Vlăsceanu, 2008, p. 9)) that
transcend the boundaries between disciplines and which, in the context of this curriculum, meet the
traditional areas of child’s development, namely: the psycho-motric, the language, the socio-emotional,
and the cognitive domain The annual programme of study includes six general themes: Who Am I? /Who
Are We? - What and How Do I Want to Be? - How and What Do We Express We Are Feeling with? -
When, How and Why It Happens? - How Is It, Was It and Will It Be Here on Earth? - How Do We Plan/Organize an Activity? Each of them, as well as each of the six experential domains, offers a large range
of opportunities for cultural identity education.
Cultural Identiy in Pre-School Curriculum
The analysis of the pre-school curriculum from the cultural identity point of view shows the
framework and referential objectives, as well as the main themes of the annual programme of study
explicitly mentioning it. Thus, the Man and Society Domain with the framework objective
of the ability to recognize, accept, and respect diversity, knowledge of some history, geography, and
religious elements defining Romanian people's spiritual portrait, and the referential objective to describe
and identify specific local elements of our country and of their living area (relief characteristics,
geographical location, socio-cultural, historical, religious, ethnic objectives, the Aesthetic and Creative
Domain with the referential objective: to listen and to recognize fragments of national and world musical
creations, appropriate to the age of preschool children and their preoccupations, and the Science
Domain with the referential objective to know the elements of the social and cultural environment,
placing the human element as part of the environment.
Culture and cultural identity is explicitly referred to in the following annual themes: Who Am I?
/Who Are We? An exploration of human nature, of our beliefs and values, of the human body, of our own
health status and of our families and friends, of the communities and cultures we come in contact with
(material, physical, spiritual, and cultural) of our rights and our responsibilities, of what to be human.
the national and the universal heritage.
Is it enough? Isn’t it too general? Some will say that it is up to each professor to decide the
specific didactic activities of the annual themes and of the framework and referential objective mentioned
above he or she will use in order to teach cultural identity. Compared to the significance and the
importance of cultural identity in the current European and international context, we strongly believe it
not enough and it is too general. That is why, bearing in mind the idea that the experential domains are
“integrated cognitive fields" and each domain is to be found as part of the six annual themes, we suggest
some activities referring to the following cultural identifiers: nationality, ethnicity, history, and religion,
language being, as we pointed out, the binder for all of them.
Suggestions for Teaching Cultural Identifiers
Language is, in our opinion, the most important cultural identifier, not only in the pre-school
educational system, but also on all levels of formal, non-formal and informal education. Native language,
as a vehicle of communication, acts as a cultural binder between individual, national, and universal
values. Current European language policies support national, regional, and minority languages, thus
stimulating identity awareness. Romanian language, as a mother tongue, creates an effective and an
affective framework, promoting national identity and facilitating cultural communication.
The framework objectives of the Languages and Communication Domain: development of oral
communication, understanding and proper use of oral structures, education of a correct verbal expression
from the phonetic, lexical, and syntactic point of view, development of creativity and expressiveness of
oral language and development of the capacity to understand and transmit intentions, thoughts, and
meanings through written language, creates prerequisites for the formation and the promotion of the
preschoolers’ linguistic identity. That is why, the role of the professor becomes essential in the process of
enriching children’s vocabulary, and making it more flexible, of educating grammatically correct verbal
Children aged 3 come to kindergarten form different familial environments, with different levels
of vocabulary acquisition, some richer, some others poorer. Bringing them to an acceptable and
functional use of vocabulary from the point of view of effective didactic communication is a difficult task
that involves teacher’s constant effort and dedication. He or she must act not only as a model, but also as
a facilitator of effective and correct communication, bearing in mind that this means not only verbal, but
also non-verbal and para-verbal communication. Supporting, facilitating and encouraging each of the
them in this process is essential for the children’s education and an important asset for their future life as
beneficiaries of formal education, with primary school as the nearest horizon.
Native language as a vehicle of culture, but also as a means of socialization, is important not only
for the Languages and Communication Domain, but also for each of the other five experential domains as
integrated cognitive fields. The Man and Society Domain, for example, makes use of Romanian as
children’s native language to put into practice its framework objectives: knowledge and compliance with
the rules of behavior in society; education of the ability to relate to others; education of positive traits of
willingness and character and formation of a positive attitude towards themselves and towards others,
development of cooperation behaviors, prosocial and proactive (initiative), development of the ability to
recognize, accept, and respect diversity, knowledge of some history, geography, and religious elements
defining Romanian people's spiritual portrait, forming and strengthening practical skills specific to their
motric development level, enrichment of knowledge about materials and their characteristics, as well as
about necessary work techniques in order to manufacture simple products, formation of practical -
household skills and use of the specific vocabulary.
Nationality is the legal relationship between a person and his or her state of origin, and causes
patriotism, considered by many as an obsolete concept. Nationality, patriotism and even nationalism must
be, in our opinion, very important concepts, and they deserve a special attention in pre-school education.
National symbols are to be taken into consideration to support nationality: the national day, anthem,
banner, and coat of arms. Activities dedicated to these symbols can be part of the annual theme Who Am
I? /Who Are We? and they can be included in the Man and Society Domain, or the Aesthetic and Creative
Domain. Suggested activities: I am/we are Romanians, Our National Day, Our National Banner, My
Country-Romania (age 3-5 years old). Proud to be Romanians, Celebrating the National Day, Romanian
Banner and Coat of Arms, The National Anthem, January 24th – the Union Day (age 5-6/7 years old)
Ethnicity, as a cultural concept, refers to a group of people who regard themselves to be different
from others. The ethnic groups are united by common traditional, linguistic, ritualistic, behavioral and
religious traits. The concept offers the pre-primary school professor a wide range of activities that can be
included in almost all annual themes and Domains. Use of Romanian folk fairy tales, or of those
belonging to Romanian authors, as contents of learning in the Language and Communication and Man
and Society Domain must take into consideration that children tend to identify themselves with the
positive heroes. Such heroes can be their first models of moral behaviour and a counterpart for the kind of heroes they come into contact with watching cartoons and dedicated TV channels, or playing computer
games. We must admit that a competition between Romanian fair-tale heroes and “global” heroes does
exist, and most of the time use of brutal force, violent behaviour, aggressiveness, and selfishness have
such “global” models. When such a competition takes place, the only option is to be a part of it, if you
want to offer an alternative or win it..
On the other hand, we must not barricade ourselves behind the idea of a narrow nationalism, and
declare that literature for children that is not Romanian doesn’t have its own value and significance. It is
as we could pretend that fairy-tale authors like Hans Christian Andersen or the Grimm brothers, for
example, must not be taken into consideration. On the contrary, the models we find in their works are as
valuable as the ones in the Romanian fairy-tales and they have a positive contribution to the moral
education of preschoolers. In this case we already speak about intercultural education as an important part
of pre-school education.
Tradition, as part of the ethnic cultural identifier, is one of the richest source of information for
educational activities meant to shape children’s cultural identity. Beginning with proverbs and sayings,
and adding folk dances and costumes, folk songs, rituals and celebrations, each one of these can become
an educational activity illustrating the theme of the present paper. Proverbs and saying, condensed
expression of popular wisdom, are part of our national heritage and can be used not only as ice-breakers
but also as debate themes or conclusions of the activities in the Language and Communication or Man
and Society domains, mainly for the age group 5-6/7 years old.
Folk dances are also important cultural identifiers, and the sooner our children start learning them,
beginning with the easiest ones for the age group 3-5 years old, and increasing the degree of difficulty for
the age group 5-6/7 years old, the better for their future social life. As teen- agers and adults, they will
take part in events where people dance not only “modern” dances, but also folk dances. Being able to
dance them, instead of watching passively, contributes to social inclusion and shows their cultural
identity. The Aesthetic and Creative Domain is the main beneficiary here, and if we add folk songs to
dances we offer our children the opportunity to get into contact with another valuable cultural identifier.
As long as almost everybody is complaining about the “manelization” of the present day Romanian music
and dances, putting children into contact with genuine Romanian songs and dances, educating them to
understand and appreciate their artistic value gives them the opportunity to decide What and How Do
They Want to Be?
Religion as a cultural identifier, also plays an important role in the process of cultural identity.
And we speak here not exclusively about Christian Orthodox Faith, the predominant one in Romanian
society, but also about Christian values shared by the majority of our population. Religious events are
part of our everyday life and they cannot be excluded from the preschoolers’ cultural education. Such
events can be part of the activities in the Man and Society Domain or in the Aesthetic and Creative
Domain if we choose learning and singing Christmas Carrols as didactic activity.
There are, of course, other cultural identifiers that we could refer to. Our purpose is not to be
exhaustive. What we want to accomplish is, on one hand, to suggest some activities that help educators
form their children’s cultural identity, and on the other hand, to draw their attention to an important, and
up to date challenge of the present day Romanian society.
In the context of globalization, cultural indentiy cannot be simply a result of non-formal and
informal learning. Formal education must be actively involved in the processs of teaching culture to
young generations, and pre-school education is an appropriate and fruitful starting point. Teaching
culture and cultural identity is in fact a matter of state policy.
If we want to give our children a chance to accept, support, and take advantage of cultural
diversity, in order to increase the mutual European and international fund of information and development, we must, first of all, teach them who they are, what and how do they want to be, how and what do they express what they are feeling with, when, how and why something happens, and how is, was and it will be here on Earth..
- Phinney, J. S. (199o), Ethnic identity in adolescents and adults. A review of research. Psychological Bulletin, 108, 499–514. Retrived from https://www.scribd.com/personalization/get-started?doc_id=324261759&order=433703314
- Seelye, H. Ned (1993), Teaching Culture:Strategies for Intercultural Communication, Lincolnwood (Chicago), NTC Publishing Book
- Tylor, E.B. (1974), Primitive culture: researches into the development of mythology, philosophy, religion, art, and custom, Vol. I, New York: Gordon Press.
- Vlăsceanu, L (2008) în Curriculum pentru învăţământul preşcolar (3-6/7 ani), București, Ministerul Educației, Cercetării și Tineretului
- Vocila, A. (2010, October 29), Educaţia și școala contemporană la graniţa dintre modernism și postmodernism. Deziderate și extensii în practica educativă. În: Pregătește-te din timp! Retrieved from https://andreivocila.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/educatia-si-scoala-contemporana-la-granita-dintre-modernism-si-postmodernism-%E2%80%93-deziderate-siextensii-in-practica-educativa/.
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