Thursday, March 20th marked the vernal equinox, as well as the first day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere.
An equinox is an astronomical event that occurs twice a year when the Earth’s terminator (the line dividing day and night) lines up with the planet’s North and South poles. Because of the tilt of Earth’s axis, as well as its motion in orbit, this arrangement is not the case for most of the year. When an equinox occurs, day and night are of equal measurable duration. The vernal equinox marks a shift into longer days, leading up to the summer solstice, which is the longest day of the year.
In the Iranian or Persian calendar, the vernal equinox marks the start of the new year. The holiday is named Nowruz, meaning New Day. The Persian calendar is a solar calendar, which means that a complete year is measured every time the Earth returns to a specific point on it’s orbit around the Sun (such as from vernal equinox to vernal equinox).
The last new year celebration that took place in our classroom was lunar, occurred just over a month ago, on January 31, 2014, and complemented our study of China. A lunar year, to contrast a solar year, is measured as the duration of twelve synodic months (twelve periods of the Moon’s phases),
To observe Nowruz, a Little Wonders teacher collaborated with the School of Wonders to arrange a haft-seen, traditional table setting including seven items that begin with the letter S meant to symbolize virtues, such as love and patience, as well additional items meant to symbolize natural concepts, such as rebirth, fertility, and water.
For those interested, here is a graphic illustrating the traditionally used items and their representation.
One of the items on the table is sprouted lentils, which start as dried lentils that are soaked in water and watered regularly for two weeks. Left in a place where they can get sunlight, the dried lentils germinate and produce tall green sprouts. The students witnessed this transformation from the start and compared it to plant growth they’ve studied before (namely citrus). One student, Jaylin, chose to represent the whole process in a drawing.
As the teacher explored the meaning of the items with the students, they began reflecting on the place of those virtues within their own life, and connecting the idea of the holiday to both the American and Chinese new year’s they recently celebrated. In a conversation that took place the morning of Nowruz before journal, the students contrasted the three new year celebrations at hand and concluded that they were all alike in that they signified a good time to appreciate family and move forward with renewed hope. Their journal entries that morning included three hopes for the new year, one for themselves as individuals, one for their whole families, and one for their school.
As Nowruz coincides with the first day of Spring, the holiday also afforded an excellent opportunity to characterize the coming season. The discussion fell perfectly in place with an on-going classroom study of growth (of plant life specifically). After celebrating Nowruz at noon, the students headed outside in two teams to note the changes they saw coming in with the new seasons.
“I see more birds! And lizards and bugs! And butterflies!” (Tirza) Their comments began pouring in. “The sun is much hotter, and there is less shade. ” (Parker) “New green leaves are growing on the empty trees.” (Raina) “The herbs in the garden are growing, and flowers too!” (Musa) “The wind is soft and warm now.” (Teagan) “It’s time we’ll see people exercising outside, like joggers and swimmers.” (Nohea) “The day is hotter and longer – when we go to bed, the sun will still be up.” (Preston) “Birds are making new nests – and their feathers are all over the ground!” (Alexandria)
When we came back inside, it was their task to represent the season in visual form. One student used red, orange, and yellow construction paper to create a scene with tree and a bright sky. “The colors make me think of the new warmth” (Jaylin). Another carefully negotiated the subject matter of his drawing. “Can I draw a ninja? He will be doing something Spring-related!” (Musa) His drawing depicts a ninja watering his plant, and a friend knocking at the door holding salad vegetables.
The following day, the students were asked to write a story with the liberty to create their own characters and plot. Two students (Alexandra and Raina) carefully sketched the setting of their story – a garden where everything was in full bloom, and then wrote about the many different things growing in it.
As cultural dialogues develop in our classroom, spurred partly by the celebration of holidays like Nowruz and Lunar New Year as well as daily social studies tasks, our students are gaining an awareness of the rich variety and meaning underlying the customs that are upheld around them.
As with any educational concepts discussed in a Reggio Emilia environment, the study can be brought back to nature – a connection our students are already inclined to make. By studying the natural processes that underpin tradition, they are gaining a well-balanced perspective of the meanings that form culture.