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  • An Italian Lesson for Kids
    Teaching a pre-school class about Italian culture helps you see the importance of memories, history, and culture for everyone
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    One of my goals in life is to help teach people about Italian culture and life. As an Italian American, I do that through my friendships, my family life, and my work (such as this column). Usually, I find myself explaining all things Italian to adults. But it is children, with their fresh, open minds, who benefit most from learning about different cultures and languages. They soak it all in - and without the skepticism of an adult.

    Recently, I had the privilege of bringing my native Italian husband Antonio to my cousin Marissa's pre-school class for show and tell. Along with Marissa's mom Miesha and my mother Regina, we spent an hour teaching the children about our Italy. As you might imagine, it was heart warming and delightful.

    We began the lesson with Miesha introducing us and saying, "Ciao," to the kids. The highlight was debuting Marissa in the traditional peasant outfit of the people of Ischia, home of Antonio and Marissa's (and my) ancestors. She also shared with the class a doll, also in the traditional garb Marissa was wearing.

    Then, we took out maps of Ischia and pointed to the towns where Marissa has relatives. We showed the kids pictures of the pretty beaches, Castello Aragonese, an old castle that is the focal point of the island, and our wedding, which featured Ischia as its background. Finally, the fun began.

    Swapping "Antonio Says" for "Simon Says," we had Antonio direct the children to pointing to parts of the body - from feet to eyes - and repeat the word for each in Italian. After the children learned to say words, such as "occhio" and "ginocchio," we led them in the Tarantella, a traditional, southern Italian folk dance, which is popular at weddings and formal family affairs. We also played the Italian version of the chicken dance, which actually features a duck and not a chicken, which was their favorite part of the day.

    A bag of Baci chocolates, the Italian version of Kisses, was their "bombonieri" and a way for the kids to learn about traditional Italian favors. We also left them each with an Ischia postcard that Miesha made for them to keep. After we left, the teachers and students ate the lunch we prepared for them - lasagna by Miesha, strawberry tiramisu (with sugar water and orange juice replacing the alcohol in the recipe) by me, and pizzelle cookies purchased by Miesha.

    All dressed up and with her usual sweetness, four-year-old Marissa smiled brightly about her traditional outfit, showed off the heirloom dolls from Ischia, pointed out photos of the island where her nonni once lived, handed out postcards, and asked for the lasagna as soon as we arrived. She was Italian and proud and, even at this young age, wanted to share her culture with the world.

    While it's true that the Italy her grandparents and my father knew has changed tremendously, we can all use a little bit of history. Even Italians in Italy would be well served to listen to and learn about the stories of those Italians who are living elsewhere now and remember the Italy and the dialects of yesteryear. We learn from our past. It is, in fact, the only way to move forward. Marissa and her four-year-old buddies seem to know that still. What about you?

    Di Meglio is the guide to Newlyweds for About.com at http://newlyweds.about.com. You can get more information on Ischia at ItaliansRus.com at http://italiansrus.com/articles/ischia/ischia.htm.

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