Our languages department recently celebrated Carnaval at our school for the first time, and I wanted to share what we did for others who are planning cultural celebrations.
For those who may not have heard of it, Carnaval is celebrated in a few parts of the world, and this quick video (in French) explains its origins. For our purposes, we focused on the way that Carnaval is celebrated in Québec, and designed our event around that framework. Most of the organization (and hours of dessert and candy making!) were done by my colleague and collaboration partner, Meghann Kenkel. We had talked about doing this for a couple of years, and although there were things we will change next year, this was a huge success!
Planning the stations
We knew that we wanted to have a variety of stations for students to participate in, and that we wanted to use the large central space in our building (known as The Hub) to have them set up and circulate, and to have higher visibility for a languages-related event. We don’t often get to take the stage, and we wanted to be hard to miss! I contacted a colleague at an elementary school who has run a Carnaval for several years, and got some information from her on what she does and how. Here’s a link to a local newspaper story about a Carnaval celebration that she organized a couple of years ago. If you know someone like this, it’s a great idea to get in touch with them – I guarantee they have learned from their experience and will share it with you. We also took a look at the schedule for Carnaval this year in Québec, and borrowed a little from there too.
Our stations were as follows:
- La dégustation (the Taste Test)
At this station, students tried maple candies, which are a traditional treat to have at Carnaval. This recipe is similar to the one Meghann used, but she didn’t include the glucose or corn syrup, and increased the quantity of butter to 1/2 cup. She also added some additional maple flavouring to increase the maple flavour. We wanted to include a tire sur la neige (maple taffy pull), but didn’t have a way to coordinate that much snow or heating maple syrup for 300ish kids. Because of the cultural makeup of our school, we also included burfi (a traditional Indian sweet) and biko (a traditional Filipino sweet). A big part of our curriculum deals with positive personal and cultural identity, and also teaching our students how to make comparisons between their own cultural traditions and practices, and those of Francophone communities. This was a great hands on opportunity to do both in one event. Also, teenagers + food = happy!
- Les courses sur la rivière (River Races)
While the actual races at Carnaval (click for video) involve teams, canoes, ice, and more danger than I would want to take on at a school event, we adapted them to use PVC pipes cut in half and sealed on the end, filled with ice and water, and students had a move a rubber ducky from one end of the tube to another without using their hands.
- La sculpture de neige (Snow Sculpture)
We would have loved to have had actual snow for this event, but although it snowed the day after our celebration, we needed to have an indoor substitute. Our solution was floam, without any additional colouring added. Essentially a combination of slime and styrofoam, this was a favourite of many of the boys who participated. It was messy, and we will find a better way to contain it before using it again, but it was fun!
- La ceinture fléchée (Sash making)
A ceinture fléchée is a traditional element of Québécois clothing, and was also worn by Métis people. More information can be found here. They are colourful and feature some intricate weaving techniques, and their original intent was to go over top of heavy winter clothing to prevent cold air from getting in. The mascot of the Québécois Carnaval also wears a colourful ceinture fléchée as part of his costume.
We used a simplified version of this and students made friendship bracelets using cut lengths of yarn, following this video for instructions. We had two iPads at the table for this station so that several students could follow the instructions at any given time.
- Jouons des cuillères (Playing the spoons)
Playing the spoons is a traditional element of folk culture and folk music in many cultures, and is a traditional part of Québécois culture. While many spoon players in Québec use spoons made of maple and joined together, we decided to simplify and use metal spoons that were readily available. We used this instructional video, again set up on two iPads, to teach students how to play the spoons.
- Soccer botté (Soccer in winter boots)
This was exactly as it sounds, and was borrowed from the official schedule for Carnaval in Québec this year. The original version doesn’t seem to be on their site any more, but you can see it here. This document by itself would make a great authentic cultural activity for multiple grade levels.
- Peinture sur visage (Face painting)
After speaking to one of my colleagues who is an art teacher, we had a great crew of volunteer student face painters. I put together a small collection of clip art (download here) that visitors to the booth could choose from, and purchased several pucks of Snazaroo face paint because it’s safe for use on skin. This was one of those products where a little bit goes a long way, and it’s easily applied and removed with water. I purchased some from a local art supply store where our school has an account, and they kindly gave me the same 10% discount that they give to our art teachers. This was a great leadership opportunity for some of our student artists, as they often are limited to displaying their work at art shows, and it was a fun way for them to showcase their talent for their fellow students to appreciate.
- La crêperie (The crêpe truck)
This business is a staple among schools in our district. Crêperie La Bohème is a local food truck, owned by professional chef Bruno Dehier and his wife Paola Francescutto. During the off season, they are available to book for local schools, and will come and set up their food truck for the day. Freshly made crêpes are a treat that our students and whole staff love to enjoy when they visit.
Our IT teachers and students set up a big screen, projector and speakers for us to have music and videos playing while our event was taking place. You can find the link to the playlist here.
In addition to the opportunities for learning about culture, we wanted to build in student leadership for this event. All of the booths were run by our grade 8 students, and they were the official hosts for the event. Although they are the youngest students in the school, this was a great leadership opportunity for them, and they really enjoyed it. We had 10 blocks of students participating, and Meghann made a spreadsheet which was shared with all the participating teachers to indicate where the students were to be at various times. They alternated between hosting the booths and participating in the activities and visiting the crêpe truck.
The day before the event, Meghann and I got both of our classes together to paint posters for each booth, and advertise the events we had running that day. They did a great job making them and working together collaboratively to put everything together.
As mentioned above, we also had participation from some of our art students who helped out painting faces and showcasing their talent.
Where to from here
Having received some feedback from students on what they enjoyed and would like to see done differently in future (we decided not to follow through on the suggestion of a mechanical moose), as well as talking as a department, we have some good ideas for taking this event and making it even better next year.
- students loved the food and wanted more of it, and one of our Foods teachers has volunteered her classes to make food for the Carnaval next year.
- our cafeteria served poutine on the day of Carnaval, but it seems that many students weren’t aware of it, so this is something we would promote more next year.
- students said that they wanted to know more about how to run their booths, and so our future plans include teaching them more about the history of each event and helping them learn how to give simple instructions in French to other participants, rather than relying on instructional videos.
- although we had some participation from our arts students this year, we would like to increase the cross-curricular potential of this event. This could include reading French-Canadian stories in English classes, listening to/playing folk music, looking at traditional forms of dance, making food, making ceintures fléchées, learning more about French-Canadian history, and more. We would love to make it a whole school event, and can facilitate resources, sharing, etc.
- Our students were able to choose which events they participated in, which they really liked. We want to keep this element, but redesign our reflection that we used with them afterwards to be an assignment that they complete at the time either on paper or online, to encourage more thinking about what defines culture, why we had the booths we did, and encourage more exploration of cross-cultural comparisons.