National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15–Oct. 15) is a time to celebrate and pay tribute to the many contributions that generations of Hispanic and Latino Americans have made to the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau Fact Finder, Illinois is one of eight states with a population of more than 1 million Hispanic residents. During Hispanic Heritage Month, teachers and caregivers can partner with families to help young children explore the many cultures represented by Hispanic Americans whose families migrated to the United States from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central, and South America.
Hispanic Heritage Month may be celebrated with songs, books, artwork, crafts, food, and field trips. Some community organizations and public libraries in Illinois sponsor special events throughout Hispanic Heritage month (check your local community calendar and public library for specific events). Although young children may not be aware of all the historical contributions, they do enjoy hearing stories (told at their level of understanding) about famous people from their heritage countries who came to the United States.
Celebrating Latino families’ cultural heritage demonstrates that children and teachers value diverse cultural and linguistic contributions. Teachers can invite families of young dual language learners to plan activities that share their linguistic and cultural heritage with the preschool program. At the preschool level children especially enjoy having family members participate in classroom events and take pride in sharing with their families the foods, art, and music that they have created either individually or with their peers. The Illinois Projects in Practice (ILPIP) website provides an example of how a classroom teacher incorporated sharing a food from her Latino heritage that she, her students, and some parents enjoyed making (see The Tamale Project contributed by Domenica Aguilera, Naperville, IL).
Celebrating the many Latino cultures and languages that are represented in early learning programs can facilitate children’s knowledge and understanding about their friends and neighbors. Although these practices can be done at any time during the year, National Hispanic Heritage Month is a special time to introduce young children to the many gifts that Hispanic and Latino people have contributed to the United States.