May 5th is Children’s Day (어린이날) in South Korea – a day to celebrate children and their value in society. Throughout history and the world, children have been exploited for their labor. In 1923, writer and activist, Bang Jeong Hwan, introduced the idea of a holiday that would promote children’s rights. Originally, the country celebrated this holiday on the first day in May. However, after World War II, it was moved to May 5th. Most children in South Korea celebrate this holiday like a second birthday.
While the United States unofficially recognizes Children’s Day, it is not considered a significant holiday. Back in the 1850s, Reverend Charles Leonard, of Chelsea, Massachusetts created an annual Children’s Sunday. Then, at the turn of the 21st century, both President Clinton and President Bush tried to establish a National Children’s Day.
South Korea’s Children’s Day is only one day, but May is Asian-Pacific Heritage Month in the U.S. This celebration offers a great opportunity to explore diverse books and multicultural perspectives. Before joining Language Lizard, I worked in South Korea as a Guest English Teacher and Volunteer Musical Director. In order to amplify Asian voices, I asked my former colleague in South Korea how she celebrates Children’s Day. We also spoke about the importance of developing kindness and friendship among young children.
Yoo Jung Im is a partner director at the Dongrami Theater in Ulsan, South Korea with her colleague Bo Heon Kim. Bo Heon Kim is the president and owner. He opened the theater in 2007. Yoo Jung adapts, directs, and acts in each production of Dongrami. She also supports local schools by organizing their annual theater productions. Together they provide after-school programming where elementary-aged students can perform adapted musicals for their friends and families.
When I collaborated with Yoo Jung, we worked with groups of five or six children for each production. Then, we selected an adapted musical. Throughout the process, we helped the students to develop trust and confidence in each other, as well as in themselves. For Children’s Day, we didn’t eat anything special during our break time. Instead, we focused on recognizing their achievements throughout rehearsal.
Like Yoo Jung said, “The most important thing about Children’s Day is to offer ‘respect for children’s human rights.’” For that reason, she encouraged the children to see themselves as collaborators, not just students. One of her favorite musicals is the Wizard of Oz because the characters are not perfect, but they work together to achieve a common goal. Throughout their journey, you can see their friendship and teamwork. These are important social and emotional skills that children need to develop.
Multicultural Social-Emotional Learning for Children’s Day
At the Dongrami Theater, storytelling, teamwork, and mutual respect are so important to the success of each production. For Children’s Day this year, it is worth exploring new stories that encourage teamwork, kindness, and respect for others. These are key components in social-emotional learning (SEL). When students are taught about managing their emotions and cultivating empathy for their peers, they are able to better develop other skills like decision-making and goal setting.
While discussing the cultural importance and origin of South Korea’s Children’s Day this year, you can also introduce your students to the Korean alphabet (Hangul). The Living in Harmony book series, available in Korean and many other languages, offers simple text and multicultural illustrations that promote discussions about kindness, friendship, and unity. All books in this series come with free lesson plans to build community, understanding, and respect – perfect themes to celebrate this holiday.
Written for Language Lizard by Carol Felicio