The women are volunteering in Infant Teacher Martina Juvera-Paul’s room in the Lindgren Child Care Center. A total of six Chinese students from the 2+2 Bachelor of Science in Finance program are volunteering at the center this semester in a Cultural Sharing Program designed to introduce the center’s children to new cultures.
All six students are studying finance for two years at St. Cloud State University after completing the first two years of their program at Nankai University Binhai College in China.
The students volunteer for three hours each week and introduce the young children to new cultures in an authentic, natural way, said Dennis Mergen, Lindgren Child Care Center director.
The students interact with the children the same way other caregivers interact — they play games, they help them with daily tasks and navigate conflicts between children. All the while they’re sharing their culture naturally by playing the games and singing the songs they knew as children, he said.
“Staff will care for children the way they were cared for,” Mergen said. “Every student and employee who comes into the child care center brings their unique aspect to their care giving.”
Lindgren has been inviting Cultural Sharing volunteers into the center for more than 10 years and has had volunteers from many different cultures.
Juvera-Paul encourages her volunteers to perform the Chinese equivalent of the songs or finger plays they perform in English. If there is no equivalent, she invites Zhao and Zhang to share their favorite songs from childhood, she said.
They are a nice addition to the classroom because they bring hands-on, interactive play.
Zhao and Zhang are enjoying their volunteer work.
“We think babies are very cute,” Zhao said. “We love babies.”
For Zhao, it’s her first chance to care for babies, but Zhang is bringing her experience with her one-and-a-half year old brother to the infant room.
Juvera-Paul enjoys the opportunity to bring new experiences to the children in her classroom.
When they sing the same songs in different languages, the children realize that the tone is the same.
Sometimes the words are different, and they can share that concept too.
When Zhao and Zhang sing “Are You Sleeping” in English, they follow it up with “Two Tigers,” the Chinese song with the the same tone but different lyrics due to translation.
Other Binhai students are volunteering in the toddler and preschool rooms.
At the toddler level, the children get excited when the volunteers come into the room and the volunteers share their culture through play and conversation, said Toddler Teacher Kayla Allar.
“Our center is already a diverse setting and having volunteers come in to share their cultural backgrounds adds more diversity,” she said. “Having the children see diversity on a regular basis can really help to make it part of everyday life and not something that is different or bad.”
It’s at the preschool level where the children begin asking questions about the languages Cultural Sharing volunteers bring into the classroom, and they ask about Chinese, said Preschool Teacher Kim Hemiller.
“I have a couple preschoolers who speak more than one language, so it’s fun for them to meet others who speak more than one language,” she said. “It makes them feel as though they are the same, in some way, as someone else.”