Our Stories

Cultivating Global Competency, Design Thinking, and 21st Century Skills: Kindergartners Explore the Universal Languages of Childhood

February 26, 2018 by Lisa Davis (Faculty and Staff) Vas Pournaras (Faculty and Staff) Xani Pollakoff (Faculty and Staff)

This semester, Kindergarten students explored the theme of community through the lens of global competency. The students learned about the universal languages of childhood – fine arts, celebrations, and games/play – by learning about how children all around the world express these languages. Throughout the project, which was woven into all aspects of the curriculum, students honed their skills in research, writing, Design Thinking, math, science, and art. Our multidisciplinary project culminated in the creation of The Museum of the Universal Languages of Childhood with exhibits that represented the children’s extensive research on the similar and distinctive ways children experience celebrations, games, and fine arts; at the same time, the exhibits showcased the children’s skill development in critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creative expression. The Museum opened its doors to visitors at our Bayit Patuach (Open House), aided by knowledgeable Kindergarten docents.


The students took a deep dive into the language of celebrations, guided by essential questions such as, “How does celebrating the joy of others help develop empathy?” The children began by brainstorming definitions for “celebration” and considered the different kinds of celebrations they experience. As one of our students said, “a celebration is something exciting.” Many students shared special moments they have had with family or friends. One student shared, “I drew the wind because I needed to blow out my candles on my birthday.”

Next, the students began researching, reading, questioning, watching videos, interviewing their fourth-grade reading buddies, and comparing and contrasting the ways we celebrate and the ways others celebrate. Each class focused on different kinds of celebrations and used the Design Thinking process to create a tool to help students represent their research. Gan Anavim created “Kindergarten Big Moment” necklaces for each student, with charms for when students accomplish Big Moments like having a birthday, tying a shoe, riding a bike, or reading a book. Gan Rimonim created tooth containers that each South Campus student now receives when he or she loses a tooth. Gan Tmarim created piñatas inspired by Chile. Each student on South Campus now receives a piñata on his or her birthday.


In order to better understand the universal language of games, the children researched sports (action) games, tabletop games, and imaginary games from all over the world. Their work was guided by essential questions such as, “How can game and purposeful play strengthen your friendships?” and “How does playing sports, imaginary games, and board/tabletop games provide opportunities for collaboration, sportsmanship, and critical thinking?” The students researched games by reading from books and websites, watching videos of people playing sports and outdoor games, and learning from classroom families who visited (or sent videos) and taught the children about different games. Each class focused on a different skill that is developed by playing games. Gan Anavim students focused on sportsmanship, Gan Rimonim looked at collaboration, and Gan Tmarim studied critical thinking. After learning about each different game, the children pinpointed the game’s country of origin on world maps.

With the knowledge they gained from their research, the children worked on committees to create their own imaginary, sports, and tabletop games. First, the class decided together that the games had to be easy to play, fun, have rules, and highlight the skill that the class had studied. Then each Game Committee met and brainstormed ideas for a game they could create. They drew up plans, collected materials from the Sadnah, and created rapid prototypes of different game components as they went along. Once they had finished their games, they had their classmates play them so that they could receive feedback and revise their games if necessary. Finally, the committees drafted their games’ official rules and made sure that the skill their class had focused on was represented in the game. When the games were finished, all of the Kindergarten classes met in a Town Hall Meeting to talk about and demonstrate their games.

Fine Arts

Kindergartners’ study of the universal language of fine arts was guided by questions such as, “How do the fine arts provide children a voice to express their culture, their thinking, and learning?” As part of their study, the children researched what a typical day looks like in a life of a kindergartner in a rural school in both Ghana and Japan, then compared it to their experiences at MILTON. We applied this knowledge to create visual art pieces inspired by the techniques, media, and traditional designs from each region.

For example, as the children learned about Ghana, we read the book The Spider Weaver, A legend of Kente Cloth by Margaret Musgrove. This beautiful tale opened a conversation about the significance of the colors and designs of the Kente-nwen-ntoma (woven cloth). The children explored different traditional Kente cloth designs and noticed the patterns and the geometric shapes in the designs. They also learned that the cloth colors have specific meanings, such as blue representing harmony, peace, and love, and pink representing gentleness and calm. Then each of the children made their own Kente cloth designs, guided and inspired by their research. After sketching their designs, they transferred them onto canvas boards, choosing materials from the Sadnah such as yarn, paint, and fabric to create a montage representing Kente cloth.

Fine Art and our Author Study

In Kindergarten, we read various global stories as part of our author study, and the children created drawings of different characters from the stories. Inspired by the video “Austin’s Butterfly,” Kindergarteners created multiple drafts paying attention to details and responding to peer critique. As the children worked on each draft, they were encouraged to slow down and pay attention to the details in the picture they were drawing. Once a draft was finished, their peers gave specific critiques on how their drawing could be improved, always starting with the premise, “What you made is good, here is how you can make it better…” The children then used these critiques to create a second and third draft, repeating the critiquing process each time. Positive peer support enabled the children to feel comfortable and confident with receiving feedback on what they had created. With each new draft, the children noted their improved ability to capture more realistic versions of what they were drawing. Because of this process, the “simple” act of drawing became more meaningful, and a melding of executive functioning (planning), art, and science skills. After multiple drafts were complete, children used mixed media to collaboratively reinterpret the story characters that were in their original drafts.

The Museum

In order to create a Museum of the Universal Languages of Childhood, the Kindergarten students had to learn what it was like to curate a museum. The students went to the Museum of Natural History and the U.S. Botanic Gardens in order to research curation. As the students toured around both museums, they took notes and made sketches in small notebooks. They noticed the ways that objects need documentation and labels so that visitors understand what they are looking at. They saw how lighting can help visitors see objects on display more easily. They met different people who worked at both museums, including security guards and information desk people. They also saw how maps and brochures are useful tools because they can guide visitors and help them plan their visit. At the Botanic Gardens, the children were given small passports and asked to find and check off specific plants throughout the collection. This inspired the children to create their own passports for their parents to use at the Bayit Patuach as they toured the exhibits.