Americana for Children -- Introduction

Americana for Children -- Introduction

What is it: A monthly, hour-long program to teach expatriate American children between the ages of 3 and 10 those things about the United States that most Americans learn through simple exposure while growing up in the United States.

Americana's Purpose: To ground expatriate American children in the history and traditions of American life and culture.

Why Americana: Most American children living overseas --even if attending American schools-often do not have the opportunity to learn key aspects of American life and culture : The Pledge of Allegiance, our national anthem, traditional American songs , traditions about our country, our flag, our culture, and American history. They can often feel like "foreigners" when they return to the United States.

Who Runs Americana's Programs: Volunteers . They develop and support the program as Americana committee members. In virtually every expatriate community, there is a splendid diversity of interested people who come together to plan and conduct Americana programs. They come from all walks of life. Some are parents, some not; some have young children, others have grown children. But all are interested in deepening their own knowledge of U.S. history and culture and then sharing it with our children.

A Short History of Americana: Americana for Children grew out of the nascent American Women's Association in Dubai in 1991. The inspiration for Americana came when one woman told the story of how her brother in the United States took her son to a baseball game. When the national anthem was played, the son couldn't figure out what was going on as people stood up and at attention. The mother realized that there were some significant gaps in her son's education as an American child growing up overseas. Several of the women present at that meeting saw the problem and were interested in solving it. The result was Americana for Children.

Americana's Benefits: Everyone learns through their participation in Americana! Program planners, children, and parents. The excitement generated by the program brings America alive for children and parents alike. And if the program is held at an embassy residence or involves an official American, the American community feels closer to the embassy community.

Americana Committees in Doha and Dubai: Volunteers to participate in the Committee are solicited, often at an American Women's Association meeting in the Fall. (We've never had a problem finding volunteers.) The Committee then meets fairly regularly to develop programs. Meetings can be short or long, but in Doha we found that brainstorming meetings helped the most to develop meaningful, entertaining programs. To save others much of that work, we thought we would share our programs, which others can adapt as they like, using resources they have available. The programs compiled here have the Internet references and sources at the end of each presentation. 

We have also found that, if American children attend several different schools, it is helpful to have committee volunteers from each of the schools. That way, the Committee is aware of each school's schedules and can select dates that work for all the schools.

Basic program components (template):

  • Flag ceremony (done by scouts or other groups of children; important to include those not involved in scouting, too)
  • The Pledge of Allegiance
  • The national anthem
  • A program of interest to the children (program ideas)
  • Music
  • Activity (designed as learning or reinforcing activity)
  • State of the Month (to briefly acquaint children with one state each month)
  • Retiring of the colors

Venue: Can be a residence (with children sitting on a carpet on the floor), clubhouse, or other place where you have a bit of space. Classrooms are a last choice because it's difficult to return everything to its original place for the classroom teacher. If/if held at a CMR, DCM, or CG residence, the embassy really benefits even though they are not directly involved.

Timing: Try to schedule programs when most children will be free, probably on the weekend. Times can be varied, both for security concerns and to accommodate other activities children might have.

Tone: Make each program positive and relevant to children. Even a program about the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation, and slavery can reinforce the hopes and dreams that all Americans share for the ideals of freedom and equality. Focus on the ideals and spirit that unite us, not that divide us. For example, a program about US elections should focus on choice (with fictional parties and platforms), secret ballots, and the like.

Funding: Until this year committee members always funded activities out of pocket but if possible, find a sponsor. We had one this year, which allowed us to buy craft supplies, hold a traditional Thanksgiving feast, buy poster board, and the like.

Publicity: Word of mouth and email. As we built up an email list of parents, we sent out email notices of each program, letting parents know they can tell others but that they cannot post notices of programs on bulletin boards or on the internet.

Supplies and Support: For supplies such as a projector, screen, easels, and the like the public diplomacy section of the embassy or consulate is generally extremely supportive.

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