By Carol Felicio
May 5 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 encourage the promotion of children’s rights. Originally, the country celebrated this holiday on the first day in May, but after World War II, it was moved to May 5. Most children in South Korea celebrate this holiday like a second birthday.
While Children’s Day is just one day out of the month, May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the US. These celebrations offer a great opportunity to explore diverse books and multicultural perspectives. Prior to joining Language Lizard, I worked in South Korea as a Guest English Teacher and Volunteer Musical Director. I interviewed my former colleague in South Korea and asked her 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.
Carol: What childhood memory do you think about when you think about Children’s Day?
Yoo Jung: I used to get presents from my elementary school homeroom teacher and my parents would bring me to an amusement park.
Carol: How do you celebrate Children’s Day with your students? Do you eat special food?
Yoo Jung: I like to say happy things to them, but there is no special food for the day.
Carol: We don’t have Children’s Day in the United States.* Why is it important to celebrate a holiday like Children’s Day?
Yoo Jung: The most important thing about Children’s Day is to offer ‘respect for children’s human rights.’ For a long time, children didn’t have any rights and, as a result, they have repeatedly been exploited for their labor.
Carol: What Korean stories do you share with your students to teach them about the importance of kindness, friendship, and respect for others?
Yoo Jung: I think of the story about ‘Oh-Sung and Han-Eum’ who were very smart children. It is not a fairy tale, but a real story from the Chosun Dynasty. They grew up together in the same town, studying and playing together.
Carol: Which of your adapted musicals do you think best demonstrates kindness and friendship? Why?
Yoo Jung: I think ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ There are four main characters and they are not perfect, but they have the same goal. When you follow their journey, you can see their friendship and teamwork. They care about each other and so the kids can feel how kindness and friendship are important.
Multicultural Social-Emotional Learning
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.
*Presidents Clinton and Bush did establish a National Children’s Day, but it is not a widely celebrated holiday in the US.
Carol Felicio holds a Master of the Arts in Education Policy and Social Analysis from Teachers College Columbia University and joined Language Lizard, LLC to continue her passion for early childhood and bilingual education. Previously, she has taught as an ESL instructor in both Spain and South Korea.