With Korea being a hot topic in the news for the last several months, this is a great time to incorporate some current events in your classroom. However, we must be careful not to view Korea solely through the tunnel vision of today’s news – the history of Korea is not only rich and colorful, but also incredibly long. Korean history provides a wealth of stories and activities that parents can use to honor and celebrate the historical events and cultural traditions that make this area unique. Learning more about Korea will provide your children with a bit of the knowledge and understanding to provide some perspective and context to news stories during a time of uncertainty for that area.
Start your lesson by asking your students to locate the Korean peninsula on a world map and describing what they already know about the region and the cultural traditions. Explain that although Korea is divided into two countries today, it was one nation prior to 1953. Then ask them to list some possible commonalities between the two countries, despite their current separation. Use this time to probe your kids on what they already know, but also to incorporate their own curiosity while having fun. Whether they propose Korean language, or religion, or a shared history of food – this activity should be a discussion that opens a window into what will engage your kids in exploring this new topic. Here is a great map that visually shows the changes within the Korean peninsula, geographically, over time: http://www.ecai.org/Area/AreaTeamExamples/Korea/KoreaHistoryAnimation.html. And Fall is the perfect time to learn about Chuseok, the traditional major harvest festival that is celebrated in both North Korea and South Korea. This website has some adorable (and informative!) coloring pages: http://www.theholidayzone.com/chuseok/art.html. There are also some fun activities that you can use to incorporate your classroom and get the entire family involved in this celebration of the harvest, such as prints using apples and corn on the cob. And because Chuseok is all about family and food, this is a great opportunity for the entire family to experience Korean culture. Look through some Korean recipes together to find something adventurous, or try making some delicious yakgwa, traditional Korean honey cookies (https://www.thespruceeats.com/korean-honey-cookies-2118617).
One symbol shared throughout the Korean peninsula is the Taegeuk. Similar to the familiar yin-yang symbol, a prominent red and blue version can be found on the national flag of South Korea, but different variations can be traced to the earliest forms of the written language. Search online for an image as a guide and try making a Sam Taeguk Fan as a class activity, using construction paper, paint, and popsicle sticks. Explain to your students how red represents earth, blue represents heaven, and yellow represents humanity – a symbol that is related to the Buddhist symbol of Gankil. Another common thread weaving the Korean people together is their shared stories. Take a look at this website with a wide range of resources from the National Education Association: http://www.nea.org/tools/lessons/71632.htm. There is a great exploration of Korean culture through the literature of their folk tales and lessons on the artistic production throughout the Korean peninsula for thousands of years. Or learn about the importance of Korean fighter kites throughout the nearly two thousand years of historical tradition. This website offers some excellent background information and resources for creating your own Korean fighter kite.
The history and culture of Korea, as one nation, is essential to understanding the complex relationships behind the stories in today’s news. However, it is equally important for kids to learn about one of the most defining moments that literally shaped the two Koreas we know today – the Korean War. For younger students, this may be covered simply with a few sentences to provide basic context for the division. And there are several great resources available online for older kids. A few years ago, the Department of Defense created a website (http://www.koreanwar60.com), including a thorough overview and a virtual tour of the Korean War Memorial, for the 60th anniversary of the Korean War. There are also so many video resources, it’s difficult to know which to select. One website has done a great job compiling several of these resources in one area for easy access: http://coldwar.me/korean-war-for-kids/. However, although the footage is not explicit it is a depiction of violence and just like with any graphic content, make sure you watch the videos first to ensure they are appropriate for your children.
The volatile relationship within the Korean peninsula can be confusing and scary, but the foreign policy implications of this volatility is even more complex and (at times) downright terrifying. And the news seems to continually ratchet up the tension, alongside the echo chamber that is the Twitter-verse. Even for those of us that limit our children’s exposure to media, it is our duty to provide them with the knowledge they need to not just survive but thrive as adults on this planet. Exposing them to the history, culture, and traditions of Korea allows them some context and basic understanding when confronted with the results of the current events of today.