Día de los Niños, Children’s Day, brought lots of joy to Pescadero Elementary on April 29 games and laughter, music and happy chatter. Families, volunteers and most importantly children were busy exploring the many engaging activities that were provided for them It was hard not to be pulled into the world of wonder and action. Inside the Multipurpose Room were about a dozen stations for children to explore and learn. Outside, kids took turns pedaling a blender bike that turns fruit into healthy smoothies, participate in an obstacle course, and listen to story time.
“The children know it’s a special day. They go around saying, “It’s our day! Today is our day!” laughs Norma Zavala, who helped cook the hamburgers and hotdogs that were donated by the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, as well as playing with the littlest children in the special toddler area.
The kids weren’t the only one enjoying themselves. Día de los Niños is a national holiday in Mexico (and celebrated in other countries around the world), and it’s a day that holds a lot of special memories for parents. It was Zavala’s favorite day growing up. The entire nation celebrates its children with costumes and parades. In school, it’s the day teachers show off for their students. Children get treats and play all day.
“On Día de los Niños, my mom would wake us up with a hug and she would cook us something she wouldn’t cook often. I would always race to school. It was a party. The teachers would play games with us and they would give us ice cream,” recalls Zavala. Best of all, children got a goody bag full of little gifts.
“When I think about it today, I still feel so good inside,” she adds. “That’s why I think it’s important to continue the tradition here in the South Coast — so that these kids can have those kinds of memories too.”
Instilling cultural pride was a major reason Puente held its first Día de los Niños celebration in 2009. In Pescadero, the celebration represents the culmination of the elementary school year and is among the most popular and eagerly-awaited of all annual events in the community. It’s an after-school party for roughly 125 Pescadero-area children, from preschool through 5th grade. Families bring potluck dishes to feed the whole community. This year over 230 people attended. The crowd included over 20 children from Redwood City who performed Baile Folklorico outside.
“It sends a message to children — you matter,” says Arlae Alston, Family Engagement Project Manager for Puente and the main organizer of the event. But there’s a message for parents too. “We’re going to help you continue to hold onto your own culture. You can join a new culture [in a new place] but you don’t have to let go of where you’re from.”
Parents always enjoy comparing notes on how they used to celebrate Día de los Niños in their own towns. In so doing, they share the history of their families and of themselves as children. According to Alston, overhearing those happy stories increases their children’s positive self-image. That dose of self-confidence then helps them relax and learn.
And learning is the goal at Día de los Niños. The entire event is designed to contribute to early literacy, science and numeracy, with activities planned around storytime and science projects. Last year, children put on a puppet show and made a big mosaic mural that hangs outside the Puente offices.
This year they got to make tortillas, from mixing the flour to pressing the dough to eagerly await as they were slowly cooking on the pan.
Alston says that “the smell of fresh tortillas and salsa reminds us of our times in Mexico. We believe that children’s way of learning is natural and this was reflective also through their imaginative recycle 3-D art pieces.” Those art pieces, by the way, will be on display at the San Mateo County Intentional Teacher Fair on Saturday, May 7.
There was also a performance by those twenty children from Redwood City and loteria (a game similar to BINGO) for prizes.
Anglo parents bring their kids, too. “They didn’t grow up with this, and it’s nice to see them asking questions and enjoying this new tradition with their children,” says Zavala, a local home visitor for Head Start and child care provider with Puente.
And just as in Zavala’s childhood, Pescadero children go home with goody bags. But instead of candy, the goody bags are full of fun school supplies like crayons and notebooks, sunscreen and toothbrushes — and at least one book provided by the seventh and eighth graders at St. Gregory Catholic School in San Mateo.
One thing that makes Puente’s version of Día de los Niños so unique is the volume of in-kind donations from individuals, congregations and organizations, says Abby Mohaupt, Faith Community Liaison for Puente. “It’s a bunch of churches who work together to contribute to this event, and I love that.” Stone Church of Willow Glen donated the crayons, and Grace Lutheran Church of Palo Alto provided writing tools like pens and pencils, as well as a hotwheel car for every child. There was also a stuffed animal tucked into each bag. The bags were packed by a Girl Scout troop in Hillsborough. “So many hands and hearts go into making Día de los Niños a joyful celebration,” Mohaupt says.
Volunteers with the Peninsula Metropolitan Community Church of San Mateo returned to help with bookmark making, and the Half Moon Bay Library came too with their Imagination Playground, button making and
A big change this year was local parents volunteering to staff the stations, instead of parents from communities “over the hill” who typically drive in to help. Most of the volunteers are participants in Puente’s Family Engagement Impact Initiative, including programs like Abriendo Puertas and training workshops for local childcare providers by a partner nonprofit.
Those programs are an example of how Puente celebrates children every day, not just on Children’s Day. From Homework Club to Puente’s newly-reorganized childcare center, the message is clear: this is a place to grow, to be nurtured, to learn.
Those parents were assisted by students from Cañada College and Stanford University, most of whom were bilingual. Those students were clear models to the children that college is an attainable thing.
Norma Zavala supervises toddler playtime at the childcare center twice a week while parents attend classes at Puente. She’s a single mom. When her daughters were young enough to need childcare, there was no place like Puente to bring her kids and nothing to enrich their education. There was no Día de los Niños or Homework Club.
“I had to do the parenting job alone. It’s important to me that the parents know that while they are here pursuing their education, they’re leaving their children in safe hands,” she says.
But her favorite thing is to watch children and parents enjoying books together at Día de los Niños.
“My kids didn’t have that. We came from Mexico and we didn’t have books there or here,” she says.
And Día de los Niños is a powerful reminder that each child matters and that each parent is not alone. It is true that “it takes a village to raise a child” and on April 29 the children and parents of Pescadero were shown that they have an incredible village.