Za’atar Swirls and Expanding our Preschool World

By Amy Dudley

As highlighted in a recent blog post, Teacher Susan added some wonderful new books to our rotating library that focus on experiences of immigrants.  This got me thinking about how to talk with my two children ages 4 and 6 about the refugee crisis in Syria.

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As parents we often want to shield our children from pain and suffering, but I try to thoughtfully engage my kids with the world’s challenges in the hopes of encouraging their innate compassion and love towards the big, wide world around them and outside of their own direct experience.  I believe that when we keep silent the unintended consequence is that our children internalize that silence as a message that those people who they haven’t heard about or been able to ask questions about without disapproving looks or hushes must be bad or wrong.  And so I try to say something, as sloppy as that sometimes is.

Which brings me back to my recent helper shift where I was to provide snacks for the classroom.  I took to the internet to find out about Syrian recipes I could make with the kids, and in the process discovered this great website, Syrian Cooking, written by Ghinwa Alameen, with recipes and tips for families hosting Syrian refugees.  She shared how food is an extension of culture and home, as we all know, and providing familiar staples in a pantry, or dishes at meal time was a great way to welcome someone, and to honor their culture.  

So the children and I set off for the International Grocery store where we gathered our ingredients for making Za’atar Swirls.  The children delighted in finding new candies from around the world to beg me for, and I was happy to find preserved Pergamot made in Syria, a citrus fruit also known as Berganot that gives Earl Grey tea its distinctive perfume.  


On snack day the children enthusiastically helped roll out the dough, make the spread with tomatoes, olive oil, and the Za’atar spices, sniffing and declaring the whole endeavor to be like making pizza.  My son encouraged his friends to try the Pergamot, adding that it tastes like gummy bears.  I loved these observations that this food that could be considered so new to us, was actually familiar.  Like so much of exploring the world, where we find new experiences we also find commonality.

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At circle time Teacher Susan passed around pictures of three Syrian children in refugee camps, 4 and 5 year olds, who shared their hopes and dreams.  Gays loves building and wants to be an engineer when they grow up so they could create hospitals for their country.  Many of the children could connect with his love of building, or Ele, who was in Kindergarten like many of our preschoolers will be next year.  “Same, same, different, All good ways to be…” as the song Teacher Susan wrote and taught to the children and families at HFP.  As we closed circle, we sang our song “We wish you well” naming each of the children we had met who are Syrian refugees.

IMG_2357  IMG_2358Ele Cundi at Midyat camp, Turkey                        Rahaf Hasan with a drawing of her home

On one hand these are small steps, on the other, they are huge.  Making and enjoying a za’atar roll was an invitation to appreciate and honor Syrian food and culture.  Saying the names of people who are suffering in refugee camps seemingly worlds away brings these people into the room with us.  Sitting with our little ones, I could feel the power and potential of love and connection that we were nurturing, along with my own hope that we can make the world safe for all families.

IMG_2359  IMG_2360Gays Cardak, 6                                                             Ali Addahar, 9

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