REEEC Outreach Activities at Head Start

by Melissa Bialecki and Danielle Sekel

As a part of the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center’s outreach efforts this semester, we had the pleasure of working at Champaign Head Start planning and implementing activities to teach young learners about various REEEC countries. Once per month, we planned a craft activity based on a tradition from a different regional country. We prepared a short lesson on that country, in which we introduced one aspect of its culture, taught short phrases in the local language, and sometimes even listened to traditional music and danced. Then, students would have a hands-on activity, in which they created something based on a tradition associated with that country. In our first month, we talked about wool-working in Estonia and students decorated gloves with fabric paint to match the beautiful designs made by Estonian artisans. The next month, we taught students about Bosnia and Herzegovina and the intricate woodworking practices there. Students colored their own “treasure chests” and decorated them with stick-on jewels. We also colored wooden eggs close to Easter to learn about Ukrainian pesanky, and decorated paper masks with googly eyes and feathers after we learned about Bulgarian kukeri. After each lesson, students got a sticker in their own “passports” and a postcard to bring home summarizing what the students learned about that day. Teachers received a copy of the curriculum for that day’s lesson, and a poster to put in their classroom to remind the students of the country they learned about and the activity they did during our visit.

As scholars working in REEEC regions, we both loved seeing young children get so excited to learn about these new places and their colorful culture and interesting traditions. It was wonderful to go into classes every month and have the students talk about the activities that we did the month before. Students loved asking questions and talking about similarities between their own family traditions and the practices we were learning about that day. Students were also excited to bring crafts home and share them with their families.

Champaign Head Start is a diverse community of young learners, and we loved contributing to that diversity through cultural enrichment. It was also great to work with a different age group than we would as teaching assistants at the university. Thus, the head start outreach program is one of many ways in which REEEC connects with the local community by providing educational resources for young learners.


Melissa Bialecki is a PhD student of ethnomusicology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is interested in how affective musical performance shapes political thought on the Ukrainian conflict and Russian-Ukrainian relations. Her research focuses primarily on the Ukrainian folk revival as well as ethno-punk and pop bands in Ukraine and the North American diaspora. She is a Foreign Language and Area Studies fellow through the Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian Center at the University of Illinois, and will receive a Title VIII fellowship from Arizona State University to study Ukrainian in Kyiv this summer.

Danielle Sekel is a graduate student in the Department of Musicology. Her research interests include Balkan music festivals in diaspora and the history and continuing relevance of these festivals.

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