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Native Language Day celebrated by Estonian youth around the world

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Despite differences in number of students, fluency, budget, distance, and other constraints, Estonian Schools as well as kindergartens, children's hobby groups, and other youth organizations around the world have made a point to celebrate Estonia's national language, whether on Native Language Day or all year round.

The following is by no means an exhaustive representation of Estonian youth organizations abroad.

Washington Estonian School, Washington, D.C.

According to Kaia Kirchman, director of the Washington Estonian School (WEK) only meets twice a month, and so they will be celebrating Native Language Day during their next scheduled school day on March 19. Visiting Estonian choreographer and dance teacher Märt Agu will be teaching the children, aged 5-13, Estonian folk dances, and WEK pupils will be asked to pick out and discuss their choices for the most beautiful word in the Estonian language.

Cygnaeus School, Pori, Finland

Annela Liivat, who is in her third year of teaching and whose own two children attend weekly Estonian classes at the Finnish school, wrote that on Friday, March 11, the six-pupil class discussed the history of the Estonian holiday, read about Kristian Jaak Peterson, and looked at his monument in Tartu and listened to a recording of his poem "Ode" online. Estonian-language books had been brought in for the occasion, and 9th grader Tuuli-Emily analyzed an article about Estonians by Valdur Mikita which appeared in a psychology-themed magazine in February.

She added that the Estonian Club in Pori plans to focus on the holiday at their March club event, which has previously included themed quizzes, folk games, and singing.

Connecticut Estonian School, Andover, Connecticut

Merike Siismets, who is in her third year of filling the role of director of the school, which three of her own children also attend, explained that every school day is like National Language Day for them, as the schoolchildren get together across great distances to play, sing, read, speak, and learn in the Estonian language and spirit.

Estonian school teacher Leelo Linask organizes a "word hunt", where children make note at home of new Estonian words that they do not recognize and then add them to a word wall during the next school day. Last year, Siismets said, pupils learned about Kristian Jaak Peterson and his accomplishments, and every child read and then drew or wrote about a new story or book of their choosing. Plans for celebrating the holiday this year were similar.

Baltimore Estonian School, Baltimore, Maryland

According to John Jester, director of the Baltimore Estonian School (BEK) for the past four years, a major drop in attendance has forced the school to adapt its format from weekly school days with regular lesson plans to a coordinated series of in-home visits between families, luncheons, field trips used to reinforce "immersion" learning of vocabulary, and even virtual school days via online video conferencing. While this change in format was not conducive to dedicated celebrations of holidays outside of major ones such as Christmas and Estonian Independence Day, Jester explained that their goal was to show the children with every event "how the culture, language, and history all blends together."

Remembering her own days as awhere weekly lessons still included high school-level Estonian grammar, history, and literature, Aili Sarapik, alumna and former teacher at the Baltimore Estonian School, recalled how one of their teachers had once encouraged her students to celebrate Native Language Day on March 14th simply by making a concerted effort to speak only in Estonian all day, even if it was a regular school day. Making an exception only for answering teachers at her local public school in English, Sarapik did not take her Estonian school teacher's suggestion lightly, and spent the entire day speaking only in her family's native tongue, much to the frustration of monolingual friends and classmates.

New York Estonian School, New York City

Merike Barborak, teacher at the school for ten years and its director as well for five, reported that the New York Estonian School (NYEK) dedicated their school day to National Language Day by focusing on national epic Kalevipoeg with the older students. Students discussed its development as well as its importance in the nation's National Awakening in the late 19th century and to its cultural history in general, played through the good advice the hedgehog gave to Kalevipoeg in fighting sorcerers, and discussed and located actual places in Estonia associated with the epic on a map, some of which they made plans to visit this summer. Younger students spent the school day playing language games.

Barborak, whose own two young children have tagged along to school since birth, noted that last year, students spent the day discussing amusing-sounding compound words like naljahammas, piimahabe, and päevakoer, and drew pictures based on the literal meanings of their components.

Long Island Estonian School, Middle Island, New York

Reet Tagger, coordinator, teacher, and parent at the nascent Long Island branch of the New York Estonian School (NYEK) based in New York City, wrote that their school will be celebrating Native Language Day for the first time during their next school day on March 20. She said that they planned to discuss the Estonian language as well as Native Language Day itself, and had planned an Estonian language-themed quiz for the students.

Luxembourg Estonian School, Luxembourg

Director of the Luxembourg Estonian School (LEK) Mari-Liis Kivioja shared that one of the school's annual traditions is to celebrate Native Language Day by arranging for visits from Estonian children's authors, which serves the dual purpose of introducing new children's literature to local Estonian parents as well as increasing local children's interest in reading and Estonian literature in particular.

Kivioja said that this year the school celebrated the holiday on March 6, which was dedicated to a visit from children's author Kairi Look. Age-appropriate lessons were planned around the author's various children's books, including counting, insect identification, bookmark-making, and older students beginning to write their own books. After the day's lessons, children and parents met with Look, who introduced herself and her work, read a few of her stories, and answered children's questions. Previous visiting authors have included Sass Henno, Leelo Tungal, Andrus Kivirähk, and Piret Raud.

Chicago Estonian School, Chicago, Illinois

Pille Armpalu McQuillen, director of Chicago Estonian School (CEK), wrote that every year, their school dedicates one full school day to celebrating Native Language Day; this year, they celebrated on March 6, with each lessson — language, arts and crafts, and song and dance — focusing on the holiday. McQuillen added that the school's young students performed at Independence Day celebrations at the Chicago Estonian House in February as well, including with the recitation of a medley of poems, put together by teacher Maie, whose focus was to showcase the beauty of the written and spoken Estonian language.

Lakewood Estonian School, Lakewood, New Jersey

Külli Rannamäe, teacher for 15 years and director for six at the Lakewood Estonian School (LEK), reported that for their 15 school children, every school day — twice a month — is National Language Day. She said that pupils learn and practice their Estonian through songs and games, and recently made their own Sipsik dolls together after reading the classic children's book of the same name by Eno Raud. At recent Independence Day celebrations, LEK students contributed by crafting blue, black, and white bird decorations and singing the Estonian national anthem.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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