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In the Latin American Mennonite colony, the village school is an important institution in the perpetuation of colony life.

Language skills and translation

In Ontario, Low German families will have varying degrees of English skills depending on how long they have been here. Students who have recently come from Latin America may be able to converse in English at a basic social level (e.g., Good morning. How are you?) but may not have an understanding of classroom instructions or vocabulary. Those who have been in Canada longer may know how to read and write in English. As a teacher, you may find this list of Low German educational words and phrases helpful.

Your school board may have names of approved translators, though some may not be certified. Other professionals (e.g., child and youth workers, outreach workers, nurses) are sometimes able to provide translation services. When asking someone to translate, it is important to consider both whether they have the necessary vocabulary for the topics to be discussed and whether they will recognize and understand the importance of confidentiality.

Parents will often need help reading and understanding newsletters as well as other school forms that are sent home with children. It may be necessary to use translators for parent interviews.

Students who have been educated in High German using books with Gothic text may have difficulty recognizing some English letters, which look quite different. It is important to acknowledge that some Low German-speaking students enter the Canadian education system with pieces of up to four languages (High and Low German, Spanish, English). Focusing exclusively on English can be difficult.

Suggestions for helping students adapt

Starting school: Low German parents are used to children starting school at age six at the earliest. Even then, some parents struggle with sending their children full days, five days a week. Ontario’s Junior Kindergarten (ages three and four) is therefore particularly difficult for both the parent and the child to adjust to.

Classroom expectations: Children are used to being in the same classroom with their siblings and can be surprised and/or upset when they learn that they will be in separate classrooms. Providing a school tour where children are familiarized with the location of their siblings’ classrooms may help to ease their anxiety. Enabling children to meet up with siblings for snack breaks may also help with this transition.


Instructions:Children are often used to copying and colouring but may need additional instruction to complete other classroom tasks. English/Low German educational phrases

Clothing: Low German-speaking children may be identifiable in school through their traditional clothing. Sameness is valued within many Low German communities; brothers often have shirts made of the same material and sisters often have identical dresses which they all wear on the same day. The newcomer family may not be aware of the variety of clothing, such as boots and snowsuits, that is necessary for local weather.

Gym wear and school supplies: Children may not initially come prepared for gym class as they may not have gym clothes. Some girls may also be reluctant to wear shorts or sweatpants. A possible solution is to ask the parents if the girls can wear these items under their dresses for physical activity. Supplies such as backpacks, indoor shoes and lunch boxes may also be unfamiliar.


Lunches: It may be important to acknowledge that Low German students’ lunches often look different but that they contain foods familiar to everyone (such as bread, cheese and slices of sausage in a dish rather than a sandwich in a plastic bag). Canada offers a variety of fruits and vegetables that may be unfamiliar to a Low German child. Many schools now offer healthy snack programs through which Low German children can explore and experiment with new flavours and textures.

Homework: Formal education is something that is not highly valued in the Low German Mennonite culture, with work being the primary focus as it is a practical way to provide for your family. In the colony, the boundaries between school and home are very clear. Homework is an unknown concept. Some families will welcome homework while others will find it too difficult to manage. Be flexible and open-minded, remembering that some students find homework challenging due to daily chores, family size, space and an understanding that school is for academics while home life involves other tasks. It is important to remember that, in general, children are eager to please both their parents and teachers. When the expectation for the completion of homework is laid upon a child whose parents do not understand or value this, it can be an incredibly difficult burden for a child to bear. 

Funerals: In the Low German Mennonite culture, death is viewed with practicality and considered a part of life. When a member of the Low German Mennonite community dies, it is viewed as a loss to the entire community, and it is expected that the community will recognize this loss and grieve together. It is common for entire families, including toddlers and preschool children, to attend funerals. Parents will keep their children home from school to attend funerals.

Seasonal labour: Low German Mennonites from Latin America often experience poverty and frequently migrate to Canada in search of economic opportunities. They generally come from rural areas and value working together on family farms. Working together is viewed as an opportunity to teach and train your children through the work that you do together. In Canada, the spirit of collaboration and support remains important within the family. Families often continue working in rural agricultural work and therefore require the assistance of their children, especially during busy times such as seeding and harvest.

Curriculum concerns


Canadian curriculum incorporates a much broader range of subjects than the Low German schools in Latin America. Music, art, science and physical education are a few of the subjects that will be unfamiliar to Low German students upon their first entry into the Canadian education system. Subjects that discuss the formation and history of the universe, biology and human reproduction may be considered inappropriate for a child’s education. Some parents will be concerned that their children are exposed to these topics at too young an age, or even at all. Teachers should therefore be mindful of the topics that guest speakers will cover in their presentations and work to ensure that the presentations do not address these culturally-inappropriate topics.

It has been helpful to engage parents in what their children are learning. A parent council that has a say in what their children are being taught empowers families and helps service providers understand the parents’ needs. Try to be open to parents’ concerns in an understanding, non-judgemental fashion, as this will build trust and rapport between parents and teachers.

Schooling options

In addition to ministry-funded schools, some Low German Mennonite children are educated in parochial (private) and homeschooling systems.

Religious holidays and Grant days

  • Christmas – December 25
  • Epiphany – January 6
  • Good Friday and Easter
  • Ascension Day – the sixth Thursday after Easter
  • Pentecost – the seventh Sunday after Easter

Christmas, Easter and Pentecost celebrations are often celebrated over three days and are referred to as the first day, second day and third day of the holiday. These are important times for church services and family gatherings. For this reason, Low German individuals may miss school, work and other appointments. It may be helpful to recognize these days as Grant (“G”) days on the attendance register like one would with holidays for other religious groups.

Medical concerns


In the communities in Mexico and South America, individual health has been traditionally managed through a variety of sources, including herbs, natural remedies, chiropractic and, at times, modern medicine. Parents may address medical referrals from the school through a chiropractor or naturopath given that this is how medical issues have traditionally been attended to. Parents may need support in understanding how to deal with common communicable diseases and infestations such as head lice, impetigo and fifth disease; they may not be aware that their traditional resources will not be effective against these sorts of concerns. Additionally, due to the time it takes to complete settlement documents, some students will not be eligible for provincial health care coverage.

In general, most Low German Mennonite families will engage in the standard immunization program for children. However, some students may have gaps in their immunizations. Parents may express hesitancy in updating these because they will be of the understanding that medical appointments require payment. To avoid difficulties that may arise regarding immunizations at school, when the consent forms are sent home to the parents, it is imperative to verbally communicate the purpose of the consent forms. Explain that these immunizations are a free service regardless of health coverage but that they do require written consent. Because parents may not have access to a family doctor or be aware of public health services where these immunizations can be administered, it may be difficult for parents to follow through on the expectation that they take their children to a clinic to receive the missed immunizations. It is very beneficial to directly communicate with the parents (phone call) and inform them of immunization options that will not incur fees. Suspending students for incomplete immunizations can often be counterproductive.