How to Plan a Multicultural Night

Celebrating the cultures of the world has gained traction, especially for schools that want to showcase the diversity of their students and communities. Join me as I show you just how easy it is to plan a multicultural night at your school, with plenty of ideas for a successful event!

How to Plan a Multicultural Night

One year, I found myself organizing our school’s Multicultural Night. Never mind that we hadn’t hosted one before or that this was my first time chairing any event.

Thankfully, with amazing parent volunteers, putting the multicultural event together was a breeze and the event was a hit. We learned that our community was more diverse than meets the eye. And parents who normally wouldn’t volunteer for other events were more than happy to do so for this one, drawn by the desire to share their family culture.

If you’re interested in planning a Multicultural Night at your elementary school, I hope you’ll find my tips below useful:

Decide on a format

There are two types of formats you can try with a Multicultural Night. I call one the “science fair” format and the other the “open house” format. Below, I’ll share the differences between the two, but know that the remaining information will pertain to the science fair format.

Science fair format

The science fair format relies mostly on parent participation. While teachers are encouraged to volunteer, they’re not required to for the event to happen. Instead, parents sign up for a country and set up a table or booth in the auditorium or cafeteria (where the event takes place).

On the night itself, families can go from table to table and learn about the different cultures. At some point in the evening, people can share showcases on stage, like performing a dance or counting in a different language.

Open house format

The open house format relies mostly on teacher participation. Each class “adopts” a country and, in the weeks leading up to the event, learns about its culture.

Parents can drop in during school hours for demonstrations, regardless of whether their child is in that class or not. For instance, a parent can play a traditional instrument for the children in the class who adopted his country.

On the night itself, teachers and parents decorate their classrooms to make them look like their chosen culture. Families “travel the world,” dropping by each classroom to learn about that culture. As such, the event takes place throughout the campus, instead of only in the auditorium.

This format allows kids who wouldn’t or couldn’t attend the night itself a chance to learn about a country during school hours. The teacher integrates the country into her lessons (for instance, by reading a children’s book).

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Set a budget

You’ll likely have a budget to work with right when you start. A few things you might need include:

  • Passport books, stamps, and stickers. Each child can be given a passport that they can get stamped at each table.
  • Flyers. Set a budget to get flyers printed and cut. One set of flyers is to ask parents to volunteer. Then, closer to the event, print another set asking them to attend.
  • Food and decoration. I suggest giving each table a budget to work with so that not everything is out of pocket. That way, they can use these funds to purchase items like food, decorations, or trifold posters.
  • Equipment. Do you need equipment like a portable microphone and speaker or a screen projector?
  • Custodial services. You might need help setting up the tables and chairs as well as cleaning during and after the event.

Gather volunteers

Three months before the event: Start gathering people to help. Set up an online form where people can sign up with their name, email, phone number, and country they’d like to help with (or to help in general).

Then, create a flyer that shares the date of the event along with a link to the form. You can even set up a QR code that takes them directly to the link. Spend about a month heavily promoting the link to get as many volunteers as you can.

Two months before the event: Hold a meeting with those who signed up to volunteer. Discuss how many countries you have, who will be going on stage for a showcase, and what rules you’d need to abide by. You can also get a wealth of ideas and suggestions, from what time to have the event to how best to promote it.

Ask each country what they plan to do

With so many different cultures, each country and table will likely have different displays and activities. Here are a few ideas you can share with your volunteers:

  • Food. Sharing your country’s food can be one of the most popular features of the night! Store-bought food is a safe bet, but if someone wants to bring homemade food, check with your school district whether they need a permit to do so. Come prepared with plates, napkins, and plastic serving gloves.
  • Hands-on activities. Is there an activity that kids can do when they get to your table? For instance, you can write a word in calligraphy, show them how to roll dough, or draw a henna tattoo.
  • Games. What simple games can kids play at your table?
  • Printables and handouts. Print a word search, coloring sheets, a “how many can you find” sheet, or a printable showing how to count to 10 in a different language.
  • Flags and textiles. These make great tablecloths and decorations for your booth.
  • Trifold posters. Include fun facts about your country or photos you took on vacation. Similarly, you can play a slideshow about your country on a digital tablet.
  • Books. Share children’s books or cookbooks about your country.
  • Traditional attire. Wear traditional clothes to the event itself (including your kids!). You can also use a mannequin to display clothes or simply hang them on the wall.
  • Interesting items. Many brought interesting items from their cultures. I saw a tortilla press, fans, figurines, luggage, instruments, and more.

Create a text document where you can list what people have told you they plan to do along with what information you still need from them.

Set a time frame and agenda

Decide how long you want the event to take place and at what time. For instance, here is a sample schedule:

  • 4:30pm: The leadership team gets the room ready.
  • 5-5:45pm: Volunteers set up their tables.
  • 6pm: Doors open to attendees.
  • 6-6:30pm: Families can roam the auditorium and visit each table.
  • 6:30-7:15pm: Present featured showcases on stage.
  • 7:15-7:30pm: Families can continue to explore different tables.

On the night itself, hand out a list of the countries and where in the auditorium they’re located. Kids can see their options and can head straight to a table they want to visit.

And include background music that you can loop throughout the night. You can gather song suggestions and play them on a playlist. I would bring your own portable speaker and microphone so that you can test the audio well ahead of the event without relying on the school’s equipment or the internet.

Schedule showcases

Ask people to demonstrate an activity or performance on stage. For instance, they can have traditional dances or sing a song in a different language. They can teach the audience how to count to 10 or get them to participate in a game or dance. Make sure you have the performers’ music on your device ahead of time.

On the night itself, ask the custodian to set up a few rows of chairs in front of the stage so that people have the option to sit and watch. You’ll also need someone to announce each showcase. And dim the lights while the showcases are going on so that most of the attention is on the stage.

Order passports and stamps

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About a month from the event, order passports and stamps (and, if needed, stickers).

Some sticker sheets include a variety of countries (rather than the same sticker repeated on the same sheet). If so, I suggest cutting out the stickers and sorting them by country ahead of time. That way, you can give each table either their stamp or a bag of stickers they can use for the passports.

Promote the event

Two weeks before the event: Start promoting the event on social media and your school newsletter.

One week before the event: Get flyers printed and cut so that teachers can pass them out to students to take home.

The week of the event: Using the same design as the flyer, create a series of “Did You Know?” graphics. Each one can include an interesting fact about one of the countries participating in Multicultural Night. At the bottom of the graphics, include information like the date and time of the event.

For instance, one graphic could say, “Did you know that there are over 175 languages in the Philippines?” Another can say, “Did you know the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs struck Mexico?” These graphics can be shared daily until the event on social media.

Come early to set up

Our event started at 6pm, but the PTA president and I were at the auditorium starting at 4:30pm. This allowed us to make sure that the tables and chairs were set up and that the stage was clear. We also tested the audio and internet access.

You can also decorate the entryway by adding multicultural flags, balloons, and books. Place the passports in a basket and ask a volunteer to stand by the entrance to hand them out to the kids throughout the night (I suggest having two volunteers for the event so that they can take turns and enjoy themselves, too).

Then, ask everyone to be ready 15 minutes before the start of the event (give them at least 45 minutes to set up). For instance, if the event starts at 6pm, have them start setting up at 5pm and be ready by 5:45pm.

Frequently asked questions

How many passports should I buy?

We ordered about 200 passport books for a student enrollment of about 700 kids.

How much food should each table bring?

We aimed for 50-100 “bite-size” pieces per country.

The bottom line

I couldn’t be happier to see how our school’s Multicultural Night unfolded. Parents made amazing displays, shared delicious food, and performed entertaining showcases. We had a great turnout, and families learned how diverse our school really is.

“I’m so proud of our community,” a parent told me. But perhaps the one comment I held onto—especially when challenges arose—came from a fellow volunteer. After one of our meetings ended, he turned to me and said, “Thank you for doing this.”

It reminded me why we were even planning a Multicultural Night to begin with. People want to share and learn about different cultures. And by doing so, we’re building and strengthening our community even more.

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