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A Story of Tooth Traditions

On my recent trip to Colorado I had the pleasure of visiting a few Montessori Schools and meeting many awesome Montessori teachers. It is always fun to meet like-minded people and share ideas and I came home inspired to try all sorts of new things with my students.

One ideas that really tickled my fancy was this beautiful little jar of hand sewn felt pouches that I spotted on the supply shelf at St Vrain’s Community Montessori School. Carl, the class assistant, told me they were tooth pouches – whenever a child loses a tooth, they get to choose a tiny pouch to keep it safely in. Gorgeous!

This got me wondering about different culture’s traditions for the loss of a tooth, and I began to collect a few stories for the opportune moment. That moment came about a little sooner than I expected. Last week, one of my children came into the class and gleefully showed me her very wiggly tooth – I say gleefully as I actually have a bit of a thing about wiggly teeth: they make me cringe - and I once made the mistake of telling the children this!

The child in question is French and in the tradition of her country, a mouse comes to collect the lost teeth from under the child's pillow and leaves a small gift in exchange. The children in my class thought this was very funny and it lead us perfectly into a discussion of the various cultural traditions.

I showed the children a picture of the pouches I had seen and, of course, they decided they must make some not just for themselves, but in true second-plane style, for everyone who might ever lose a tooth in school! They set about cutting and sewing whilst I told them stories of tooth myths from around the world.

(Please note the bird on the shoulder in the picture below!)

Fortunately tooth pouches are small, and we had plenty of felt scraps left over from our Intention Hearts so it was a fast, frugal project with a with a big outcome. Three classes and the school office now have jars of tooth pouches ready for emergencies!

The pouches are super easy to make – just cut two small rectangles out of felt and sew them together on three sides. One child went the extra mile and embroidered tiny designs on hers.

Here is story of tooth traditions around the world that I told as they worked:

A Story of Tooth Traditions

How many of you have had a wiggly tooth? What happens after it gets wiggly? It falls out, right? Do you know why it does that? Yes, it is making way for the adult tooth to come through. We don’t need the old tooth any more, it has done its job. So what do we do with it? Maybe you like to keep yours, or maybe you put it in a special place for someone to come and collect.

Do you know loosing teeth is something you have in common with children all over the world? Each culture has its own tradition for saying goodbye to the old tooth and preparing for the new one to come.

Many children in the United States, the UK, Australia and New Zealand believe there is a special fairy whose job it is to collect the old teeth. Children put them under their pillows at night and in the morning wake up to find the Tooth Fairy has taken it away and left them some money in exchange.

In some parts of Europe, this very important job is done not by a fairy, but a mouse or rat. In Spanish speaking countries, the rat is called Raton Perez and in France a mouse called Petite Souris leaves small gifts in exchange for the teeth. It is believed that this tradition came from the idea that if a mouse or rat took the old tooth, the new one would grow as strong as a rodent’s.

Children in South Africa leave their teeth for a mouse to collect too. Instead of putting them under their pillow, they hide them in their slippers – perhaps they think this will make it easier for the little mouse or perhaps they don’t want it to disturb their sleep.

In some cultures the children literally throw their teeth away – usually in a specific direction – either up or down or sometimes both! In China, Korea and Japan, teeth from the lower jaw are thrown up on to the roof and teeth from the upper jaw are hidden under the floor. The belief is that the new tooth will be pulled towards the old one. In Pakistan children wrap their teeth in a special cloth throw them into a river - this is supposed to bring good luck. Turkish children don’t just throw their teeth down, they dig a hole and bury them, they believe that the place they choose to bury their tooth helps determine their future – if they want to be a teacher they bury it near a school and if they want to be a pilot they bury it near an airport.

More commonly, children throw their tooth upwards, as in the Egyptian tradition where children throw them high up into the sky and ask the sun to send them strong adult teen in return.

Of course not all children want to get rid of their baby teeth and some cultures have traditions for keeping them. In Lithuania families come up with various ways of saving their children’s teeth – some have special boxes and some make them into necklaces. There are many more traditions for celebrating the loss of a tooth, perhaps you would like to research some, or even try them out for yourself next time you lose one of your teeth.

If your children decide to make tooth pouches please share pictures in the comments below.

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