With thoughtful resourcefulness, teaching our kids to appreciate our world’s rich tapestry of cultures and customs can be as simple as A, B, C.
by Christa Melnyk Hines
Local museums bring history and culture to life. “I’m looking to integrate art with a trip to the museum to identify artists from different nations and cultures,” says Carie Beth Russell, who is planning a 12-week “world tour” with her two daughters this summer.
Expand your child’s horizons by consulting with your librarian about books that highlight diverse people and places. For adults, Russell found inspiration for her playful summer home-study in the book, Give Your Child the World: Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at a Time by Jamie C. Martin.
Got a fashionista aching for a pair of Uggs? Trendsetting fashions originate from the unlikeliest of countries. Learn more in fashion design books and online resources.
Spanish teacher Jackie Rodriguez says that dancers like Flamenco performers help make lessons come alive for students. Look for ethnic festivals where multiple nationalities come together sharing traditional foods, music and dance performances.
Consider how America’s intercultural heritage contributed to our society. French settlers, for example, inspired Louisiana’s spicy Cajun cuisine and Creole, while blues and jazz evolved from African-American work songs and spirituals.
Try samosas at an Indian restaurant, purchase pierogies at an Eastern European grocery store or prepare a family strudel recipe. Abigail Carr loves to tempt her sons, two and four, with a taste of South America. “Just last week we ate yogurt in our cereal instead of milk and put popcorn in our soup-two things I learned to do in Ecuador,” she says.
Get out the globe or world map. Bookmark or flag the destinations that interest your children. Make a list of questions and together research a specific country or region.
“Kids love to learn about different festivals or celebrations in real time,” Rodriguez says. Her students enjoy viewing international birthday celebrations on YouTube and comparing those festivities to their own birthday party experiences.
Welcome immigrants in the community. “We volunteer with refugees and we also participate in events with a local non-profit that promotes interfaith dialogue,” Carr says.
Learn how innovative people help their communities with limited resources. For example, William Kamkwamba built a windmill from junkyard scraps to bring electricity and water to his village in Malawi. Kamkwamba shares his story in his book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.
As kids learn to embrace diversity, they’re better prepared to work in a global environment. “It makes them more well-rounded in becoming adults,” Rodriguez says. “They’re kinder when they realize how other people are in comparison to themselves. I feel like they learn more about who they are and the kind of person they want to be.”
Carr often shares endearing phrases borrowed from her time in Ecuador with her sons like, “Ay, mis queriditos ninitos” which means, “Oh, my sweet beloved little boys.” “I want them to hear other languages being spoken and have a curiosity to learn more,” she says.
Even the littlest ears will appreciate the strums, drums and chimes of global tunes. “We listen to Nigerian music, Afro-Caribbean, Arabic and sometimes Indian music,” says Kimberly Meyer, whose daughter is 10 months old. Meyer hopes to introduce her youngster to traditional Hawaiian music next.
While viewing exotic animals at the zoo, learn about the challenges they face in their native countries and how their unique markings reflect their country of origin’s habitat.
The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea will create a timely opportunity to learn more about the nation’s customs. While you’re at it, learn about the origins of the Olympics in ancient Greece and how the worldwide event has evolved.
Exchanging letters and engaging in Skype chats with classrooms around the world are fun ways to help kids develop stronger communication skills. Check with your child’s teacher for recommended resources.
Encourage inquiring minds. For instance, Rodriguez says her students like discovering what students across the globe pack in their backpacks.
Read up on the world’s major religions. Draw comparisons by asking: How are they alike? How are they different?
“When my family from Austria comes to visit, we talk about our parents, share experiences we had growing up and more,” says Anita Smith, whose mother is an Austrian immigrant. “My kids feel a sense of their own history and connected to the past and another part of the world.”
Learn from locals, advises Carr, who has visited the U.K, Spain and Iceland with her youngsters. “Our favorite travel memories are not things we chose to visit out of a tourist guidebook, but other excursions that locals-who we now call friends-recommended we take. That’s where you’ll find the best food, the best prices and the most fun.”
Discover the intercultural meanings behind body language. For example, Hawaii’s “hang loose” hand signal means “Do you want a drink?” in Holland.
View photographic essays and media that document cultures from around the world. Check out National Geographic, Time Life books, photography exhibits and documentaries.
Why Cultural Education Matters
“I want my boys to be aware of how amazing each country is with its unique language, music, beliefs and landscape,” Carr says. “I want them to grow up with a thirst for adventure, fascinated by the details of each different place they discover.”
By offering our kids a multitude of ways to examine the world, we won’t have to worry about raising xenophobes. Instead they’ll feel more interconnected to the people who populate our beautiful planet. And as they yearn to learn more, they may even one day find themselves confidently zig-zagging across the globe on their own fascinating adventures.
- I am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai
- Hungry Planet: What the World Eats by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio
- The Maestro Classics 12-CD Music Collection (educents.com)