The following post is by contributor Catherine Way of Adventures With Kids.
What is your child’s favourite food? One of my son’s favourite things to eat is Vegemite toast. What sports do your children like to play or watch on TV? My sons love to play footy in the backyard and watch the AFL (Australian Football League). That’s right, we’re Australian. I bet that, wherever you are in the world, what your children like is different to what my children like. That’s because everyone is different and everywhere is different.
Children are born belonging to a particular culture, but around the world there are many ways of living and being. Technology has connected the world and we can speak to and see people in far away places within seconds. As they grow, today’s children will encounter and need to connect, communicate and work together with people from a diverse range of backgrounds. Encouraging your child to approach people’s differences with a mindset of learning from one another, rather than fearing or judging one another, will help them to understand that despite the differences these are people just like them.
Gaining knowledge of different cultural practices also helps children develop their sense of identity and understand their place in their family, local community, town, country and the world community.
Here are some ways to explore different cultures, traditions, languages and families with your child:
Snuggle up with a book.There are many books that can introduce you to places around the world or people that are different from your children. Delightful Children’s Books has a wonderful list of books to help you Read Around the World.My favourite book for starting a discussion about diversity is Mem Fox’s, Whoever You Are. It is a wonderful book showing the differences and the similarities of children in cultures around the world with the message that no matter where we come from our hearts are the same.
Cook (and eat)!I can’t imagine being confined to food from one culture. I love to try international food. Cooking and eating new dishes with your children is fun and a great way to start a discussion about other cultures. There are many ways to introduce internationl food. Have a theme night with food from a country you are interested in. Or plan a project to cook and try international desserts. Visit the supermarket and choose a new type of fruit. How about eating with chopsticks, making your own pasta or rolling sushi?
Learn some new words.Guten Morgen! Selamat Pagi! Bom Dia! Learn how to say good morning, goodbye or thank you in other languages. Learn to count to 10. Challenge yourself to say good morning in a different language every day for a week. Or learn some simple songs in another language – Frere Jacques, anyone?
Dance and sing
Music is a wonderful way to give the world to your children. There are some many beautiful styles around the world. Have you ever heard Tuvan throat singing, played a guiro or seen an Irish dance. This playlist on Simple Kids is a great place to start exploring world music with your kids, or Putumayo Kids has a range of world music CDs.
Look at the mapGet a world map or an atlas. Play games with your children. Try to find countries from A to Z. Pick and country and wonder about what it would be like to live there – would it be hot or cold? what animals would be around? what would your house look like? Use Google Earth to take a closer look at the country of your choice. What are the landmarks that tourists might visit in that country?If you have an ipad, Barefoot Books has an amazing World Atlas app to help you explore the world.
Be open to discussionBe available to your children when they have awkward questions about differences between people. Don’t automatically shush them or ignore their question (although you may need to tell them that they need to ask again at a more suitable time). By honouring your children’s questions, you teach them that it is okay for people to be different and is not something that we ignore or are ashamed about.
Take an excursion
One-on-one contact is most effective way to teach about other places and cultures. Take your children to restaurants that serve mulitcultural food. Look out for multicultural festivals and events in your town. If and when you have the money, travel to other countries and let your children experience different cultures first hand.
How can you help
Unfortunately, not all countries in the world are created equal. Many people around the world are much less well off than us. So, as you explore the world with your children, think about whether you could do something to help those people. Perhaps you could make a donation, sponsor a child or loan money through Kiva.
What culture would you love to explore with your child/ren?