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A little boy in Malawi wakes up in the wee hours to help his young mother pound cassava in a stone pot outside his family’s thatched-roof hut. Thousands of miles away, a Honduran mama furiously hacks brush as her young daughter climbs trees perched perilously on the side of a mountain. Standing at the kitchen sink, an American stay at home mom washes breakfast dishes as her two toddlers run around the living room in circles singing the lullaby, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
Morning routines around the world vary significantly across different cultures. One is not better, nor more fulfilling than the other. Just different. Whether its the diversity of our morning routines, the God we pray to, or the foods we choose to eat, we must teach our children to appreciate, connect, and interact with people of different cultures and in other countries.
Whether you like it or not, we’ve gone global!
By educating your children about the big world around them, you’re opening their eyes and minds to difference and acceptance; you’re encouraging understanding, empathy, sensitivity, curiosity, and awareness of people and places beyond their own backyard.
Here are five fun ways to create a citizen of the world — a cultured kid.
Enjoy international fare, music, art, and museum exhibits together
Rich smells and tastes of exotic foods, vibrant colors of thought-provoking art, and cavorting dancers from around the globe can help awaken your child’s senses. Whether it is visiting the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit at a nearby museum, trying Chicken Tikka Masala at a local Indian restaurant, or attending a cultural fair, there are plentiful options to help expose your child to other cultures. Heck, once a week, prepare a meal from another country and have a conversation about the traditions of that country.
This past weekend, Violet and I attended a local event, Passport Europe Festival, that featured European cuisine, Scottish dancers, Scandinavian music, Polish Polka tunes, a Greek dancing troupe, flashy Flamenco ladies, and more! Violet shrieked and kicked her legs as she watched the Turkish dancers flutter on the stage. At lunchtime, she even chowed down on a pierogi for her very first time.
On dreary mornings, we like to blast upbeat Irish tunes or African Tribal sounds and dance around the house. As the worldly beats emit happiness, Violet jumps up and down just as she did when she served 9 1/2 months on the inside.
Your child is never too young to experience international wonders.
Make learning a second language a priority
Ja! Si! Oui! Jes! Hai! Hanji! Yes! If you can afford to send your child to a dual-immersion language program or hire a professional tutor, yay for you! For the rest of us, nearly every one of your child’s favorite cartoons has a foreign language version. If you can’t find a Spanish, French, (insert your favorite language here) version of the cartoon with your TV provider, they can easily be found on YouTube or on DVD.
Violet’s favorite foreign cartoon is Babar, a cute little elephant from a classic French children’s book Histoire de Babar by Jean de Brunhoff. Babar – The Classic Series Season One is available on DVD (with English and French audio options). It’s awesome because it helps us, mamas, to brush up on some new words too!
Besides watching shows in other languages, reading dual-language children books to your child is another great way for them to pick up new words.
Since Violet has cousins who speak Spanish, we opted for this cool book for little learners called First 100 Words Bilingual: Primeras 100 Palabras – Spanish-English Bilingual (Spanish Edition).
We also have a dual-language book of the classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar in English and Spanish. Many classic children’s books can be found in dual-language.
We are lucky to live in the huge melting pot of Chicago. Nearly all of the ladies on our block speak Polish and love to woo Violet with excited Polish chirps and intonations. Violet responds with smiles and coos as if she knows what they are saying. I think she will have Polish down before mama! Cerować (darn)!
Bring the world into your home
Why not host an exchange student from a country your child has been learning about?
You can host a foreign student who is hoping to study English or even house an experienced bilingual au pair!
This is another great way for your child to learn another language. I remember when I was in high school, we hosted Japanese exchange students. Yukiko and Fujiko inspired me to study the Japanese culture and language. For years, we remained loyal pen pals, which leads me to the next idea.
On a pre-baby trip trekking through Guatemala and Belize, I met an awesome Australian gal, Nimra. Through the years, we stayed in touch and even caught up with each other in other parts of the world. Now, we both have young daughters, born only days apart. (crazy, right?!) On our daughter’s first birthdays (in two months!), Violet and Sophia will start a pen pal friendship to learn more about each other and their unique worlds. Although, in the beginning, us mommies will help them share their stories. When they are both older, we hope they will continue their friendship and connect on a trip.
Don’t have enough room to host or not a big fan of writing?
Buy your children a large world map to put on the wall to peek their wonder and curiosity.
This world map wall-decal is my favorite to help teach world geography. You can pin fun reusable decals on the countries and even write on the map with a dry-erase marker! During story time, let your child choose a country, then share stories together about its history, food, or top attractions.
If you aren’t a fan of putting stuff on the wall, The Maps book is the next best thing and my favorite book to look at with Violet. It has awesome drawings scribbled on the different countries and also notes “historical and cultural interests, notable personalities, iconic animals and plants, cultural events, and many more fascinating facts.”
Volunteer as a family
Volunteering can make your mini-me more cultured and empathetic—while making our crazy world a better place. Whether it’s packing food in a food pantry, handing out toys to those less fortunate, planting a garden in an underserved area, or serving on a youth mission trip, volunteering helps make youngsters more compassionate and soft-hearted. Studies also show that kids who volunteer boost their psychological, social and intellectual development.
Check out VolunteerMatch.org to find kid-friendly volunteer opportunities near you.
Book a family trip in another country and immerse yourselves in different cultures
Whether it’s sea kayaking in Honduras, a road trip through the U.S., or a grand European adventure, your kids will relish first-hand the different languages, customs, music, foods, and sights of a place unlike the one they’re used to, which can broaden their minds and awareness.
If traveling with the family overseas isn’t realistic financially, you can still partake in fun cultural experiences closer to home, like visiting Chinatown, Little Italy, Greektown, or other ethnic neighborhoods located near you. In Chicago, we are lucky to have nearly every culture represented.
Don’t worry small-town peeps, I got you. You can still expose your child to the ways of the world and how kids live in other countries by watching these awesome videos here.