One of the great benefits of travelling with children is the knowledge that you are raising a global child to live on a planet that is becoming smaller each day. Providing children with global awareness prepares them for the future. They’ll be more able to tackle the environmental, economic, political and public-health challenges they will inherit.
To give kids the benefits of a global perspective, it’s essential to start promoting an interest in other cultures when they are young. Travel is great for initiating this process, but it’s not mandatory. There are a multitude of ways to raise globally aware citizens without even packing a suitcase!
Books: Take an Imaginary Trip
One of the easiest ways to introduce children to different cultures, countries and continents is through books. Head to your local library to find books that are set in far off places. Create a quick and easy calendar map of the world with places your child wants to learn about (i.e. Jan-Russia, Feb-Africa, March-India, etc). Look at a map and create the monthly (or weekly) list together. Check out this great list of books based on the different continents to get your started. Librarians are also awesome resources to help you find books from around the world.
Food: Eat Around the World
No matter where you live, you probably have access to different types of food. Mexican, Chinese, Italian and Thai restaurants are common even in small towns. Having a meal at a local restaurant can be the avenue to discuss and explore the country and culture where the food originates. Eating foods different than what your family is used to encourages flexibility, adaptability and openness to things that are different. They don’t have to like the food, but just learning about what types of foods different cultures eat and why their food might be different is a great eye opener for children (and adults alike!). Not enough options in your town, make your own food with this Multicultural Cookbook for Kids.
Music: Get Global
Living in a large metropolis we are spoiled with access to global music, often catered specifically to children (i.e. Hollywood Bowl’s Summer Sound Series). However, not every city have these options available. Check local listings for music festivals happening in your area, specifically during the spring and summer seasons. You might be surprised what you find when you go looking for world music. If not, make a global playlist or sprinkle world tunes throughout your playlist for listening in the car or for an impromptu dance party at home. Check out Spotify or Pandora for ready-made playlists from around the world. There are also an abundance of children’s CDs focusing specifically on kid friendly songs from around the world. The World Playground series is fantastic.
Cultural Events: Let’s Party!
Attending and participating in cultural events and festivals in your town is one of the best ways to immerse yourself and your child in another culture. Keep an eye out for festivals such as Cinco de Mayo or Dia de los Muertos from Mexico, Songkran from Thailand and Holi from India. These are all festivals that children would have fun participating in, while also learning. Don’t be discouraged if your city doens’t have these options available. You can easily host your own festivals at home. Check out our guide on creating your own holi party at home.
Art: Get Crafty
A great way to explore art from around the world with kids is through crafts. Check out this awesome multicultural arts book with great crafts from Central America to Africa to Japan.
Depending on the age of your children, another option is to explore art exhibits from around the world at your local museums. We recently attended an exhibit showcasing folk art representing culture and religion from all over Latin America. At the time it was a bit boring for our son, but since our visit he notices and comments on the art in our local Mexican restaurant with more interest in where it has come from. Don’t be afraid to explore museums that might be boring for the kids. Try to connect what you see with other parts of their regular life.
Community: Explore Your City
Kids are especially curious about the world around them. They have no fear of asking questions and being open. Harness that curiosity to explore your city in more depth. Even if you aren’t aware of it, there are pockets of your own town where different cultures live. Get out and explore. Find out who lives where. Stop into the locals shops selling Indian goods, Armenian food or Mexican goods. This can help teach your child the value of community and friendship while also getting a feel for how other cultures live even outside their country of origin.
Maps: Decorate with the World
There is nothing better than displaying maps around your house to encourage discussions about the world. This kid specific map explores animals throughout the world. Not many people have a globe these days, but if you see one at a thrift store, consider picking it up. Kids love to roll it around, exploring the continents and countries within them through their fingertips. If neither of these are options, print maps from online to explore in more detail.
Language: Dip into Classes
Make learning a second (or third) language a priority in your household. Check out baby language classes focusing on music to more educational languages classes as the children grow. Young children have a knack for languages from a young age, but as the years pass, they lose the ability to hear the different tones and inflections of voice. Enroll your child early in a language class that makes sense for your family. There are also educational apps and multi-lingual TV shows for kids to help increase their desire for learning another language. Our son loves Go Diego Go and Handy Manny.
Family Heritage: Explore Your Roots
Even as an American mutt, our roots go back somewhere! Explore your roots with your children. Children love to have a sense of where their ancestors come from. Discuss your heritage, how your family made the transition to your current country and the history of your family’s country of origin. Use these discussions to explore the music, food, art and language of the region.
Subscriptions: Passport to the World
Check out subscription services such as Little Passports to explore areas of the world to inspire and educate your child. If this is not available in your area, make your own pretend passport to use as a catalyst to explore the world.
Other monthly subscription services and websites like Ranger Rick, National Geographic for Kids and Time for Kids are great resources to spur conversation and learnings about the world in kid friendly terms.
The world is not homogenous, even if our towns might be. Multi-cultural families are becoming the norm. Lets help our children have a better life, by showing them the importance of recognizing, respecting and learning about cultures and countries different from our own.