A new show arrived on the PBS Kids Network scene this past summer (I’ve written about another fabulous show on this network here) that got our family extra-excited due to its focus on an under-represented cultural group in the media.
I’m sharing more information about it back at my Syncopated Mama Molly of Denali post today, but it prompted my husband G and I into a discussion involving the importance of expanding the cultural horizons of children.
G had been mulling over possible topics to present to a dual-enrollment Intro to Religion class he’d been asked to teach and was considering beginning the course with a look into stereotypes.
He said that these can be a common starting point (even if there’s an overall falsehood to them) which can serve as an impetus to establishing dialogue and curiosity about the subject.
This led us back to the topic of cultural diversity, and the different ways to educate children in this area — including possibly using common stereotypes as a jumping-off point for some meaningful discussions. Just how can you delve deeper into a more serious education of these things? Here’s a list of the top ways.
Teach cultural diversity with world travel
This idea is probably too obvious to mention, but there’s just nothing like experiencing a new culture firsthand to open minds and help with understanding.
Exploring the world personally is one of our family’s favorite things to do. Whether it’s an international trip, a massive, within-country road trip, or just wandering around your nearest city’s ethnic neighborhoods, living a culture directly just can’t be beat. However, not everyone’s situation allows for this luxury, so what else can a family do?
Take living-room trips
If you don’t have a lot of extra time or money to travel around in person, then simply explore the world from the comfort of your living room! A few years ago, the three of us had a blast “visiting” someplace new each month, which I share in my Passport to Fun post series (read about the first trip here, or find them all on this page).
You don’t have to feel pressured to make these journeys each month, either. Take them in a more leisurely fashion – or omit any of the ideas that seem too overwhelming. Find what works for your family, then get ready for a ton of fun!
Sample small bits at a time
While sampling many different aspects of a culture all at once on a Passport trip is a blast, you might want to focus on exploring different cultures in more specific areas, such as:
- Geography – Having maps or a globe on display around the house is a great way to incorporate cultural education into everyday life. These are great reference tools to turn to whenever some place new is encountered in a book, movie, or show, which will lay a wonderful foundation for further studies.
- Food – Who doesn’t love food? Eating your way around the world is another fantastically fun way to introduce different cultures to your kids.
- Media – This could range from movies to tv shows to videos found on YouTube, but our family is currently uber-excited about the new Molly of Denali show on PBS Kids that I’ve written about on my blog today.
- Music – There are more music choices than I could think about listing, but anything by Putumayo Presents is sure to be a winner.
- Arts & Crafts – Projects in this area could range from Pinterest-crazy to something as simple as coloring different flags, but this is definitely a fun area to explore, culturally.
- Dance – YouTube can be an impressive dance instructor and the dance session can provide your kids with some laughs (especially if you join in on the lesson) as well as some great exercise.
- Games – All kids love games and it can be really interesting to explore those of different regions around the world.
- Language – Although it can be a blast to learn a new language as a family (have you read this post yet?), don’t limit yourself to only the written and spoken word. Including an investigation of the different gestures and body language of other cultures can be fascinating, as well.
- Clothing – We had so much fun coming up with our outfits for our Passport trips, but a multi-cultural dress-up box using these fun hats would be a great idea, too.
- Books – There are plenty of wonderful culture-based books out there, but this title is my absolute favorite resource. Other than that, I highly suggest having a few around-the-world folktale books on hand. Here are a few that look pretty neat:
- A Year Full of Stories: 52 classic stories from all around the world
- Once There Was a Story: Tales from Around the World
- Tales for Telling: From Around the World
- A World Full of Animal Stories
- Stories to Solve and More Stories to Solve
- Star Stories: Constellations Tales from Around the World
- Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World
- Best-Loved Folktales of the World
Hold a group cultural day
If you are a part of a homeschool group, this is a fun way to explore different cultures with friends. Our playgroup did this a few years ago, which I wrote about here. Dividing up the work means more fun and less stress – plus, different brains mean greater creativity!
Attend local events
Sometimes these can be pricey, but often you can find events for free, especially those held at recreational centers and places of worship. We don’t necessarily live in an especially large city, but we’ve been able to attend local Greek, Cuban and Italian festivals and even eaten our way around the weekly food fair at a nearby Buddhist temple.
Seek out cultural sites
If you’ve read about any of our summer road trips, then you know that they are very National Park Service site-driven. I’ve written about the amazing Junior Ranger program in the past, but it really does offer so much – and there are more cultural-based sites included than you would think, especially in the Southwest.
Visiting so many Native American sites this past summer and then coming home to enjoy the new Molly of Denali show has also proven to be a fabulous combination for cementing all the new knowledge in our Gv’s brain.
Seek out sites located on reservation land, or visit attractions like the Crazy Horse Memorial, Monument Valley Tribal Park or even spots like this Norwegian stave church gem, tucked away in improbable South Dakota.
Find a pen pal
Although there are many “find a pen pal” sites out there on the internet, I’m not entirely convinced of their safety. After all, this person will have your address and most likely start to learn quite a bit about your kids…
However, if you know someone (who even knows someone who knows someone) that your child can write to that’s of another culture, then suddenly the process becomes much safer.
Our family sponsors children through this organization, which provides plenty of letter-writing opportunities in addition to financial support. And when a child I’d sponsored for years “aged out” of the program, we were able to select a new one who shared Gv’s birthday, making the letter-writing experience much more relatable for our girl.
Heap on the holidays
The winter holidays are the perfect time to add some cultural diversity to the magic of the season. Gv can’t wait to learn all about the different customs our shepherd Hezzie encounters each year on his trip around the world. Your family might enjoy this tradition, too. Check out The Shepherd on the Search’s Amazing Journey Around the World for more information.
Look for cultural diversity teachable moments
Finally, look for everyday opportunities to talk with your kids about cultural diversity. This is especially easy with very young children, as they are quick to notice differences in appearance (sometimes much to our embarrassment!). What a perfect opportunity to take advantage of a situation that could lead to a deeper understanding for the whole family!
Diversity covers many different aspects of life but introducing different cultures can be a great way to ease into talking about trickier diversity topics later on. Whether through the fun of travel (or armchair traveling!) or learning more about the Native population where you live, your children will benefit from an expansion of their cultural horizons.
Have you experienced any different cultures yet with your family? I can’t wait to hear! Leave a comment below or email me at lisahealy (at) outlook (dot) com.
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