***Written by Rachel Lonas***
Our two older girls and I went to a Book Fiesta recently—a literacy project being put on by a local community organization in a Hispanic neighborhood. The weather was perfect, and the public park was filled with so much joy that it swirled with activity long after the 3 hour window for the program. Though we don't live in that neighborhood, we went in support of the good work being done, and were three of about thirty non-hispanohablantes there.
This experience got us thinking about how our generation is helping raise children to be “global citizens.” In our world where even small cities bring together people from many different nationalities, learning other cultures is as much about neighborly courtesy as it is education. Exposing your children to different cultures isn’t as complicated or time-consuming as it sounds—you do not have to know a lot about a culture to be interested in learning its customs!
My husband is a foodie, and I have become much more of one since marrying him. He loves to cook and tries his hand at making ethnic dishes all the time. The kids aren’t always as gung-ho about it as we are, but they have learned through his cooking about ingredients like coconut milk, fish sauce, turmeric, ancho chiles, etc.
Not everyone enjoys cooking, so perhaps try a trip to the grocery store and buy one ingredient you’re unfamiliar with, red lentils, say. When you get home, type it into Pinterest or Allrecipes.com and make a commitment to cook something new one night or for a potluck! It’s been said that smells tend to evoke the most potent memories, so creating those memories around food is a great way to open up a new world (and maybe your sinuses) for your children. Try some of our favorite recipes too!
Learning another language is one of the best ways to “think the thoughts” of another culture. However, when you’re busy and your children are little, you can’t just sit down and teach a language to them. I talked with some Spanish teachers, and they said the best thing for young ones is to teach simple vocabulary, mostly through song. Now that’s something I can do. Toddler tunes were numbing our brains anyway, so why not vary it up and do it in another language? Our library has supplied us with a “Playground” series from many different cultures, countries, and continents. We’re all about free resources. Our oldest enjoys figuring out what the songs mean thanks to the translations in the liner notes.
It doesn’t stop with languages. We’ve found (again, free from the library!) the Story of the World series to be a helpful tool to getting some world history in with a big dose of storytelling. Understanding a culture’s past is crucial to understanding its present and future, and this series has been of tremendous help in unlocking art and mythology for the kids.
Enjoy Cultural Events
Sometimes, learning finds you. Keep your eyes open for cultural events going on around town and free admission days for museums. Our city started an annual event called Culturefest where they have a parade of nations (like the Olympics) and booth set up with information, and global food tastings. We also went to last month’s Open House for Dekko Trading here in Chattanooga. Three generations of my family (my mom, me, and my girls) were there to try, buy, and drink some deliciously spicy chai.
If you feel like the world is passing you by, look around and you might discover instead that it’s on your doorstep and at your fingertips. Before you know it, you AND your children will be global citizens :)
Photo credit: Rachel Lonas