In an earlier post, we discussed the benefits of exposing young minds to stories written by diverse authors or featuring diverse characters. Children need to see themselves in the pages of a book. When they don’t, they may think their stories or experiences don’t matter.
Children also benefit by exposure to “window” books. Window books allow children to see aspects of the world and of other people’s lives that are quite different from their own. By introducing children to these new experiences and perspectives, they learn that their view isn’t the only view on things.
Books are just one way to expose your little one to other cultures. It’s fun and easy to immerse your child in cultural diversity through food, music and dance, art, language, and drama. Such experiences broaden your child’s awareness of the world around him or her. They help your little one learn to become more empathetic and open-minded about those who are “different,” and ultimately more comfortable with differences in race, language, lifestyle, and more.
These are just a few suggestions to get you started on expanding your child’s world.
Food is perhaps the easiest way to expose your child to other cultures. Once your little one is feeding him- or herself solid foods, you have lots of options. It helps, too, if your child is an adventurous eater.
Start simple. Ethnic food favorites include pizza and pasta from Italy; eggrolls, baos and dumplings from China; quesadillas and guacamole from Mexico; udon noodles and anything Teriyaki from Japan; the list is endless.
You might start by making one ethnic meal each week. Whenever you introduce an ethnic dish to your child, take a few minutes to talk about the country of origin and various aspects of its culture. How is it different from ours? For example, do we speak the same language? How are our cultures the same?
If you were to serve pasta, for example, you might say, “Pasta is a very popular dish in a country called Italy.” Then, while your child is eating, you might point out Italy on a globe or map. Be sure to show where you are relative to Italy on that same map. The large distances are unfathomable for a young child, but at least he or she might begin to realize that there’s far more to the world than one might have imagined.
Then, talk a bit about Italian culture—steeped in the arts, architecture, and food. Depending on your child’s level of interest, you might even show your little one representative pictures of Italy, e.g., the Roman Colosseum, the canals of Venice, the leaning tower at Pisa, vineyards in the countryside, and so forth. And, of course, you could always read a book that’s set in Italy or has an Italian author.
The beauty of bread
In our country, certain international baked breads are particularly treasured. You might take your child to the grocery store and search for breads that represent different cultures, e.g., croissants, tortillas, pitas, matzo, Irish soda bread, Italian bread, and so forth. Once at home, talk about the various breads with your child. As he or she tastes each one, name it, and talk about how it’s the same or different from the other breads, and from those that are popular in our country. If it’s practical, use a map or globe to point out each bread’s country of origin.
According to zinglanguages.com, currently there are 7,139 active languages in the world. Explain to your child that each country has one and sometimes more main languages that most people in that country speak. For example, in the United States, most people speak either English or Spanish, or both. You might say, “In English, we say ‘Hello’ or ‘Hi’ to greet someone. In Spanish, we would say ‘Hola (pronounced ow-la). Can you say ‘Hola’?’” Then, give your little one a preview of how to say “Hello” in other languages. You might even practice saying “Hello” in a new language each week.
French – bonjour
Japanese – konnichiwa (kon-nee-chee-wah)
German – guten tag (gooten-tag)
Italian – ciao (chow)
Swahili – hujambo (who-jahm-bo)
Chinese – Ni hao (knee-how)
Vietnamese – xin chào (sin chow)
Hebrew – shalom (shall-ohm)
Filipino – kamusta (ka-moo-stah)
Sweden – hej (hey)
The benefits of early exposure to music—better emotional development, higher academic performance, improved memory, and enhanced creativity—have been well documented. Each song sung, musical instrument played, and piece of music appreciated provides insights into a child’s interests, abilities, and knowledge, and sets the stage for learning language and mathematics.
Musicality is a prominent and distinctive characteristic of humankind, and yet it is highly diverse from one country to the next. The National Institutes of Health has studied various musical activities across cultures. It has found that all people of the world sing, and each culture often has a unique form of instrumental music that is played on unique instruments.
Explain this concept to your child and then share some of the fascinating and beautiful world music from this compilation of clips. https://theproaudiofiles.com/10-world-instruments-worth-knowing/
You might play just one or two clips each day, and spend a little time talking about where the instruments originated. Which instruments does your child like best? Like least?
These are just some of the ways you can instill an appreciation for diverse cultures in memorable ways. Such multicultural experiences help your child learn to appreciate his or her own culture as much as those from distant lands.