“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” ~ Maya Angelou
One of the best gifts we can give our children is the preparation to thrive in an increasingly diverse and interconnected world.
For parents who value the importance of raising culturally aware children, the goal is to provide young ones with the skills and an open mind to grow into the most wholesome versions of themselves. Encouraging cultural sensitivity, empathy and embracing differences are the keys to building a solid, culturally aware foundation from which to explore the world.
My personal journey of learning the value of cultural awareness and oneness began as a young child.
As the daughter of an East Indian father and a Spanish-American mother, I often felt unsure of where I fit in. It wasn’t until later on in life, when I began working in a diverse creative community, that I began to feel a sense of belonging.
Furthermore, my love of travel took me to many different parts of the world, and through these travels I developed a new, promising perspective. The wonderfully different cultures with which I was so fascinated were equally fascinated with me. I was shown a glimpse of a world where cultural differences were accepted, respected, and celebrated. What a joyful feeling it was!
Since this awakening, it has been my passion to cultivate these same positive, culturally-derived feelings in others who may not feel as much self-love and acceptance as their own individuality deserves. Particularly upon the birth of my own baby, it became a priority for me to share this joy and inspiration. I find great peace and fulfillment through encouraging my daughter to cherish her unique individuality, and to celebrate the cultural experiences she will encounter throughout her journeys. To remind her that we are all just one facet of a beautiful, giant kaleidoscope. We are exquisitely unique, yet simultaneously, we are all one.
The value of cultural sensitivity is particularly important to observe during these times of Presidential candidate followers and racist messages in the media.
It’s more important than ever to remind our children the importance of equality, tolerance and acceptance amongst one another. Teaching them that we are all worthy of the same respect and love regardless of ethnicity, background or cultural differences is perhaps the most invaluable lesson of all. Remember that your children are more likely to be open to cultural differences if they see that you are, so setting an intent example for them to follow goes a long way.
There are countless ways to raise culturally aware children, and there is no wrong way to do it as long as the intention remains the same. We hope you’ll have fun exploring this list of ideas and spending time together cultivating your cultural awareness!
1. Give the gift of cultural immersion.
Cross borders with your young ones. Let them dive into the waters of an unknown environment. Allow them to be shocked by the excitement of a new culture. Bathe them in the richness of different ways of life. Immersing young ones headfirst into new cultures via travel is undoubtedly one of the greatest ways to teach them the importance of cultural awareness.
If traveling to a foreign country with your children isn’t a possibility for your immediate budget or if it can’t fit into your calendar, it is still completely possible to immerse yourself in new cultures within your home country. Go to colorful and culturally diverse cities, like New York, Chicago or San Francisco if you live in the USA. Still a stretch? Travel locally within your own area when you can. Take your kids to an ethnic grocery store. Or show your support to the courageous immigrants in your town by supporting and shopping at their businesses.
2. Attend cultural kid-friendly festivals.
What better way to engage your children in a cultural experience than to take them to a fun cultural festival. This way they’ll be participating in cross-cultural games, crafts, and storytelling whilst having fun learning. Showing them that new experiences are exciting and rewarding is a great way to open them up to new things early on.
3. Take them to cultural exhibits or museums.
Children’s museums are a great way to crack your child’s view of the world wide open. Interactive and hands-on exhibits at museums educate children on the importance of cultural awareness in a fun and engaged educational environment. Many museums offer multicultural programs that you can experience with the entire family.
4. Try different foods and teach them the origins.
Use Pinterest to search fun, exotic recipes that are kid-friendly. Invite your children to help you prepare the dishes while you discuss the origin of the food that you are preparing. Perhaps even make it a new tradition in your family that once per week you prepare a new dish together from around the world. If you don’t have time to cook, immerse yourselves anyway by visiting foreign food restaurants in your area. Gently encourage your kids to step outside of their comfort zones and to try something particularly interesting on the menu.
5. Practice a new language together.
Knowing more than one language is one of the most invaluable skills out there. Giving your children the gift of language will not only open up their world, but it will allow them more opportunity to succeed later in life. The younger that children are exposed to a second language, the better.
Put foreign language cartoons on the television for your ultra little ones, young brains are designed to soak up a multitude of languages. For older children and teenagers, watch foreign films with english subtitles, download language learning programs, and play foreign language learning games together. Not only does learning a second language have a myriad of benefits on the mental and intellectual capabilities of your child, but it also helps them grasp an understanding of an entirely new culture.
6. Read children’s books that feature landmarks in international countries.
Dive into books with your children that explore ways of life in different countries and educate them on the variety of cultural customs, landmarks and traditions around the world. Make it a habit to visit your local library together a few times per month to acquire a stack of reading material. What a great way to connect with them whilst learning something new together.
7. Learn about how other cultures celebrate holidays.
Change up your routine and learn about how different countries celebrate holidays. Gather books from your library to read together on foreign holidays. Learn about the history of each tradition. Spin a dreidel and light the candles on a Menorah together. Set up a pinata for Cinco de Mayo. Or explore all of the different ways Christmas is celebrated around the world.
8. Throw parties for your kids based on different countries—Passport to Paris?
I knew a teacher once who organized “Passport” parties for her classroom at the end of each month. For instance, they “traveled” to France, Mexico, China, Australia and beyond. Each party was an cumulation of all things related to the country they were “visiting.” They would eat the foods of each country, learn about the animals there, play games and talk about the language that was spoken there, without ever leaving the classroom! What better way to allow a child’s imagination to run wild whilst educating them on a brand new culture? You can do variations of this idea within your own home—think rainy days and birthday parties.
9. Make crafts from around the world,
Get your kids’ creative juices flowing by proposing that you make cultural art projects together. Henna hand tattoos, crafting Japanese lanterns and Indian pasta mandalas are fun ideas for anytime. The creative possibilities are endless, just turn to Google or Pinterest for more inspiration on specific craft ideas!
10. Maintain a “people are people” philosophy through communication.
Portray the importance of respect, acceptance and tolerance amongst one another simply by talking openly with your children about it. Interact with people from different cultures around your kids so that they are comfortable doing the same. Show them that it is important to treat everyone with equal kindness and respect and encourage them to embrace the differences they come across. Communicate about the importance of empathy and remind them that we are all just slightly different shades of the same color!
Author: Sheela Lalani
Editor: Catherine Monkman