Besides sharing your own culture with your children (or grandchildren), great benefit can come from exploring other cultures as well. Our world is truly shrinking and as the saying goes, we all need to “think globally and act locally.” Ideas:
Travel. A visit (even a virtual visit) to another country can help us see our own country more clearly. Just as a fish is unaware of water until it isn’t there, a glimpse of a foreign culture can help us better understand our own country, town and neighborhood. This works even if the new place we visit is across the highway or down the road. Travel can make history, geography, natural resources, cultural connections and other social studies “come alive.”
Learn a new language. Languages are easier for our brains to learn when we are younger. Neural connections that aren’t made in the early years tend to wither away. It’s literally, “Use it or lose it.” Knowing more than one language is not only a social, and perhaps career advantage, but a cognitive advantage as well. Those who know more than one language tend to have greater cognitive flexibility and broader vocabularies. Each language has unique patterns of syntax and rules of grammar. The human brain was designed to seek patterns and is enriched by dual language experiences. At least read The Cow That Went, “Oink!” with your children to celebrate bilingualism!
Participate. One pre-school classroom teacher I admired explored all kinds of cultural celebrations with her little charges. They learned the meaning and honored traditions of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Chinese New Year, Ramadan and others. They kept “peace lights” twinkling all year long. They invited people from the community to share their lives and cultures. Sometimes participation begins with tasting new foods, learning a new dance or game, hearing a new story—simple experiences that help open up a larger world.
Communicate. Social media makes it easier to reach out to new worlds. One of our New World Kids programs had participants, with parental guidance, ask people, “What did you have for breakfast today?” Those responding were asked to email a photo of their meal, and invite others to do so. Our kids received photos from around the world! Extending the old-fashioned notion of a pen pal, these experiences can be eye-opening to adults, as well as children. One of my former students, a teacher from El Salvador, took his class from a small rural school to the nearest cyber-cafe where they were able to interact with a class from San Antonio that the teacher had worked with when studying with me here.
Read. There are wonderful authors from around the world. One of my favorites is Nobel-prize-winning Juan Ramon Jimenez who wrote Platero and I, a man’s odyssey around the Spanish countryside with his little donkey, “Platero.” Other writers that I cherish who provide lovely tastes of other cultures include Patricia Polanco (Thundercake), Gerald McDermott (Anansi the Spider), Pat Mora (The Night the Moon Fell), Te Ata and Lynn Moroney (Baby Rattlesnake), Angela Shelf Medearis (Too Much Talk!), Demi (The Empty Pot), Lois Ehlert (Market Day) and Judy Sierra (Nursery Tales From Around the World).