Children living in today’s United States are exposed to a wide variety of racial and cultural diversity, creating the potential for well-rounded perspectives and an appreciation of all that we both share and have to learn from others.
Whether or not your child is asking questions about different cultures depends largely on the diversity of your family, local community, and the types of messages shared with him or her at daycare or school. While toddlers can observe and take part in cultural activities that enrich their experience and broaden their horizons from an early age, grade-school children can put cultural and racial differences into perspective.
At Rising Stride Child Care Centers, we strive to offer horizon-extending experiences to children, ages, 2 to 5. Consider the following steps for exposing your child to diversity:
- Think about your own cultural beliefs: Show, don’t tell, or so goes the old adage. When teaching your children about cultural diversity, parents benefit from clarifying their own beliefs before sharing with their kids. How can we accomplish this? Grab a journal and jot down a few notes about your own openness to other cultures, races, and belief systems.
- Try new foods: Love palak paneer? Share it with your kids! Or better yet, experience a new cuisine for the first time, together! Children are sponges and soak up new experiences with enthusiasm. By introducing them to unfamiliar flavors and types of food, you encourage your young ones to be curious about the world around them, to learn new words in the form of names of dishes, and to create positive associations with a wide range of cultures.
- Get a map or globe: Planning your next family vacation? Show your kids the exact location of your next jaunt by pointing it out on a colorful map. Globes can offer a fun game: just spin this 3D map, stop it randomly with one finger, and discuss the name and location of whatever country or body of water you land on. Don’t know anything about the location you picked? Grab your encyclopedia or look online, including your child in the research. Allowing children to visualize parts of the world encourages them to ask questions and engage in meaningful discussions.
- Decorate with culturally-diverse items: Using various cultures as inspiration, you can make your home a veritable smorgasbord of new and stimulating images. Invite your kids to paint chopsticks to use as Christmas tree ornaments, or decorate with flags from around the world. The sky’s the limit!
- Find pen pals for your children: For kids who can read and write, interacting with a pen pal is an excellent way to allow your child to interact with and gain greater understanding of other cultures by building a relationship that knows no borders.
Questions parents can ask themselves
- What is unique about our family culture? How do we celebrate that uniqueness? How do we respect and celebrate other cultures?
- What types of diversity do we have in our family?
- Who do we invite to our home for social time?
- Is our neighborhood diverse and inclusive? If not, what makes it that way?
- What types of diversity and inclusion are reflected in our religious or ethical community? How can we be more diverse and inclusive?
- Does my child see diverse people in positions of authority (e.g., teachers, coaches, health care providers, faith leaders, etc.)? If not, how can I change that?
- Do our extracurricular or leisure time activities include diverse groups of people? What opportunities exist to become more involved?
- Does the media we consume (e.g., books, shows, videos, games, etc.) feature diverse characters and storylines without stereotypes? Do we use media as an opportunity to talk about diversity and inclusion?
Create Artwork from Another Culture
One way to learn about other cultures and explore cultural diversity deeper is to have your young children learn about and create artwork from another culture. Art has reflected the core values of different cultures for centuries and is a great way to learn more about other groups of people. Here are a few simple and culturally-rich arts and crafts ideas:
- Dreamcatchers (American-Indian)
- Origami (Japanese)
- Rangoli sand art (Indian)
- Paper mache maracas (Carribean and Latin)
When it comes to arts and crafts from other cultures, the options are seemingly endless. One way to narrow down on art activities is to select a different country or a culture that your child wants to learn more about and find out what culture-filled arts and crafts they take part in themselves!
Introducing children to other cultures is an excellent way to increase their awareness of global interdependence. By educating our children through fun and memorable activities, experiences, parents can help children associate cultural development with play.