Six Ways to Explore World Cultures with Kids

“Mom, what can I do?”
“Are we going somewhere today?”
“I’m bored!”

Sound familiar? Instead of turning on the TV or video games when kids get antsy, why not take a trip around the world? Traveling internationally might not be in your budget, but you can explore the world from the comfort of your own home. Start your world tour by making your own “passports” or buying some at a school supply store like Smarty Pants downtown. Each time your child has a cross-cultural experience, stamp his passport. By fostering these experiences, your child will have a book full of stamps and memories he can be proud of.

Here are some ideas for passport-worthy experiences:

Explore new flavors

Make an effort to go beyond the usual tacos and spaghetti. Pick a few countries whose cuisines are unfamiliar to you and try new dishes, whether at home or at a restaurant. Be enthusiastic for your kids. If parents make faces or are unwilling to try new ingredients, the kids will follow. However, if you say something like, ‘I’ve never had fish like this! I’ll try one bite,’ you are setting a positive example.

Read books celebrating cultural diversity

Multicultural books with rich illustrations give kids the opportunity to explore universal themes and to imagine what it’s like to be a child in another country. Morales recommends three children’s books that bring cultures alive: The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi; Africa is Not a Country by Margy Burns Knight; and Finders Keepers? A True Story in India by Robert Arnett. Ask your librarian for other suggestions of books with international themes.

Order cross-cultural subscription kits

If you like subscription kits, Little Passports offers creative packages for children. Each month, your child receives a kit featuring a different country with souvenirs, activity sheets, photos of popular destinations, a recipe, and access to online games. Starting at $12.95, these kits give your children a glimpse into other kids’ lives around the world.

Make an effort to learn another language

Many educators believe that teaching kids to speak another language is at least as important as teaching them how to play soccer. Teaching your children greetings and polite phrases like “hello,” “goodbye,” “please,” and “thank you” in at least two different languages is a way to expose them to other languages. If you want to take it a step further, make small labels in the target language (French, for example) and place them on everyday objects around your home. Your child will be eating at une table and sleeping in un lit in no time.

Give Family Movie Night a global twist

Family-friendly foreign films are a great way to expose your kids to world cultures. Your young ones will enjoy the Japanese animated film My Neighbor Totoro while elementary-aged children will like Cave of the Yellow Dog, a film about a Mongolian girl and her loyal friendship with a stray dog. Iran’s Children of Heaven and New Zealand’s Whale Rider will inspire kids 11 years and older while also exposing them to beautiful cultures.

Adopt an international student

Did you know over 70 percent of foreign students in American colleges never step foot in an American home? Check with the international student office at your local university (The University of Findlay can help here) to see if they have a program set up for American families to “adopt” students. Give your adoptees family experiences they might not have on their own like playing board games, going to church or watching Little League games. While teaching them about American culture, you’ll learn about theirs, too.

No matter which cultures your family explores, your kids, with their passports full of stamps, are sure to look at the world differently as school rolls back around. Cook says, “Learning about other cultures reveals a world with more color, more sound, more shape, more beauties than a single culture can provide. A life of one culture, for me, is a life with only one color. Maybe beautiful, but wow! Look what happens when I can add more colors!” Can you think of a better gift to give your kids?

Sandi Haustein is a mom of four kids who love to eat ethnic foods.

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