Raising Culturally Aware Kids

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By Jennifer Halter

We are very fortunate to live in an area where cultural diversity is seen throughout our communities. From an early age, there are more chances for our children to be introduced to other children who may look different, speak other languages and honor traditions outside of what they may know in their own home. As your child grows, they may notice these differences and that may open the door to questions, which can expand into amazing learning opportunities, not only for your child, but your entire family.

Here are some ways you can support your child on their quest to become culturally aware citizens.

In the Playroom

Often, this is your child’s first opportunity to be introduced to cultural diversity. Include dolls with
different skin tones, hair types and styles of dress. Play music in languages other than your own. Fill your shelves with books that celebrate differences. Some great books to add include:

Jack & Jim by Kitty Crowther – A blackbird and a seagull become friends even when the others don’t support
this strange (to them) friendship. Diversity is the theme throughout the story’s innocent plot of friendship
regardless of race.

Children Just Like Me: A Unique Celebration of Children Around the World by Anabel Kindersley – Real interviews with young children provide an educational and eye-opening look into different cultural backgrounds and diverse lives. You and your children will learn about the differences, but also discover and celebrate our similarities.

The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler – This story contains a simple rhyme, a lively story and an important lesson: social acceptance no matter what shade you come in. Accepting others for what’s on the inside is simple.

Same, Same But Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw – Pen-pals from across the world — one who lives in India and the other who lives in the United States — learn that even though their worlds look different, they actually have a lot in common.

In the Kitchen

A big part of any culture is the food! Allow your child to explore different ethnic foods at local restaurants or
even better, at home! It’s easy to find traditional recipes from other countries on the internet or through friends.

Create a full, hands-on learning experience for your child by including them in every step of the process, from choosing the menu to enjoying your meal. Have your child join you as you shop for ingredients. There are many specialty grocery stores in our area where you can buy your items. Take time to explore while you’re there. Allow your child to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells. While shopping, be sure to use the proper names of items and explain where items come from. Google if you need to! It’s OK to show children that adults can continue to learn too.

At home, have your child help you prepare your meal. For more complex recipes, you may need to enlist the help of YouTube or other online resources during the process. When you are ready to eat, try to do it in the way it is done in its country of origin. For example, use chopsticks instead of forks or forgo utensils altogether if that is how it is traditionally done. It will make for a more authentic and educational experience.

Get Connected to Groups

There are many local opportunities to join groups where your child will be exposed to cultural diversity. Try a mommy and me playgroup for very young children. If your child is school age, see if there are any  specialized groups within the school community your child may join or even just visit to learn more. Check sites such as Meetup or Nextdoor for more groups that may be of interest.

Attend Local Events

There’s no shortage of events in our community to recognize and honor other cultures. In addition to large
annual festivals, one of the best and most convenient ways to learn about celebrations is through the local
library system. There are often specialized story times, crafts and larger events offered throughout the year.

The best part … these activities are often offered free of charge. Additionally, local churches frequently host
events open to the public and most are free to attend.

Discuss Holidays

With the adoption of more school holidays to celebrate other cultures and religions, there may be questions about what these holidays celebrate. Instead of just saying there’s no school today, make time to share information with your child about what the holidays are all about. Explain they may have classmates who recognize different holidays than your family does and explain why they are just as important.

Be Open and Honest

Truly one of the most effective ways to teach your child about the differences they may notice in their world is to have open and honest communication. As questions arise about skin color, languages and cultures, share what you know and let your child’s curiosity lead the conversation. The more comfortable you are with sharing, the more comfortable they will be with asking questions and ultimately, those “differences” won’t seem so different after all.

Jennifer Halter is the Publisher of Macaroni Kid Woodbridge and Macaroni Kid Gainesville/Manassas,
free online calendars and resources to help you find your family fun all year round.

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