Culture for Kids
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Cultural sensitivity and awareness is a growing and important trend in today’s society. Our government, the media, employers, and schools have all jumped on the bandwagon of examining ways to improve cross-cultural understanding. As parents, we, too, have the opportunity to teach our children to develop respect and interest in the cultures of others -- and to see the unique and valuable qualities of each.

One fun and informative way to involve the whole family is to sponsor special weeks at your house, where you engage in activities of another culture (for instance, a “Fiesta Week” or “Japanese Week”). Make it a special celebration week to commemorate the occasion! Feature a different authentic meal from the culture each night, make and display decorations that represent it, discover a bit about customs and holiday traditions, and learn a few words from the language. Some advance planning is required to get inspiration. Here are a couple of examples:

Fiesta Week: Serve enchiladas, tacos, flan, and sweet corn bread. Get everyone involved in making their own tortillas. Make and play with a pinata. Learn a few basic Spanish phrases like “hello,” “please,” and “thank you.”

Japanese Week: Serve sushi, stir fry, and rice. Plant seeds or buy a small bonsai tree. Make a “zen” garden indoors or out (a small patch of fine sand, a few rocks or even pebbles for a tiny indoor garden, and a rake or comb will do). Have everyone take their shoes off when entering the home. Don’t forget a few words of Japanese!

The more touches you add, the more informative each week will be! For younger children, you’ll be doing the homework ahead of time yourself, but if your children are older, you may choose to involve them in researching the culture you will celebrate. You may be surprised to see what they come up with, and it will help build anticipation. To find information, visit your local library, search the Internet, and speak with friends/neighbors/relatives belonging to the particular culture.

One great resource for kids and parents alike is National Geographic Kids. This is available as a magazine and a web site and has loads of interesting topics, including cultural information. (For more, visit this web site.)

If you find yourself feeling too strapped for time to have these activities, keep in mind that you can choose to host a few of these per year, or you can do a shortened one-night or weekend version of the celebrations (though the one night approach makes it tough to convey a fair enough sample of culture).

Whether you spend a single night or an entire week celebrating other cultures, these activities are sure to become memories your child will cherish -- and will help them gain a greater appreciation for those who are different from themselves. (Note: Don’t forget to host weeks where the chosen culture is part of your own ancestors’ heritage, particularly if you are a few generations away from the homeland and its traditions. This can help get your children in touch with their roots as well as those of others.)

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