10 Ways to Teach Your Kids About the World Without Traveling the World
Respect. Empathy. Kindness. Honesty. Integrity. Courage. Compassion. Adaptability. Resilience.
We desperately want our babies to grow into the above, and into happy, healthy adults that find joy in whatever it is they choose to do in this life. We want them to love and be loved and to be well-adjusted to the world around them. A lot of this development happens naturally over time, but we can strengthen these values in our kids by showing them that in a world full of differences, in the end we’re all humans on the same team and we all love just the same.
Teaching our kids about the world isn’t an easy task. It’s uncomfortable, it’s heavy, and sometimes it’s downright heartbreaking work. But it’s so, so necessary because if we don’t teach them…it’s a guarantee that someone else will. The good news is that it doesn’t actually require traveling anywhere, nor any other fancy grand gesture for that matter. All you need is commitment, intentionality, and a little bit of adventure and creativity. Oh, and maybe a library card.
You have your reasons. Maybe you want to broaden your child’s horizons. Maybe you want to encourage your child’s curiosity. Maybe you want to do differently and you don’t even know where to start.
Here are ten easy, effective ways to teach your child about the world without traveling the world:
- Read books. LOTS AND LOTS OF BOOKS. The importance of reading cannot be emphasized enough in children. Study after study has shown all of the advantages reading can provide, like increased vocabulary and language skills, stronger problem solving skills, and better school (and life) performance, to name a few. Books can also be used as powerful tools to expose children to a wide range of cultural topics they might not encounter otherwise in their normal environment. There are children’s books about different countries, ethnicities, lifestyles, and family structures. There are books about literally Anything. And. Everything you could ever dream of. Books about friendship and inclusion, books about marriage and divorce and having a new baby, books about poop and different kinds of turds and books about sperm swimming through the fallopian tubes…with goggles on. Books are your child’s windows to the world. If this sounds like the makings of another upcoming blog post…you’re right. Stay tuned!
- Attend cultural festivals and events happening in your community. Most cities have organizations that sponsor festivals or events to showcase and celebrate different cultures: Greek festival, Italian festival, Oktoberfest, French festival, Irish fest, African Dance festival. Many events put extra effort into planning special areas and activities just for kids and families. Keep an eye on the calendar for upcoming holidays celebrated in non-Western cultures, like Day of the Dead, Chinese New Year, Mardi Gras, or Kwanzaa. Chances are there’s a corresponding event or celebration happening somewhere in your community. Many museums and community centers also host family diversity days or international festivals. Go to these! They are SO much fun and are an excellent way for your littles to learn about religions, traditions, celebrations, and even foods from around the world. Pay special attention to any cultural music or dance performances because your littles will be TRANSFIXED, no matter how tired or crabby they are. A great way to find these events is to follow museums, organizations, community centers, and churches on Facebook. Oftentimes this is where event details are posted, and there’s also a handy “Events” feature that allows you to search for upcoming cultural events happening in your community. God bless social media.
- Visit other places of worship. This does not mean you have to worship here. This does not mean your kids have to worship here. This does not mean you need to convert or start practicing another religion, or that you even need agree with it. Regardless of your personal beliefs, other places of worship will always exist in this world and the people who attend them are humans just like you and your babies. Many churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples offer (and welcome with open arms) certain services or tours for visitors to come and learn more about their culture and religious practices and all of the awesome stuff they’re doing to help the community and others in need. This will give you and your family the unique perspective and opportunity to learn firsthand about cultures that are sometimes only learned about through the grapevine. What you’ll likely find is that you guys aren’t so different after all.
- Provide dolls with diversity. While it’s important for kids to see themselves reflected and represented in the toys they play with, it’s also important for them to see their brothers and sisters of the world represented, too. Provide your kids with learning materials that don’t look like them. The marketplace still has some work to do, but it’s come a long way in providing a bigger selection of dolls, action heroes, and other pretend play materials that represent different cultures, ethnicities, and diversities. Mattel is launching a new Barbie line in the fall of 2019 that will include a doll who uses a wheelchair and a doll with a prosthetic leg. Even the baby dolls at the Dollar Store come in two different skin tones. We can help our littles learn to include those who don’t look like them by including toys that don’t look like them. This is a small change we can make that doesn’t require tons of extra time or energy; it’s just a matter of looking to the right or the left on a shelf. I’m all for simplicity!
- Help those who are less fortunate. This might seem cliche but there’s so much value in showing our kids how to take care of the people of the world. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Sign up for a slot as a holiday bell ringer. Donate to a food pantry. Participate in the canned food drive at school. Pick up blankets and supplies from the Dollar Store to assemble goody bags for the homeless. Show your children that there are less fortunate people in this world not to create guilt or pity, but to teach that these less fortunate people are humans too, and humans need to take care of each other because sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down and someday you’re gonna need some help, too. We all belong to each other. AMEN.
- Learn about other lands with travel activity kits. The world can now be at your child’s fingertips…thanks to online shopping. Even if you’re not physically traveling around the world, your child can still learn about life beyond their borders with activity kits and busy books. A monthly subscription box like Little Passports comes with hands-on activities about a new world theme or country each month, including souvenirs, mini-passports, and access to additional country-themed online content. If you’re looking for an option that requires less commitment and money, check out these Around the World Busy Books from Amazon. At $7-$20 a pop, you can learn about London, Rome, Paris, or NYC with an engaging storybook that includes full-page illustrations, a city map play mat, and replicas of notable landmarks and figurines from that city. This is an excellent way for your littles to learn about different city landscapes and lifestyles from around the world….delivered right to your doorstep!
- Watch movies and TV shows. It’s great to finally see increased technology use as an actual tip, amirite? There’s definitely something to be said for using the media to help your kids learn about other cultures – with caution. Recent movies like Moana and Coco have made great strides to improve the cultural sensitivity of popular children’s movies since the 90’s and before, but no movie or television show is going to be a completely accurate representation of what it’s supposed to be representing. Use the viewing of these as a springboard into larger discussions and not as stand-alone pieces of education. Aside from popular movies or those about specific cultures, movies with general themes and messages of kindness, inclusion, empathy, and friendship can also be powerful tools in teaching your littles how to appreciate and respect diversity.
- Visit community parks or museums with a more diverse population. There’s only so much you can do when your kids live or go to school in a homogeneous area where most people look the same. You can move, or you can make the extra effort to visit neighborhood parks, playgrounds, or other community gathering spots that offer more diversity. This will give your brood the chance to interact with other kids and learn that skin color, hair type, and clothing are only surface-level characteristics of the precious, unique human underneath. Plus it’s super confusing and stressful to police a playground full of your child’s dopplegangers.
- Send your child to summer camps outside of their norm. Another way to help diversify your child’s world is to send them to summer camps that provide opportunities to interact with others who are “different.” We all know there are 3,892,475 different camps to choose from. Maybe this will help you narrow your search down a bit.
- Find teachable moments in everyday conversation. This is always my favorite because it’s the simplest. Teachable moments are all around you and your family every day, as long as you’re watching and listening. At home. In the car. At a restaurant. At grandma’s house. In line at the grocery store. It only takes a little bit of intentionality and a couple of sentences to teach your kids a little something extra about the world they live in. Ooooooh, mommy what are the workers building over there? Hmmmm…well, I think that’s an apartment building. What’s an apartment building? Well it’s kind of different than the house we live in. It’s like a lot of houses and rooms put together. Lots of people live in apartments and their homes are pretty awesome, too. Oh, okay. LOOK AT THAT SQUIRREL! Even if you don’t think they’re listening, they are. They always are.
When we raise well-adjusted children, we’re grooming well-adjusted adults. Adults who won’t go into shock when they inevitably learn that most of the real world doesn’t look like them or believe what they believe. Raising culturally sensitive kids who respect and celebrate diversity will help them develop the confidence they need to stay true to their own convictions and beliefs when they’re tested, and how to stay true while respecting those who beg to differ. Which also means less heart attacks for you.
Our steps to take are seemingly small, like looking to the right or the left on a shelf for a doll with another skin color, but our kids are sponges, and they’ll soak up every bit of our effort. It’s kind of powerful and overwhelming to basically be an ambassador to the entire world, but we are mamas, and we can do amazing, hard things.