I recently read a popular book that mentioned how incredibly important it is to travel with your kids around the world in order to expose them to the places, people, and spaces that exist beyond America. When kids see the world, they begin to understand that life isn’t just about them, and that there are lot of different ways to live. And while this all sounds really great, it isn’t a reality that Jake and I will be traveling the world with 4 little ones in tow. To be honest, that experience at this stage of life would probably be a little bit awful. 🙂
It did get me thinking, though. How can we help our children to get outside of themselves while staying put? How can we help our children to embrace the multi-cultural world that we live in without always making it a “lesson”, but more of a lifestyle?
1. If possible, choose a childcare or school that is diverse.
Our kids’ (public) school is culturally diverse and we (and they) love it. I think we love it more than them because, to them, it’s ordinary. Compared to our experiences growing up, it’s radical. It’s not unusual for the kids to learn about different traditions, customs, holidays, foods, etc. in their classrooms. While some of it is formally taught, a lot of it just happens because … well, how can it not? In our kids’ worlds, it’s absolutely normal to spend their whole day learning and playing beside kids from Brazil, Korea, China, India, Nepal, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Turkey. If you have this option, jump into it.
2. Have some dolls that don’t look like your child.
It’s normal for children to gravitate towards dolls that look like them. However, consider purchasing some dolls that do not. Our girls have some dolls that look like them- lighter skin, matching hair and eye color, etc. But, we also have some that don’t. One of our newest dolls* is from Hearts for Hearts Girls
. They are a newer company that has an ever-growing line of dolls that are from all over the world. Each doll has a story which is based on real-life stories of girls from that area.
We have Zelia, a 10 year old girl from Brazil who works and lives on a coffee farm. We learn that while at school, Zelia learns about ways of coffee farming that are less damaging to the rain forests and better for the land. She can’t wait to go home to tell her dad about it. It’s been a good way to talk and learn about Brazil and caring for the environment, but in a way that isn’t a sit-down lesson. We talk about Zelia while playing, the girls ask questions, and we find answers together. I sometimes hear what we talked about coming up in their play later on, which I think is very cool.
The girls love playing with Zelia, and we are ALL thankful that her hair is super easy. Sadly, many of the other larger dolls we have have hair that too easy tangles and is a headache to deal with all the time. We’ve played with her for a few weeks and we haven’t gotten one tangle.
They have some good resources to go along with each doll– online you can go and read in your doll’s journal to learn more about her life, as well as play some games!
We love Hearts for Hearts not only because they are making dolls that represent young women from all over the world, but they are also raising awareness (and money through World Vision!) so that young girls can better understand what it’s like to be a girl in other places around the globe. After playing with a doll from Brazil or Ethiopia or Afghanistan for months, I think it helps kids become more comfortable when interacting with others if they have not had personal interaction with other kids from different cultures. They have a couple new dolls coming out this summer
: Surjan from Nepal and Nyesha from the Bronx in New York City.
3. Read widely.
A quick pinterest search can give you hundreds of book selections that are great to learn about various cultures from around our world (and in our cities). In our house, we keep all of our library books in a basket on the floor in our living room, which reminds us to pick up a book and read throughout the day. Have a few minutes before we have to leave? Go pick out a book! About to take a nap? Why not choose a book to read first? Feeling a bit cranky? Cozy up on the couch and read a book or two (it works well for our readers!). I could list some of our favorites, but I think instead I’m going to send you over to the CCBC’s list of 50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know
4. Listen, watch and create broadly.
Mix up the music at home. Grab some CDs from the library. Watch videos and songs on Youtube. Free resources abound; make use of them! The key is not to frame this different things as lessons, but simply a natural part of the day.
- Listen to opera music and pretend to be opera singers.
- Have kids view a chinese new year parade while they wait for you to make lunch.
- Grab anything by Putumayo and listen while the kids play in the bath.
- Watch Disney’s It’s a Small World after nap time.
- Ever heard of a didgeridoo? Youtube it!
- Visit crayola.com on a regular basis to find art projects from different countries to do together
5. Learn a language.
Whether it be a lot of one or little bits of several, just learn other languages. We teach our kids ASL vocabulary from a young age (we have all of the Signing Time
series– love them!). We expose them to other languages- spanish, chinese, and a few simple words in a few others. Sometimes we watch familiar short movies in spanish or french with english subtitles. The value of this is to help them realize that English is just one of many languages spoken in the United States, and that it is out of love that we learn other languages so that we can talk to people from all over the world! “Why should everyone learn English? Why can’t we learn their language?!” The public library has CDs, DVDS, books, etc. that help kids learn lots of different languages, so don’t feel like you need to buy anything to start this!
5. Complicate things.
Challenge stereotypes. Ask questions. Point out situations where things are not status quo. Introduce your children to people who have changed the world in regards to civil rights, unjust laws, gender barriers, etc. Once a child hits a certain age, challenging their thoughts on race is helpful– emphasize that we can’t always look at someone and know their race or ethnicity, something that our culture loves to do, but a practice that is actually not very helpful at all.
6. Do some homework.
Authors and bloggers have written scores of material about the conversations surrounding culture, ethnicity, race, gender, socioeconomic status, etc. Not all are worth reading, but I think these few provide particularly helpful perspectives.
Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect us and What We Can Do
: A book written by Claudia Steele, this one comes highly recommended by MaryAnn. Steele is a social psychologist who offers some groundbreaking research on stereotypes and identity.
United: Captured by God’s Vision: This book also comes recommended by a trusted reader friend of mine. In this book, Trillia Newbell gives her theology of diversity, and how it has yet to penetrate the church world.
More Than Serving Tea: This is a blog by a woman who is an area multiethnic director of a well-known parachurch ministry. I’ve perused it a little since it was recommended to me, and it has some great, insightful things to think about.
While there’s a ton more to say (and not say) surrounding this subject, I think these are good places to start. Nothing beats just being real friends with people, people who are similar to and different from us in many many ways.
* Thanks to Hearts for Hearts for sending us a doll to review in exchange for a honest review. We are a huge fan of this company! Follow them on Facebook
to get all the latest updates about new dolls!