Remembering Your Own Heritage
LeFebvre says parents should encourage children to explore their own culture, too. “Talk positively about your child’s physical characteristics and cultural background. Tell stories about people from your ethnic group of whom you are especially proud,” she says.
“I feel it’s very important to expose our children to their Greek heritage,” says Theodora, a mother of two in Liberty Township, Ohio. She believes that raising her kids to understand their own culture has had a positive impact on them. “Exposing my girls to their heritage helps increase their self-esteem.”
Theodora is raising her family “in their Greek Orthodox faith and teaching them about the Greek festivals, which give them a good sense of what being Greek is all about—how the Greeks dance, which Greek foods are important, where their grandparents came from.” Theodora says their family plays a lot of Greek music at home, with plenty of bouzouki and mandolin, and this coming summer the girls will be Greek dancing for the first time and wear the authentic costumes.
Everyday Ways to Expose Children to Other Cultures
- Read together. Megan Schliesman, librarian and administrator at the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin encourages parents to read quality multicultural literature with their children. "[Multicultural literature] models the way our world is," says Schliesman. "An illustrated book should include photos of children from varying backgrounds... It's important for all kids to see themselves in books, and it's important for all kids to see the world they're living in." Schliesman says parents should strive to find literature that is culturally authentic and avoids negative or stereotypical portrayals. "There are children's literature awards that can help parents select quality literature," Schliesman says. Parents can visit the Cooperative Children's Book Center website for award-winning lists of recommended children's books, including books appropriate for babies and toddlers.
- Explore how people in other countries dress. From the vibrant ceremonial kente cloth worn in regions of Africa to the traditional sari worn by Indian women, our world has an amazing variety of styles of dress.
- Get online. The Internet has made our world smaller in many ways and can be a fun way to teach kids about cultures in other countries and here at home.
- “Provide opportunities for children to interact with other children who are racially or culturally different,” says LeFebvre. “If these opportunities are unavailable in your community, look for them in schools, after-school activities, day camps, places of worship and cultural events.”
- Attend festivals, visit museums and ethnic restaurants, and play a variety of music with your children to expose them to other cultures. Point out similarities and differences between your culture and the other. How is Thai food different from what your family eats at home? Does the music you hear at Oktoberfest sound like the polkas Grandpa listens to?
- Allow children to attend worship services with a friend of another faith, if the opportunity arises.
- Help your child start a pen pal friendship with a peer from another country. Forming friendships with children of other countries or races can be a personal way to foster acceptance and greater understanding in children.
- Look at maps or a globe together. Point out where your family lives and then how your state or country relates to the rest of the world.
- Immerse children in culture through travel. Family adventures can be a wonderful educational experience when you witness firsthand the dress, architecture, language or dialect, food and even smells of other parts of the world.