As the world becomes ever connected thanks to the Internet, children will be increasingly introduced to people and cultures that are different from their own. Often times the best way to teach children about diversity is to fully embrace it. With the resources available today, embracing diversity can simply be a few keystrokes away. Additionally, it can be as much as you want, since many of the ways of embracing diversity can be done in your own home. Living between two cultures, traveling and working online has meant that Al (4) and Mo (2) have been exposed to many different kinds of people and cultures already and we actively encourage exploration into these other cultures. Here is the ultimate guide we have created of ways to embrace diversity with small children.
We are BIG YouTube fans over here. More often than not you will find something being watched or listened to on YouTube. One of the best things about the site is that you can literally find a video on anything. Even better is that there is so much content for kids. When it comes to diversity you can use the site in a couple of different ways. One way is to find a cartoon that your kids already like and find episodes where they are dealing with the issues of differences. For instance, Sesame Street has a great episode between Elmo and Zoe that focuses on how we are both similar and different at the same time.
Now onto apps. We have apps for the kids on all of our devices. Additionally, we have tablets for the kids as we have some curriculum programs for their homeschooling. There are numerous apps that we use. Many of these apps are simply just regular apps for kids with nursery rhymes, learning alphabets and numbers, math, and simple logic games. However, most of these apps are available in different languages.
One app company that Al and Mo are obsessed with is PinkFong. I have not found any one PinkFong app to be better than another (Disclaimer: Many of the PinkFong apps seem to be offering the same thing but with different characters and there is a lot of promotion which leads to paywalls which leads to tears in our house). PinkFong is available on both Android and iOS . There have been numerous occasions where I have found Al watching (and sometimes even singing) nursery rhymes in Korean or Chinese.
Another app to promote diversity is Kids Planet Discovery. This app is available on both Android and iOS. This app doesn’t just focus on culture but also focuses on geography and animals as well. This app is set up like a game that allows children to “discover the world,” through adventures and exploration. It is free, but again offers a premium version as well as in-app purchases.
Books. You can learn virtually anything through reading. Reading is already recommended for small children as it supports brain development and reading readiness. We are HUGE supporters of the public library and would encourage you to check out your local library for books on diversity. Often times the librarians will already have books promoting diversity on display. If you ever need recommendation based on the selection available at your local library, I am positive that your children’s librarian will be more than willing to help you find a book, or books, that your children will absolutely love. Lists of books that focus on a particular kind of diversity (such as racial, physical, emotional, etc.) can easily be found on blogs through Pinterest. Some books include The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates, It Takes a Village by Hillary Rodham Clinton, This is How We Do It by Matt LaMothe, and The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler.
Music can be another great way to introduce your kids to different cultures. While they may not understand the lyrics of what is being sung, every one of all ages can understand good music. There are many days where we will simply pick a country and search for their music online. Think using Google to search for “Greek music” and then listening to music from that country for the day. Music is a big part of our lives here. One of my favorite parts of the day with the kids is having a little dance party, so this one has been easy to integrate into our daily lives.
If you are bilingual then I encourage you to speak to your child in all of the different languages you know. However, for those of us that cannot speak more than one language then I encourage you to learn about other languages with your children. We have had fun learning how to say “hello,” “thank you” and “I love you” in different languages. Again this supports the concept of similar yet different by saying the same thing in different ways.
“Food is a central activity of mankind and one of the single most significant trademarks of a culture.” Mark Kurlansky
Food is one of the easiest ways to bring different cultures into your home. Whether you like to try making the cuisine on your own or try it when eating out, it can be a great way to introduce your little ones to new spices, tastes, textures, and even ways of eating. Growing up in India my kids have a special fondness for spicy (especially Mo). Also, being vegetarian/vegan limits the kinds of foods that we eat, but I still try to integrate foods from different cultures into our rotation. We tend to stick to most Asian dishes or Mediterranean dishes. This is simply our preference and may vary for your family. I would say start by embracing foods that are linked to your heritage and then venture onwards. Personally, I love Ethiopian food, but it is not readily available and I haven’t had the guts to try and fix it at home myself. Although, now that I type that out I feel like I should get on that.
Movies and Cartoons
Just like with YouTube, movies and cartoons are another way to introduce culture into your home. With the emphasis that is being placed upon diversity in society anyways, this is simple now. Many of the cartoons and movies we watch have characters with different backgrounds, skin colors, languages, etc. Some of our favorites include Moana, Coco, Dora the Explorer, Go Diego Go, Nella the Princess Knight, Doc McStuffins, Handy Manny, and Jalebi Street.
Whenever deciding what to do on the weekend with the family, I encourage you to see if any cultural festivals are going on. These are a great way to expose children to people, sounds, smells, food, and festivals of other cultures. Many major cities throughout the US have cultural festivals celebrating the international cultures of their residents. Some examples include celebrations of the Chinese (Chinese New Year), Irish (St.Patricks Day), German (Oktoberfest), Italians, Indians (Holi events can be especially fun with the color throwing), Latinos, Cubans, Francophones, etc. Check your local paper, local Facebook groups, and even Google to see when the next international culture festival is near you and gather the troops to check it out.
If you cannot find a cultural festival nearby then think about visiting different types of museums on the weekends or on vacation. For instance, the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC (with free admission) is a wonderful museum dedicated to understanding the culture of Native Americans.
Honestly, the possibilities are endless when it comes to embracing diversity with your little ones. You can incorporate as much or as little as you want. It is all about finding the balance for your family. You may find that once you start introducing some of these ideas your children take to it and want more and more. I encourage you to take their lead and fuel this curiosity with exploration.
Raise your glasses: Here’s to teaching, learning and expanding the minds of our future generation (and our own).
Did I miss anything that should be listed here? What are some of your favorites that are worth sharing?