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“Mom, what can I do?” “Are we going somewhere today?” “I’m bored!”
Sound familiar? Instead of turning on the TV or video games when kids get antsy this summer, why not take a trip around the world? Traveling internationally might not be in your budget, but when it’s too hot to go outside, you can explore the world from the comfort of your own air-conditioned home. Start your world tour by making your own “passports” or buying some at a school supply store. Each time your child has a cross-cultural experience, stamp his passport. By the end of the summer, he will have a book full of stamps and memories he can be proud of.
Here are some ideas for passport-worthy experiences:
Make an effort to go beyond the usual tacos and spaghetti. Pick a few countries whose cuisines are unfamiliar to you and try new dishes, whether at home or at a restaurant. Be enthusiastic for your kids. Becky Morales, founder of Kid World Citizen (www.kidworldcitizen.org) says, “If parents make faces or are unwilling to try new ingredients, the kids will follow. However, if you say something like, ‘I’ve never had fish like this! I’ll try one bite,’ you are setting a positive example.”
The USA’s not the only country celebrating a big day this summer. A quick internet search will bring up videos, crafts and activities for learning about Sweden’s Midsummer Day or the Dragonboat Festival in China. Whether it’s France’s Bastille Day or the Running of the Bulls in Spain, summertime provides many opportunities to celebrate international holidays.
Multicultural books with rich illustrations give kids the opportunity to explore universal themes and to imagine what it’s like to be a child in another country. Morales recommends three children’s books that bring cultures alive: “The Name Jar” by Yangsook Choi, “Africa is Not a Country” by Margy Burns Knight, and “Finders Keepers? A True Story in India” by Robert Arnett. Ask your librarian for other suggestions of books with international themes.
Meg Cook, a speech-language therapist at an International Baccalaureate school, believes that teaching kids to speak another language is at least as important as teaching them how to play soccer. She suggests teaching your children greetings and polite phrases like “hello,” “goodbye,” “please,” and “thank you” in at least two different languages. If you want to take it a step further, make small labels in the target language (French, for example) and place them on everyday objects around your home. Your child will be eating at une table and sleeping in un lit in no time.
Family-friendly foreign films are a great way to expose your kids to world cultures. Your young ones will enjoy the Japanese animated film, “My Neighbor Totoro,” while elementary-aged children will like “Cave of the Yellow Dog,” a film about a Mongolian girl and her loyal friendship with a stray dog. Iran’s “Children of Heaven” and New Zealand’s “Whale Rider” will inspire kids 11 years and older while also exposing them to beautiful cultures.
Did you know over 70 percent of foreign students in American colleges never step foot in an American home? Check with the international student office at your local university to see if they have a program set up for American families to “adopt” students. Give your adoptees family experiences they might not have on their own like playing board games, going to church, or watching Little League games. While teaching them about American culture, you’ll learn about theirs, too.
Invite an international family over for dinner and talk with them about the similarities or differences between your culture and theirs. If you don’t know anyone who grew up in another culture, host an international party where all of your friends are required to bring an ethnic dish. You can sample the tastes of the world while making a commitment to seek out friendships within the international community.
No matter which cultures your family explores, your kids, with their passports full of stamps, are sure to look at the world differently by the time school rolls back around. Cook says, “Learning about other cultures reveals a world with more color, more sound, more shape, more beauties than a single culture can provide. A life of one culture, for me, is a life with only one color. Maybe beautiful, but wow! Look what happens when I can add more colors!” Can you think of a better gift to give your kids this summer?
Sandi Haustein is a mom of three boys who love to eat ethnic foods. She lived in Togo, West Africa, for two years and has a Master of Arts degree in Language Teaching.