Children begin to notice differences like skin color and hair texture around the age of two, which means it’s important to start teaching your little ones about diversity and tolerance early. However, it can be difficult to expose your children to other cultures if you live in a homogenous or isolated community. Here are four ways to encourage diversity and tolerance in your children’s lives whether you live in a big city, a small suburb or the middle of nowhere.
Engage in Culturally Diverse Media
Books, movies, and shows are a great way for your child to explore other cultures from the comfort of your couch. Media from all over the world is now accessible thanks to the internet, so take advantage. If your child is a good reader, consider showing television programs and movies in different languages with subtitles.
Talk About Other Cultures and Religions
Young children learn most effectively from their parents, so start a dialogue early about diversity and culture. Have casual conversations about different cultural practices, holidays and religions. Try pointing out churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious buildings when you’re driving with your children and discuss the different religions practiced there.
Raise Your Child Bilingual
There is no better way to introduce your child to another culture than teaching them a second language. Language opens the door to other cultures and societies by letting you get to know them in their own words. Consider enrolling your child in a bilingual early childhood center where they can be fully immersed in the language and interact with native speakers. Growing up bilingual may also give kids an advantage in other areas like math and music.
Participate in Cultural Activities
Whether you choose a pow-wow, soul food cook-off, religious service or a ballet performance, attending cultural activities with your child is an excellent way to broaden their horizons. While watching videos and reading books about other cultures is a great way to introduce them, nothing beats experiencing it for yourself. If your family travels for vacations, consider choosing locations where your child can experience unique cultural activities that he or she can’t access at home.
When teaching your child about diverse cultures, don’t forget that your own is important too. Take your children to your own cultural events, share recipes and stories from your ancestors and talk to them about your family traditions. You can also encourage them to share their culture and traditions with their friends and classmates at school.
“To have another language is to possess a second soul.”
Is it part of your priorities to raise bilingual children? Are you a monolingual parent trying to support your child’s language learning process? I know what you are thinking: Oh no! I can’t help my children as much as I want because I don’t know the language myself… what do I do?
As long as you are able to provide emotional and material aid and have the right attitude and persistence everything will be alright. You only need to process this adventure from a different angle!
Empower yourself with these practical tips and you will be ready to effectively support and connect with your kids in no time!
First you have to lay the foundation for your children to learn a new language and feel supported by you along the way. Don’t forget that it is important to highlight the reasons behind this decision, ask for their opinion and promote motivation in many different ways. We cannot force our kiddos to acquire another language, so things need to be handled with tons of love, communication and assertive but fun resources.
Learn the language yourself!
Does “teaching by example” ring a bell? Learning the language is a great way to work together with your children and develop stronger communication skills at home. Additionally, it is a fool-proof way to improve your resume, exercise your brain and gain confidence while traveling. It sounds like a win-win situation to me.
Supporting our children’s German learning journey wasn’t easy. However, it was totally worthy!
Invest time and resources!
You don’t need to spend a fortune, check your local library, second hand bookstores, webpages, and Pinterest to look for tools that your children could use at home to work on the communication skills they need to be fluent. Keep in mind that it is necessary to develop four different aspects of communication: oral, listening, writing, and reading. Prepare yourself with the right material.
Connect with people that speaks the target language
This is a great way to get your children practice their new skills with native speakers, and it can be done on a regular basis to keep the input of real-like situations going on. At the end, our children are learning the new language to communicate, and it is through speaking that they will achieve higher fluency levels. Relatives, friends or colleagues that speak the target language are always a safe bet to contact to practice speaking and listening skills. Hiring a tutor is also a great thing to do. Nannies and au pairs are very common in the expat community as well.
Now my son helps me improve my own German skills when we travel. I learn so much from him!
Be creative and reach out to other bilingual families!
The idea is to provide children with as much exposure to the language as possible, thing that can be difficult to do when you don’t live in the country where the target language is spoken. However, don’t despair! There are many ways to promote learning of a foreign language. I highly recommend visiting websites from bilingual families and multicultural blogs to get ideas, motivation and support. This is a journey better done with the help of those who already have a little bit more experience than us. I personally like Instagram for quick tips and Pinterest for crafty ideas. Don’t forget YouTube for songs and sing-alongs in the target language.
Put your apron and chef hat on!
One thing I have learnt all these years of teaching Spanish to children and adults is that we need to keep things fun. So what better way to learn vocabulary in the target language than cooking a traditional recipe? Imagine spending time with your children making a delicious dish, learning about the culture and practicing new terminology in a interesting way. You don’t need to know the language for that matter. Simply write down the vocabulary, look for it online so you can listen to the correct pronunciation and voilá!!! You are good to go…. don’t forget to go to the supermarket though, you still need to buy the ingredients.
Additionally, you could plan a special family dinner to enjoy the end results of your cooking and learning process and you can invite relatives and friends to show off your new language skills.
They speak English, Spanish, and German. Now they want to learn French!
Find a pen-pal for your kids!
Writing and reading are two of the language dexterities that your children will need to develop. Having someone to exchange emails or even snail mail using the target language is a wonderful tool to support their learning journey. Just remember to check well before contacting other people to pen pal. Our children’s safety always comes first.
Visiting New York can be quite the challenge when you are on a tight budget and have children in tow. All those expensive hotels, restaurants, attractions and stores threaten your wallet with their high prices and upscale services. Nonetheless, we took the chance this last Christmas and flew to the Big Apple with three teenagers and a extremely thrifty allocation.
And we couldn’t be happier! We had a great time and the kiddos are already planning to go back to this great city once mom and dad recover their financial health (maybe it is time for me to get a second job? Ha!).
Time to plan!
Once you have figured out the plane tickets and hotel expenses (there are many offers and sales to go to NY), it is time to think about the places you want to explore. You will need to find a good combo of entertainment and price to keep your family excited and to add some cultural value to your traveling experience. We focused on points of interest, culture, uniqueness and cost. After much needed discussions we agreed to visit the following crowd-pleasers:
Macy’s 34th Street.
Even thought this is a shopping place, we love Macy’s because of their magical Christmas decorations, ambience (hello LIVE music) and “Believe” motto. We spend approximately 45 minutes walking around the store while my children took pictures of the festive displays. After that, we explored Herald Square and drank hot cocoa.
2. Times Square.
The most popular commercial intersection of the world is the perfect background for holiday pictures with teenage children. Yes, it was crowded. Yes, many consider Times Square to be a tourist trap. But I can assure you that if you avoid eating in this area and stick to enjoy the lights, the multicultural environment and make some good family photographs, you will have fun without spending a dime. Remeber that Times Square stretches from West 42nd to West 47th Streets, so take the time to check the little souvenir stores in the area. Also, if your kids are into comics, there are a couple of cool places that sell limited edition issues and memorabilia to go with it.
3. The Oculus.
This impressive train station designed by Santiago Calatrava is perfect to warm shivering children after exploring the World Trade Center memorial site. The Oculus futuristic design left my boys speechless! Stroll around this beautiful structure and talk to your children about the power of hope and resilience. The Oculus is a statement to celebrate life and the willingness of human kind to overcome tragedy.
4. Federal Hall National Memorial.
Pay a visit to George Washington in front of Federal Hall and discover the history behind this neoclassical building. Federal Hall became the first Capitol of the United States in 1789 and it was here where George Washington was inaugurated as first President of the United States on the balcony on April 30th, 1789. Visitors can take a look at the Bible used to swear Washington’s oath of office and the Freedom of the Press, the imprisonment and trial of John Peter Zenger. Entry is free.
5. Fearless Girl.
I felt so excited to bring my daughter to get her picture taken with Fearless Girl. This bronze sculpture by Kristen Visbal depicts a girl facing Wall Street and it was commissioned to advertise an index fund that comprises gender-diverse companies that have relative high percentage of women among their senior leadership. Remeber to take advantage of such an opportunity to encourage your children to think about gender-equality and women rights.
6. Ellis Island.
Before our arrival in New York City, we agreed on paying for just one attraction during our four day stay. The winner was the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Cruise (Sorry Mr. Empire State and Top of the Rock). For us was a matter of cultural and historical traditions, and the possibility of having a place that our children could explore on their own.
I must say that Ellis Island didn’t disappoint.
This getaway for over 12 million immigrants to the United States is the perfect place to promote diversity among children and young adults. The exhibits include real artifacts, newspapers, videos, and plenty of photographs of immigrants from around the world. Our children read with special interest the information about medical inspections and English courses for Eastern Europeans.
We also felt moved by the wall of Naturalization Certicates, since I am a naturalized US-citizen myself. Be aware that you must allocate around 2 hours to explore the facilities, this could be somehow demanding for younger children. Our kids are 12, 13, and 14. You can read about the history of Eliis Island here.
7. Rockefeller Center.
If you are visiting the Big Apple during the Christmas holidaysyou cannot miss the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. We strolled around the center, took pictures, drank coffee and enjoyed the lights displays of the stores along 5th Avenue. There is nothing more magical than the Christmas ambience in this part of the city.
We also shared with our kids the story of the very first Tree at Rockefeller Center, that was erected in 1931 during the Great Depression Era. Back then the tree was 6 meters tall and was decorated with austerity by workers of the area. The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree has always been a gathering place and reflection for locals and tourist alike.
8. Samsung 837.
Located in the heart of the Meatpacking District, this digital playground is the place to visit when anxious teenagers start to complain about too much walking and too many historical facts. Samsung 837 is an impressive display of technology and culture where your family can try different virtual reality gadgets and rides. The attractions are free and there is even a nice area for mom to seat down while dad and the kiddos enjoy the extravagant show of futuristic equipment.
9. Brooklyn Bridge.
Young teenage legs will enjoy strolling across the elevated pedestrian walkway to experience unique views of New York City. The iconic Brooklyn Bridge is a free of cost attraction that has been featured in many movies and television shows around the world. It is a great place for family portraits and provides an opportunity to stretch tired muscles and get some fresh air.
We searched online resources to enhance our visit to this renowned landmark and to have some conversation starters during lunch after crossing the bridge. Use the Internet to discover many interesting facts about the Brooklyn Bridge, many sorted out by age and theme.
10. Imagine Mosaic-Central Park.
One of the focal points of Central Park is the Imagine mosaic, a tribute to John Lennon. My children read online that this mosaic was done by Italian artists and was a gift from the city of Naples. Since we are huge Lennon and The Beatles fans, visiting this are of the Park was one of our bucket list items. Please remember, that the Imagine mosaic is located inside the Strawberry Fields Memorial, a designated quiet zone that doesn’t allow biking, rollerblading and loud music. The ambience was that of reflection and peace.
You’re walking around the airport, bag rolling behind you on the shining linoleum. There is a constant hum buzzing. It’s the sound of people chatting away, making small talk or simply trying to race to their next flight to some unknown part of the world.
Exhausted and maybe a bit anxious you find your gate and finally sit down, only to have noisy kids beside you. But then something neat happens. They speak. And it’s not English. The foreign words fly out of their lips like bees to honey.
And your heart sinks.
You have had a lifetime dream of learning a foreign tongue but you’re afraid will never be able to speak another language like those children do with ease.
And you wonder …
[bctt tweet=”What does it really feel like to speak two languages?” username=”contactrwc”]
I remember how that felt to see kids speaking the language I dreamed of learning. It was so easy for them yet seemed impossible for me. I thought I would ever be able to speak Ukrainian with my husband and his family.
Yet, I consistently went to my Ukrainian language lessons shoving massive amounts of vocabulary into my brain. Living in Ukraine helped me learn the language but the combination of memorizing words and continually hearing words I didn’t understand left me feeling worn out and simply exhausted.
We lived with my sister-in-law and her family. She had a toddler at the time and it was neat to be able to look at his baby books and understand the counting or animals that were shown. The lessons were paying off.
And yet, I felt like the child. Not because of the books but because of the way I spoke the new words. My tongue could not wrap itself around the shch’s or rolled r’s. Plus, without the full ability to speak, I needed someone to be with me in public to translate. Childish.
Then came the best part. There are moments when the words you learn pop up in conversations around you and eventually an entire sentence will have words you’ve learned. And you understand what the person speaking said.
It feels like magic.
Understanding those words strung together for the first time is like you just broke the spell on a hard to crack curse. You have finally gained some control.
At least, until the person continues speaking and you have no idea what they said. Again.
[bctt tweet=”Becoming bilingual feels like magic” username=”contactrwc”]
This stage lasted a while for me, in part due to living in a country where the younger generation is eager and excited to learn English and practice it any way they can. Like on me.
So, during my four-year stay in Ukraine, I spent most of that time speaking English. Even teaching it at one point. I could understand the language well, but the words still stuck in my throat.
Plus, people laughed when I tried speaking Ukrainian. There were not many foreigners in the city where I lived which meant I sounded funny. It made me more shy.
It wasn’t until my husband and I moved back the United States that I lost my shy nature and finally started speaking Ukrainian fluently. I was no longer too shy to speak to my husband and I wanted to teach my little boy Ukrainian as well. No one knew if my grammar was correct or not, so I spoke until the words came out naturally.
And it felt powerful.
I could speak the language. My husband and son could understand me and when my mother-in-law visited the United States, we had one on one conversations for the first time.
I had finally become bilingual.
The next time I was in the airport with my husband and son to visit Ukraine, I understood the words rapidly flying out of the small children’s mouth at the gate. Amazing. I realized the seemingly impossible is possible. It simply comes with a lot of emotions.
But don’t be afraid of the feelings that accompany the ride to becoming bilingual, the good and the bad. Hold on the magic, the shyness, childish feelings, exhaustion and then the power. Those emotions make life worth living and learning a language memorable.
Go ahead, learn for yourself with it feels like to become bilingual.
Jewel Eliese is a fiction writer, developmental editor, co-creator of the Medium publication Writer Mom and founder of writeawaymommy.com. Jewel runs on lukewarm coffee and baby kisses. She believes every mom can write well. Get the free checklist to find time to write with kids around here writeawaymommy.com/checklist/