After several violent incidents and resulting public outcry, people around the country are calling for greater cultural awareness and acceptance as a tool to fight systemic racism. Nowhere has this call become more important than with today’s children.
Not only does the next generation hold promise for exacting this change, but we also know how critical it is that we start to fight racism, prejudice, and discrimination early. Research shows that children first learn to discriminate based on race as early as three years old. That means that as mothers, fathers, and caregivers, we can help role model antiracism and appreciation of cultural diversity from an equally early age.
In my work with The Campfire Method, storytelling has proven a particularly powerful tool in this mission. Not only is storytelling one of the oldest ways of passing down virtues, values, and knowledge, but studies now show how and why it is an essential tool for engaged learning and development.
Here are five ways parents can help your children value cultural diversity while connecting and engaging in a meaningful way:
Read Books That Celebrate Cultural Diversity.
In What Did Aaka Do to Understand Her Friends, from a forthcoming book series I wrote, we learn about Fadi, a young Egyptian boy and his friends living in Singapore. When the group gets a day off for Eid, Fadi feels isolated as the only one celebrating the Muslim holiday. One of the friends, Aaka, makes a point of creating a celebration for Eid, inviting the kids to taste the dishes Fadi’s mom has cooked, to take part in the gifts she has brought each one of them, and to exchange big hugs to celebrate the day. Experiencing the festivities firsthand, the kids become eager to learn the meaning behind the celebration: to break a 30-day fast observed to focus on kindness, compassion, and charity. Some other titles you can check out are Curlee Girlee by Atara Twersky, Different Differenter: An Activity Book about Skin Color by Jyoti Gupta, and Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o.
Join in Celebrations.
By gathering with friends and neighbors, or even in your family unit, you can help your children form a personal connection to other cultures by experiencing their holidays, festivals, rituals, and celebrations. From celebrating the Chinese New Year to a Passover Seder, from joining in Christmas celebrations to Eid parties with Muslim friends, allow your children to form meaningful connections to other cultures with the food, dance, music, and different ways people commemorate them.
Experiment with Food.
Trying and learning about new dishes is a great way to talk to your children about other cultures and diverse traditions. You can cook a meal together or order from a local restaurant, taking the time to talk about the cultural relevance of the dish.
Enjoy Performing Arts.
From dance to movies, from music to poetry, the performing arts offer a precious opportunity to expose children to other cultures and the firsthand experience of their beauty. Animated films from around the world are a great way to avoid subtitles and language barriers for younger children. Some movies you can watch are My Neighbor Totoro, Kirikou and the Sorceress, and The Red Balloon.
Try A Monthly Box Service.
Sign up for a monthly subscription service aimed at presenting different cultures through engaging learning activities. These boxes include stories, recipes, tips, and games to help children form a personal connection to other cultures. Some examples are Little Global Citizen, Worldwide Buddies, and Little Passports.
Anuja Khemka, MSW, is a New York City-based author, columnist, and nonprofit leader working in education, and mental health and wellness. An active columnist on Forbes, she shares how today’s most successful leaders transform emotional obstacles (e.g., stress, burnout) into powerful motivators. She has also developed a series of books to help children build a sense of self, a growth mindset, and more resilience. Anuja is currently the Executive Director of Children’s Hope India, an organization dedicated to bringing high quality education, healthcare, nutrition and skills attainment to the most vulnerable populations in India and New York. From 2017 to 2020, as Executive Director of national mental health equity nonprofit the Steve Fund, she partnered with universities around the country to rebuild their campuses as culturally-sensitive environments and support 2.5 million young people of color.