Our local communities are becoming more diverse at the same time as our world is becoming more interconnected. In 2013, international immigration to the US reached an all time high of 41.3 million immigrants. International migration to the US in the past has been mostly European countries with similar cultural backgrounds as mainstream US: white, Christian, Western values. But immigration today is mostly from Latin America and Asia, creating more diversity of cultures in the US. Globally, information and communication technologies are becoming more widely accessible with 7.2 Internet users worldwide, also an all time high. These technologies allow for instantaneous exchange of information across the globe.
Preparing our children to live and work in a globally connected society requires intentionally promoting global awareness. International travel is a great way to increase our children’s global awareness, but there are other ways. Parents can promote global awareness at home in four ways.
1. Appreciate Difference – Global awareness begins with an appreciation of differences. When something is different, teach your children to respond with curiosity instead of disgust. You can say to your children, “It’s not weird, it’s different.” Or “It’s not scary, it’s different.” Or “It’s not wrong, it’s different.” Teach them that different does not mean that it is wrong.
2. Read Widely – Providing your child with maps of other countries is a first step, but even better is providing your child with books that feature children from diverse cultures. Better yet is to provide your child with books that feature multiple perspectives within a culture, giving your child exposure to different ways of thinking and provides opportunities to talk about appreciation of differences. Some books that I recommend by age are:
Birth – 3: To Be a Kid; Global Babies; Bilingual board books
4-6: Our Global Community: What is a Community; National Geographic Kids Beginners’ World Atlas; Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain; Bilingual picture books; Planting the Trees of Kenya; Hi, Koo; Anasi the Spider;
8-12: Who was Frida Kahlo; Who was Gandhi; Who was Nelson Mandela; Esperenza Rising; Where the Mountain Meets the Moon; The Lonely Planet Kids Travel Book; The Usborne Book of World History; The Usborne Book of Famous Women; Long Walk to Freedom picture book; Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace; Inside Out and Back Again; The Ancient Maya (True Books)
13-15: House on Mango Street; I Am Malala (CD and jr. version available); The Little Prince; Beka Lamb; Persepolis; The Book Thief; A Long Walk to Water; Shabanu
16-19: Nectar in a Sieve; The Art of War; A Thousand Splendid Suns; Guns, Steel, and Germs; Joy Luck Club
3. Go to Cultural Events – Find events in your community that celebrate different cultures. My community features many different festivals, such as the Greek Festival, Chinese New Year, and Festival of Lights. It is important to go to events outside of your own culture so that your children can experience being in the minority. You want your children to get outside of their comfort zone, and to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
4. Be Intentional About Friendships – Where you live, where you worship, where you socialize, where your children go to school, these are all decisions that you make for your family that will serve as the places where your children will make friends. If you want your child to have meaningful relationships with people from diverse backgrounds, then you have to have these relationships yourself. It’s not enough to take your child to places with diversity, you have to cultivate friendships by inviting people to your home or planning play dates. You need to make an effort to get to know people from other countries so that authentic friendships can form.
Promoting respect for others is something parents are probably doing anyway. Being intentional to promote respect for other countries while encouraging a healthy level of patriotism is the challenge for parents who want their child to be able to collaborate cross-culturally and to participate in solving global issues. Global awareness broadens their horizons and opens up a world of opportunity.