Why you need to teach your kids about Culture
Before we start looking at the ‘why’ of teaching cultural awareness, we first need to look at ‘what’ it really is!
Oh please explain culture!
It’s not exactly an easy concept to explain and isn’t really something you can compartmentalize into a box, and say, ‘okay now I know all about culture’. The simple definition is ‘the unspoken and unwritten rules and standards that guide a certain group’s behaviour’. But it really goes far beyond that. Let’s dig a bit deeper shall we?
There’s a fantastic website where they give an excellent analogy of comparing culture to an onion. This is how it goes!
You need to try and visualise the concept of culture like an onion with lots and lots of layers. Okay, so have you got the picture in your mind?
Well, the outside layer of the of the onion is a different culture and are those things that you can actually experience, like hearing the language, tasting the food, touching symbolic relics and visiting historical places that will show you how a certain culture in society lives.
Now, let’s peel that layer off and go to the next layer. This layer has all the systems and institutions, like universities, churches and schools. All of these places are based on certain beliefs and attitudes. You can’t touch this or feel this, but this rather comes from a kind of ‘inside knowledge’.
Beliefs and values ‘live’ right inside the core of the onion. This makes up the heart of any culture.
So, our simple definition of culture has changed a bit – culture are all the little things rolled up together, nice and tight, that have an impact on how people act, speak and think.
Have you ever wondered where your character comes from, or your kids’ characters? Well, a lot of it has to do with culture, and what they experience in their lives, and is one of the things that make each and every person different.
So, we’ve peeled the onion away to find the hidden meaning of culture, now let’s look at why it’s so important to learn about culture and be aware of it.
Why is it important to teach my kids about culture?
This is a great analogy – we live in a different world today if you think how different things were when we were children. The explosion of the internet has seen it linking and pulling the world closer and closer together like a tightly knit blanket with different colours and textures. Some of them clash horribly with each other, but even then it still remains as one blanket. That’s the reality of our world today, neither we nor our children live in little cocoons, and your family is not a little island all on its own. As you travel with kids it teaches them about different cultures, and as parents we need to make sure that our kids go out into that big bright world of ours and become respected and informed members of our exceptionally diverse society. Our kids need certain skills in order to live peacefully with others and to respect each and every culture for who they are.
Kids need to know from a young age that all people are different, and come from different origins that aren’t the same as our own. The reason that this is important is that you’re teaching your kids how important it is to respect others, regardless of where they come from, and it will prevent prejudice in later life. There was some research done that is quite astounding actually – the researchers found that over the age of 9, racial attitudes in children don’t really change from there, unless they have some sort of life-altering experience! The age of 9 – that is so important to remember, as that’s actually quite young when you think about it. So, as parents we should be teaching these lessons to our kids from an early age so that they have positive feelings about their own racial and cultural identity and those of others too.
Children need to be able to engage and interact in communication with people from a wide and diverse range of backgrounds. For example, your neighbour might be African-American, a teacher might be Thai or your hairdresser could be Italian. In your own neighbourhood, you’ll come across every walk of life, and that’s awesome for your kids.
A way to raise culturally aware kids is to make them aware of what is going on around them. You can teach them through newspaper articles, books or even TV shows about different religions or different ways of life like food, houses, etc. But an even better way to do this is to travel. And you know how we like to travel!
Every time you visit a new country, make sure that there is an element of cultural education involved in your trip, whether it’s volunteering to help a local community, or even visiting a local village and sitting down and talking to the people – each and every one of these experiences are enriching your life, and the lives of your kids. Being socially aware creates harmonious environments, consideration and respect for each and every human being that lives on this planet we all like to call home.
Cultural awareness spills over into social networking like Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter or even Instagram. When your kids are old enough, it’s important that they possess this awareness so that they are being culturally accepting on social media too. Seriously, how many times in the media have people been rapped over the knuckles for highly inappropriate comments? Our kids shouldn’t have to go through this as they gain an understanding of the intricacies of culture. Think about it like this too – abbreviations might be acceptable in your language, but could be completely different in another. The use of capital letters could mean something different in another culture. Being culturally aware seeps into everything that we do, and that is why it’s so important to teach cultural awareness to kids. When you’ve mastered the skill to talk to different people effectively, then you’ve gone through the master’s degree in cultural competence and you’ve passed with flying colours. This is a huge step in the direction of cultural awareness.
How to make your kids culturally aware?
Teaching children cultural awareness is not as easy as it sounds and can feel a bit daunting. A lot depends on you, on how open you are towards foreign cultures and new ideas. Besides travelling to new lands, here are a couple of other ideas to get your kids involved in different cultures, which can be fun and educational at the same time!
Visit international food fares or themed evenings
You can watch your local newspaper to see when events like this come up, and head over to join in some fun. It’s a great time to meet new people, taste new foods and get a sneak peek into the lives of different cultures. Sometimes restaurants, like Greek restaurants, will often have themed evenings, where you will see first-hand how different cultures live and it will allow you to get a snapshot in their lives.
Music and dance
Encourage your kids to listen to different styles of music that originate in different countries. If you’ve got the music, check out the internet and teach yourselves how to do the cultural dance, and have a dance-off at home!
Public holidays and religious holidays
What public holidays are there, and why are they being honoured? Explain this to your kids. Think of religious holidays around the world like Ramadan, Eid, Thanksgiving and of course Christmas too. Explain these holidays to your kids and why not celebrate them too with some of the traditions that different cultures partake in! You’ll have a whole heap of fun!
When going on holiday to a different country, try and do some volunteering, where you can get immersed in a whole new culture. This teaches your kids about culture and it goes without saying that it teaches them about giving back. A 2-in-1 bonus. Some volunteering holidays allow you to live with a family in their home in a different country. This will be awesome and exciting for all of you. Read our blog article on ‘A Volunteering Adventure of a Lifetime’ to give you some ideas.
Now, go forth into that big wide, exciting world of ours and make a commitment to becoming globally aware citizens and have a whole ton of fun doing it!