"Our neighborhood has all different kinds of people," says Gabriella, age 10, who has lived in Sacramento, California, almost all her life. "We're Latino. Next door, there is a Filipino family. Across the street, we have an Indian family. We also have Chinese neighbors. The neighborhood kids are all friends. Almost every night, we come out and play together."
Gabriella, like all kids today, is growing up in what the futurist Marshall McLuhan called the "global village." As we move through the 21st century, the world is fast becoming a smaller place. Advances in technology, communication, and travel have made physical distances less significant and instantly connecting with others around the world a reality. The number of immigrant households in the U.S. has also risen over the past five years, leading to an increased multicultural environment.
Given these changes in our society, there is a great need for our children to be raised so that they understand and communicate well with others. They will be members and leaders of a truly international workforce, and therefore, need to develop the skills necessary for living and interacting with others, regardless of background — productively and peacefully.
Where Global Education Begins
This is where the idea of "global education" comes in, and it begins at home in the early years when children are forming their attitudes about themselves and others. Global education is about helping your child find his own place in the world community — to become a true "citizen of the world." That means being a person who:
- can accept and enjoy differences among people and cultures
- identify common bonds
- seek peaceable solutions to conflicts
- see many different points of view
As a parent, you are your child's guide to the world and to the person she will become. The first step toward understanding how she fits into a family, neighborhood, classroom, city, country, and the world is knowing what your family's attitudes are toward your own background. The more your child has a solid grounding in her own family's beliefs, culture, and traditions, the more she learns to move with grace and confidence among people and cultures that are different than her own, and the closer we get to building a world of respect, acceptance, curiosity, and peaceful living.
As you and your child branch out from the safe foundation of your family to learn about other people, places, and ideas together, an important realization will emerge: that differences aren't something to be feared, but they are natural, refreshing, and fun! Diversity at home and in the world makes life more interesting.
Expanding Your Child's World View
You can present global views in many meaningful ways, including reading books, listening to music, exploring art, traveling, and simply playing. Each new cultural experience widens your child's knowledge of the world and reinforces the concepts of acceptance, tolerance, and kindness. Using the tools and activities your child already loves will make the abstract concept of diversity real. Here are some ways to celebrate difference at home:
Create a global bookshelf. Stock your shelves with stories that represent different cultures, written in a variety of languages. You might include a collection of alphabet books depicting the many alphabets of world languages, and then switch to counting books, which illustrate how people count in different ways. Legends from both American cultures and world cultures bring to the shelf a rich array of heroes and heroines as well as explanations of how the world works.
Provide a range of toys. Since toys reflect societies' multiple values, belief systems, and lifestyles, they are universal tools for teaching global citizenship. Chose samples for your collection that represent the commonalities, as well as the differences, in the world's toys. The cultural uniqueness of a toy often lies in its presentation or decoration. For example, math toys might be the plastic, colored-coded stacking cups found in the USA, intricately decorated paper boxes from Japan, or nesting dolls from Russia.
Toys such as dolls, cars, trucks, action figures, and space ships (to name a few) can be found globally. Seek out international catalogs from different countries for children to peruse.
Listen to many varieties of music. Music is truly a universal language — and a way for people to articulate their joy and sorrow, wishes and dreams, as well as national/cultural pride. Being a world citizen requires respect for how people everywhere communicate. Play music from a variety of cultures during a quiet time. While your child is listening, suggest he think about the feelings the music evokes. Build your child's repertoire with contemporary musical renditions, as well as traditional favorites.
Encourage community involvement. Even preschoolers can get involved in helping others in small ways, with your help. Talk about what's important to you and how your family might be able to get out there and do something, whether it's tending the local garden, donating unused toys and books, donating gently used clothing, or simply helping a neighbor carry her groceries up the stairs. Older kids may want to take up their own cause, so encourage them to think about how they might be able to make a difference.
Create a Family Heritage Kit. Help your child identify his family heritage. Create a kit that includes things such as photos of family members, friends and pets, samples of favorite foods, and cultural artifacts. Your cultural heritage is not restricted to ethnicity, race, religion, or home language. It also includes the celebrations that make your family unique — naming ceremonies, holidays, birthdays, and gatherings.
Experiment with different languages. Try new languages together by starting with simple greetings and expressions. You can find multicultural/multinational books for kids, or visit the public library, where you can learn how to say common words in multiple languages.
As Jeremy Gilley, the filmmaker turned activist who single-handedly initiated a U.N. resolution to designate September 21 "World Peace Day," noted in an interview, "Young people have a real opportunity to become involved in the peace process — especially at a time when many feel very disempowered and frightened by images and sounds they hear on the news, or just outside their door. These children will determine the future. Young people can become the driving force behind the vision of a united world." And it all begins at home.