Give Your Child a Global View

Use tools your child already loves music, art, and stories to draw him in and make abstract concepts real.

By Thomas Moore
Nov 06, 2012



Give Your Child a Global View

Nov 06, 2012

A friend of mine had to travel for business, leaving her daughter, Jesse, at home. My friend showed Jesse a map and explained that Mommy would fly in an airplane from North Carolina to Arizona, then come back a week later. Together, they talked about the plants and animals in Arizona and how they are different from those found in North Carolina. Jesse seemed to take in all the new information. An hour later she asked, "Mom, what planet are you going to?"
I love this story for what it shows about how children process information about foreign places. To a young child, "far away" might mean the half-hour drive to Grandpa´s house. For a 5 year old in North Carolina, Arizona might as well be another planet.
As your child begins to understand the difference between "here" and "other places," it gives him a starting point for understanding differences of all kinds. And it's especially important for him to learn about other people, places, and ways of doing things. The ability to relate to people who are different is a necessity. Through small steps taken now, you'll teach your child the social skills to be comfortable in the world.
Families Form the Foundation
Think Globally, Act Locally
The Magic of Music, Books, and Art
Families Form the Foundation
As a parent, you are your child's conduit to the world. She needs to learn about her own background and place in the family before she can begin to understand how she also fits into a neighborhood, classroom, town, country, and world community at large.
Your child begins to learn about social history through your own personal life stories and the music you listen to as a family. This is how I became so interested in music. My parents used it as a teaching tool. There were different songs for different groups, places, and times — happy and sad. Make music part of your family by singing with your child and listening to other people´s recordings. Invite grandparents or other relatives to teach the music and songs of your heritage. This will engage him as he learns about his heritage and teach him that every voice matters.
Be sure to tell your child about your childhood, too. Describe the neighborhood where you lived, your school, foods you liked, and games you played. Your stories teach her that each person has unique experiences. It sets up the chance to talk about how things are different now.
Think Globally, Act Locally
One-on-one contact with new people and places is probably the most immediate, effective way to teach about other cultures. Every person your child meets is an ambassador for a different way of life, allowing your child to ask questions and direct his own learning. Whenever possible, introduce your child to people from different countries and cultural backgrounds, first-generation Americans, and others with an interesting story to tell. Invite them to talk about their families, jobs, and holiday traditions.
This kind of interaction gives you an opportunity to demonstrate your own interest in other people, places, and beliefs. Your child will watch closely to see how you react. If you enjoy seeing photos of new places, tasting new foods, and hearing different accents, your child will learn that it's safe to investigate these new things and ask questions.
Aim to teach with an understanding of your child's development and interests. Your 3-year-old may:

  • notice and ask about physical characteristics of other children and adults, although he is still more interested in his own.
  • notice other children's specific cultural traits, such as speaking differently.
  • exhibit discomfort and fears about skin color differences and physical disabilities.

It´s much easier for most children to relate to what they can see or hear, rather than imagine. For example, when your preschooler notices physical differences, you can tell her that yes, your friend's skin is darker. Let your child take the lead by asking questions. You'll gain a sense of how much she can understand and process about this sophisticated subject. Speak in specifics, using child-friendly words. Be careful not to use "tourist" information based on generalizations. Your child needs to see real people, not broad stereotypes, especially if those stereotypes may be harmful or inaccurate.
Don't be disappointed if your child's concept of a new place or culture ends up being very different from your own. Your job is to give him age-appropriate information. He will incorporate your information with what he is thinking about right now.
The Magic of Music, Books, and Art
Using tools your child already loves will draw him in and make the abstract concept of "diversity" real. He can experience books, music, or art from another culture in the safety of home. In time, he will want to venture from home and explore.
Music is a highly effective and engaging way to learn about different cultures. Even before your child can read, she can sing. So can you! Songs are free, accessible, and expressive. Parents tend to pass down songs taught to them when they were children. Even if you think you have a lousy voice, sing to your child.

  • Look for child-friendly songs — ones with simple melodies, lots of repetition, and call-and-response. These formats let children easily participate and make the song their own.
  • Try moving to different types of music, but don't get too elaborate.
  • Create new lyrics to familiar songs. This can be as simple as singing "If You're Happy and You Know It," adding a line about a new culture, and miming it together.

Books help make differences real. If your child can see differences in illustrations and hear the adventures of children who are unlike him, he will relate what he sees to his own experiences. After all, one major goal of books is to take readers into another world. When your child reads about other kids playing with toys from their heritage, he is exploring a bit of that culture.

  • Read books from a variety of cultures. Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara M. Joosse features an Inuit child asking her mother about love, with highly appealing illustrations of Alaska.
  • Consider books that re-tell familiar stories in fresh ways. The Three Little Javelinas by Susan Lowell is a southwestern version of The Three Little Pigs, introducing elements of Native American, Mexican, and old West culture.

Storytelling is a lively way to capture a child's curiosity about others. Listen to community storytellers at special events whenever you have the opportunity. When you tell your own stories, try these strategies to make them come alive:

  • Use your whole voice — highs and lows, whispers and shouts. Select descriptive words to help your child imagine the scenes. Let him tell his own stories and be the leader some days, too.
  • Employ props, such as a walking stick, a festive hat, or a frying pan. Use your body, too. Stand up; sway; wave. Surprise your audience in any way you can!
  • After you've told a story, find out what your child knows about the experience you're sharing. If you're telling a story about baking bread, ask your child what he knows about cooking.

Art often appeals to your child through its color. Since preschoolers first notice diversity through skin color, it makes sense to use their inherent interest in color to learn about other people.

  • Decorate your child's bedroom or playroom with photos of children and parents in other countries. Include the American flag and flags from elsewhere. Or display pictures of famous buildings and monuments, from the Taj Mahal to the Eiffel Tower. Invite your child to build an Eiffel Tower, a pyramid, or another building altogether.
  • On a rainy day, show your child new art forms or paintings that depict new places, such as a Caribbean beach. Offer construction paper and paints so your child can create, too.

As a parent, you are the most powerful influence in your child's life. There is no doubt you can help your children develop a more global viewpoint. By teaching your child about other people and places, you'll be imparting a precious gift — the realization that differences aren't negative or frightening but natural, welcoming, and fun.

Social & Emotional Skills
Attention and Focus
Spatial Reasoning
Critical Thinking
Age 5
Age 4
Age 3
Maps and Globes
Culture and Diversity
Countries, Continents, Regions
Communities and Ways of Life
Social and Emotional Development