Growing up, my family experienced many financial restraints—that's my fancy way of saying we were poor.
My mom was a single, teenage mother of five, and we weren’t country hopping and collecting passport stamps like my children are—I didn't even know what a passport was. My grandfather was a lover of books, research and history; he taught me about ancient civilizations and mighty non-European empires. He instilled within me a deep love of reading and taught me the power of books to broaden my horizons.
Since my children were just wee ones, I’ve used books to educate them about different cultures and customs around the world.
Here are three simple ways to use books to give kids global experiences without travel:
1. Look for children's books that promote cultural diversity and have global themes.
One of the simplest ways to use books to give your child a global experience at home, is to find ones with themes that your sons or daughters may already have an interest in. If they love sports, find books about their favorite game and learn about a player that comes from another part of the world. Basketball and baseball are now international sports with players hailing from all over the globe. Next, expand their interests by researching a sport that may not be common in your country.
For example, cricket is not widely played in the United States, but is loved in certain countries in Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean. It is also popular in Australia and the UK, where it originated. Soccer is considered the world's most popular sport, and you can find so many children's books about it that have global themes.
When the girls were little, I swore that they would never love princesses—boy was I wrong! Because I want to teach my children to follow after their own passions, I fully embraced their princess craze! We watched all the movies, they had the cups and plates and wore multiple princess dresses per day.
They went to Target in them, they searched for bugs in them—they even slept in their dresses on occasion. They were hardcore about their princess affections. You can even use "the princess phase" to give your children global exposure. Not all princesses are mermaids with red hair or locked in a castle with a beast and an enchanted rose.
"The Water Princess" is based on supermodel, Georgie Badiel’s, childhood and is the story of a young girl's desire to bring clean water to her village.
Did you know that there are many global versions of the Cinderella story? My girls loved searching for which cultures had a Cinderella tale to compare and contrast the differences! Your kids will love these Korean, Chinese, Persian, Native American, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, Nigerian, Irish, Hmong and Mexican versions of the fairytale. There are so many practical ways to use books to give your children global experiences at home.
2. Do craft projects and activities that relate to books.
One of Ama and LiLi’s favorite books is “El Chocolate de Abuelita” (Grandma’s Chocolate). It is a wonderful tale of a young girl, Sabrina, who is anticipating her grandmother's visit from México...and all the treasures abuela has waiting for her in her yellow suitcase! Her grandmother brings many beautiful gifts: a traditional Huipil dress, a clay whistle, a drum and chocolate. Abuela tells Sabrina of her glorious ancestors, the Maya and Aztec, and the importance of the cacao tree and seeds in their culture—which is where chocolate comes from.
In the story, Sabrina and abuela make hot chocolate the way it has been done in México for generations by using a wooden whisk called a molinillo. The book is also written in English and Spanish, which is perfect for bilingual families or those wanting to expose their children to another language.
there are many different ways to INCORPORATE lessons and learning from "El Chocolate de abuelita."
After the story, make authentic Mexican hot chocolate with your children. You could also keep it simple by grabbing some Nutella and asking questions about the cacao tree and the origins of chocolate.
Go to a Mexican market to explore and buy the ingredients that you’ll need to make hot chocolate in the traditional style. While you're there, see what other foods and products you may not be familiar with. Then ask respectful questions to the employees on ways to add these items into your family's diet!
Search for the toys that abuela brings Sabrina from México while at the market.
Buy Mexican candy. Most children love sweets, and exposing them to different types of candies and treats eaten around the world is a great way to reinforce the lesson that, while we may live in other parts of the world, there are many things that unite us in the human experience. Universal Yums is a subscription company that sends you a box a different candies from around the world every month.
Learn simple Spanish words and phrases and use them at the market. Duolingo and Stories by Gus on the Go can both be found on iTunes and are easy ways to expose a child to simple, second language vocabulary. There are many programs that teach a variety of language skills.
Research México and learn about its Indigenous peoples. The Mayan and Aztec kingdoms are mentioned in the story, but México was home to other Indigenous tribes.
Watch the movie "Coco" and/or make a piñata from scratch.
These are just a few examples of activities you could do to make cultural connections, and they can be applied to any other story and culture.
3. buy children's books that promote global awareness from local sellers
Friends, I'm not here to cast stones at anyone for not exclusively buying from independent book sellers because I don't always do this myself. We are all on personal journeys toward using our purchasing power to grow our local economies and to support independent businesses. I will be the first to admit that Amazon has saved me on more than one occasion when searching for items.
so Take a deep breath and be kind to yourself;
this is a judgment-free zone.
While I do buy books from large-scale sources, I also try to support local and independent businesses as much as possible—especially those that are black and brown-owned.
Independent businesses are often the lifelines of communities, and they give you the unique opportunity to build a relationship with their owners. Owners who are real people and not investors, a board of directors or stockholders.
Buying from independent businesses of color is important because they create local jobs and strengthen communities. If there are no black or brown-owned bookstores in your city, consider buying from one online.
Traveling is an amazing way to raise global awareness within children, but it’s not the only means to do so. Books are an excellent resource to spark a child’s interest in cross cultural exchanges, and to cultivate an international world view.
Do you have a favorite family-friendly book about global diversity?
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