You don’t have to travel around the world to raise world citizens. In fact, you can do just that without ever leaving your hometown. It’s really that simple.
It doesn’t matter if you live in a big city or a small town. It doesn’t matter if you speak one language or three. It doesn’t matter if you can trace your roots across the US or the globe. There are simple, always available, and easily accessible ways to raise world citizens - no matter where you live.
But, first, you need to define what a "world citizen" means to you as a parent.
When I first started this blog, my husband told me it was important to define "world citizen" - and he was so right.
At the time, I defined a "world citizen" as being "someone who has a firm grasp of the breadth, depth and true diversity of the world around them and strives to seize any and all available opportunities to make a true impact on the global community."
I also stated that: "As parents, we can serve as our children's tour guides and give them amazing, diverse experiences that will help them grow and thrive - no matter how the world evolves. Whether your travels take you to far and distant lands or you never leave the Midwest, there are vast opportunities to expose our children to the world - its cultures, people and communities. It's all about finding them, embracing them, learning from them, and taking a global view that will help you cultivate your unique viewpoint of world and your place within it."
And, I still hold myself to that definition and inherent goal as I routinely assess my own efforts to raise two world citizens.
Here are 6 simple ways to raise world citizens:
1. Meet new people and cultures in the pages of a book or the frames of a movie. One of my greatest joys is finding new books and movies that help children travel the world in their minds and in their imaginations.
Some of my favorite books that I read to my sons when they were younger were "Dodsworth" in Paris, London, Rome and Tokyo and "The Adventures of Bella and Harry." But, you don't just have to read books that feature a duck and dog like in "Dodsworth" or a pair of dog siblings like in "The Adventures of Bella and Harry" who travel around the world together. Sometimes, world and cultural discoveries come in unexpected places - like the popular "Harry Potter" and "Percy Jackson" books.
By reading and also watching "Harry Potter," my sons learned about London, how to appreciate everyone – even “house-elves,” and more. Currently, my older son is reading the "Percy Jackson" books. I read them all, too. And, I can't wait for him to experience other places in Canada, Greece, Italy and more - through Percy and his fellow demigod's eyes. And, I hope he'll take away the message of respecting other people - no matter if they're "Greek" or "Roman," a demigod or mortal, or if their parents still hold a grunge over who should have been the rightful patron of Athens.
You also can purchase or check out books that show the world to your children - from cover to cover. One of my favorites is Barefoot Books' "World Atlas," a hard cover, beautifully illustrated book that shows how communities across the globe have been influenced by their natural environments. I also like the "Children's Activity Atlas" by Jenny Slater, which includes information about the different continents and each region's wildlife, food, architecture and culture. The book also includes reusable stickers, postcards and a pocket-size passport with quizzes and interesting facts.
I also recently stumbled upon Scholastic's "True Book - Geography" series at the bookstore and loved the number of books that focus on countries around the world. The books share information on the history, people, culture, and landscape of different countries to help kids "truly experience the countries for themselves."
One of my new favorite movies is "The Karate Kid" - the 2010 remake that is. In just 140 minutes, my sons learned about the Chinese culture, were amazed by the significant sites in China, and saw the importance of trying to learn the language spoken by people in your community.
Before my family traveled to Tokyo, we watched several of the Japanese animated films that were written and produced by Hayao Miyazaki, including "My Neighbor Totoro," which helped expose them to Japan - its people, its language and its customs.
Another favorite international movie in our home is the French classic, "The Red Balloon." While there's little French dialogue among its characters, the movie still captivates children and gives them a unique look at Paris.
But, these are just a sampling of books and movies. There are so many to find and enjoy - online, at the bookstore, at the library or at the movie theater.
2. Form a global playgroup with a diverse group of parents and children. I’m a big fan of playgroups. They connect people of different backgrounds, ethnicities and traditions that usually are united in one thing – be it having babies, being newcomers to a city, learning or practicing a language, enjoying playing or watching soccer, and more.
I’ll never forget when I moved to a new town right before our first son was born. I didn’t know anyone, and all of a sudden I was a new mom, living in a new place with new responsibilities. Luckily for me, the local “newcomers” group connected new moms together in small playgroups. Together, we were a diverse group of women who were there for each other as friends and fellow moms, and I couldn’t wait until we got together each week.
But, playgroups don’t need to just be for parents of babies. Thanks to Meetup.com, in Chicago alone, you can find and get together with other "intercultural explorers," "international moms," multiracial, interracial and LBGT families, parents living in a certain neighborhood, and more. I tried Meetup.com when my children younger, and I still treasure the relationships I made with the other moms in our group.
If you feel adventurous, you can sign up to host your own playgroup and seek out other parents or families with which you can share your own cultural traditions.
3. Cook and eat your way around the world in your kitchen or at restaurants in your hometown. One of the most incredible and delicious ways to get a “taste” of another culture is through food. Personally, I love to share my family’s traditional foods with others – and have them do the same with us.
Recently, my family was invited to our friends' home for dinner where they served us traditional Indian foods, including samosa and dosa. We enjoyed trying the new flavors, and are thrilled that our sons now want to try new Indian restaurants in our hometown so they can eat it all again.
A fellow blogger, Changing Plate, had the fantastic idea to host a meal at your home and invite families to come, bring a traditional dish, and then share the foods and your cultures together. I’d love to try to replicate the idea here in Chicago, too.
Culinary food tours of ethnic neighborhoods in your hometown (or nearby areas) can be another great way to understand a culture and their traditions. Typically, you can find professional tour guides who can take you on your culinary journey. But, it's fun to do it on your own, too.
Often, my husband and I will take our children to an ethnic neighborhood here in Chicago and then “eat” our way around that “country.” For example, our family recently spent an afternoon in Pilsen, a Mexican neighborhood of Chicago. We started our visit off with a stop for cream-filled churros. From there, we went to at least three tortilla factories to sample fresh, hot corn, flour and even cinnamon whole wheat tortillas. Then, for dinner, we cooked up a Mexican-inspired meal, featuring our fresh tortillas.
4. Learn words and phrases from a new language with the help of books, movies and apps. I’m a big believer that it’s worth the effort to at least know a few words when conversing with people who speak a different language – either at home in Chicago or when visiting another country around the world.
Whenever my family travels somewhere, we make sure to know a few basic phrases – even if it’s just “hello,” “good morning,” “excuse me,” “thank you,” and the all-important question of "where is the bathroom?"
Before we arrive in a new city, we practice the words and phrases in our travel guides. We also like to review the common words and phrases found in the some of the fictional books we've read about the particular country or city. "The Adventures of Bella and Harry" books each have a short, helpful list at the back.
There also are a lot of great apps available for kids to use to learn a new language - and have fun at the same time. One of my favorites is Gus on the Go, which allows kids to play and pass on to the next level after completing games that teach them new vocabulary words. My sons used the French, German and Japanese apps and loved "conquering" each language.
You also can have a foreign language movie night and watch one of your family's favorite movies - in a foreign language (with subtitles to help match the verbal with the written words). We've done the same thing by watching some of my sons favorite TV shows like Pokémon or Caillou in French and other languages on YouTube.
As someone who isn't fluent in another language, I like to read books that are in English and French (or another language). Barefoot Books is a great resource for bilingual books. One of our favorites is "Bear at Home/L’ Ours à la mason." I also recommend the new Zazoo French-English bilingual story books for young children.
Here in Chicago, I always look for story times hosted by local cultural institutions that feature a book about a different culture told in a different language. For example, my sons have attended several story times at the Alliance Française de Chicago. During each one, a volunteer reads a story in French and then conducts a mini-French lesson as she does a craft with, and passes out a snack to, all of the attendees.
For more extensive language learning, you also can sign up for children’s language classes at schools like Language Stars. My sons took weekly language classes when they turned one years old – first in Spanish and then later in French. It helped provide them with a basic understanding of the language, allowed them to hear the language spoke by a native speaker, and gave them an appreciation for language learning, which they benefit from to this very day.
5. Participate in local multicultural activities and events in your hometown. I feel fortunate to live in a world-class city like Chicago. At its heart are the many ethnic neighborhoods that add to the pulse and beat of Chicago. And, on any given weekend, there are tons of multicultural events taking place that celebrate cultures from around the world and give you a look at the people and traditions who thrive within it.
Each week, I curate a list of the “top 5 multicultural events for families in Chicago this weekend.” On a regular basis, I’m stunned by the number and variety of cultural events happening in Chicago – both the city and its suburbs. Often, it’s nearly impossible to come up with just five events. And, personally, I struggle with trying to go to as many of them as possible – in just one weekend.
But, you don't need to live in Chicago to enjoy multicultural events and activities.
I recently shared 5 tips for finding multicultural events in your hometown or travel destination. My suggestions included reading and "following" local parenting publications, websites and bloggers that focus on your hometown. Most websites and even some blogs include events calendars that are chock-full of great events and activities for you to enjoy with your family.
I also suggest signing up to receive newsletters from local cultural institutions, libraries and community centers. Most of these organizations send out regular emails with lists of upcoming events – including many geared towards families. Whenever I get them, I jot down intriguing events on my calendar. You also can follow their social media accounts to get the latest information via Twitter or Facebook - or however you prefer to stay connected.
Of course, you don't need to only do your research online. Our friends, neighbors and other parents we meet at the park, the playground, school or classes can be fantastic resources, too. I love to hear about how other parents find cool activities and events for their families because you never know what will spark a new idea or experience.
6. Find a charitable organization for you and your family to support in your hometown or anywhere around the world. I think an important part about being a world citizen is helping others, especially those in need. That's why I enjoy finding charitable organizations and causes for our family to support - here in Chicago or across the globe.
This Halloween, our sons collected money for UNICEF, using the boxes provided to them through their school. And, last year, we purchased school supplies to send to my older son's classmate to share with people in Ethiopia, where she studied that semester.
Giving Tuesday is coming up on Tuesday, December 2. Started last year, the holiday has become a global day dedicated to giving back. This year, you can choose to donate to a certain charity, volunteer at a soup kitchen or engage in another charitable act that day. You also can show your support for Giving Tuesday by taking an "selfie," tagging it with #unselfie and #givingtuesday and uploading it to Instagram, Twitter or Facebook from now until December 2.
It doesn't have to be a "big" act. It can be something as simple as donating old clothes, books or toys to children or families in need. We recently did just that, and I was glad to have our sons involved in helping others right in our hometown.
These 6 simple ways to raise world citizens is just a start.
You can personalize and add to these steps based on your interests, the type of resources available to you, which steps you've already "mastered," and more. And, you can increase the complexity of these "steps" as your children get older, learn another language (or two…), and gain a better understanding of the people, places and cultures of the world.
I'd also encourage you to check out some of these helpful resources for additional tips, information and inspiration on raising your world citizens:
- European Mama: Tips for appreciating different cultures in a non-diverse environment
- Mama Smiles: Raising globally aware kids: Getting started
- Multicultural Kid Blogs: Cultural resources
- The Educators' Spin on It: 10 ways to travel the world with your family
- Glittering Muffins: The World from A to Z
- Multicultural Kid Blogs: Read around the world summer reading series
- Changing Plate: How to create an international dinner club
- Glittering Muffins: Around the world in 12 dishes
- Global Table Adventure: Eat the world with our interactive map
- Marie's Pastiche: Around the world with pancakes
- Marie's Pastiche: Eat your way through China
- Marie's Pastiche: Our French Canadian Roots
- Multicultural Kid Blogs: Bread around the world: Recipes and traditions
- Trilingual Mama: Monolingual parents and bilingual children
- Trilingual Mama: Free online books for children in multiple languages
- Where Are We Going, Dad?: Helping your child expand their language
- Where Are We Doing, Dad?: What kind of language program should my kids take?
- Multicultural Kid Blogs: 7 things your child needs to learn a language
- The Piri-Piri Lexicon: Myths busted! 17 bloggers bust myths about raising multilingual children
What's your definition of a “world citizen?” Are there any additional things you do to raise your world citizens? Are there any other tips or resources that you'd like to share with others? Please share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.
There is a lot more multicultural fun to be had together. Be sure to "like" Raising World Citizens on Facebook to join in on the conversation. And, join me on a visual journey of my efforts to raise two world citizens on Instagram.
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