Use Holidays as Cultural Learning Tools for Your Kids

menorah, fully lit

If you’ve ever wanted to introduce your children to other cultures, just about every holiday out there — including non-American holidays — give you the perfect opportunity to do so. Most children are under the impression that the holidays of their religion are celebrated in the same way all around the world. Until you tell teach them differently, your children’s world will rarely reach beyond their neighborhood. Here are five ways that you can teach your little ones about other people, other religions, and other cultures:

1. Read Stories

There are a number of children’s books that you can read with your little ones to teach them about culture. Visit your local library and check out books about holidays around the world. For instance, “The Tale of Saint Nicholas” is the perfect choice to read at Christmas as it tells the original tale of the Saint who lived in Europe. Not only will your children learn that Santa Claus isn’t a truly American idea, but they’ll learn about being charitable as well.

2. Get Out the Atlas

Pull out a world Atlas if you have one or search the Web for a map of the world. Ask your children to close their eyes and point to a random page. Read the page aloud to your child and then look up more information about the country’s cultures. You can research the major religions, what holidays the people observe, and how they celebrate them. How often you sit down with your kids and the atlas or Web page is up to you, but it’s an excellent learning tool and one that your children will enjoy.

3. Sameness and Difference

If you have any hopes for your children to appreciate other cultures, you’ll need to point out how other cultures are the same and how they are different. Your children should know that people who look, act, and think differently than they do are just as good and deserving of respect as those who are the same. Explain what racism, stereotyping, and discrimination mean if your children are old enough to understand. You can use the way other cultures celebrate the holidays to provide examples of “same” and “different” to your younger children.

4. Watch Movies

If you have a subscription to Netflix or Blockbuster, select a few streaming movies to watch with your kids. The movies should be age-appropriate, but you shouldn’t have any problem finding several choices. You can choose documentaries for older children and cartoons for the younger kids. There are hundreds of holiday-themed movies from around the globe that can show your child the differences between the many cultures of the world.

5. Cook a Meal

One of the most fun ways to teach children about cultural differences is through food. Pick one night a month and cook a traditional holiday feast from another country. You can pick a Christmas meal, an Easter meal, or even dishes that are traditionally served as part of Hanukkah festivities. This is not only a great way to teach your children about other cultures, but it will provide family bonding time. If cooking an entire meal is too time-consuming, pick one course or even a dessert. No matter what you choose to cook, the food will be sure to spark conversation and open the door to great discussions. You can also decorate for the particular holiday that you’re learning about. Santa’s Quarters offers some great decorating ideas.

Don’t forget to teach your children more about the holidays they celebrate, as well. Teach them the meanings behind the holidays and how they got started. Teaching your children about culture is an important lesson no matter their age. The earlier you start teaching your children to respect others’ belief systems and values, the more respectful and accepting they will be as they get older. If you want to raise well-mannered, free-thinking adults, education must begin at an early age. The holidays present the perfect opportunity to start teaching your children about the cultures of the world; use them to your advantage.

Karen Boyarsky is a freelance blogger writing on behalf of www.santasquarters.com/. You can follow her on Twitter @Boyarsky_kareni.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who want their kids to learn about other cultures.

Image courtesy of Renee Silverman via Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.

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