by Lana Jordan
In our day and age, we have more opportunities for exploring the world around us than any other people in history. We owe it to ourselves and our children to take advantage of these resources and get to know our "neighbors" all around the globe! Maybe I'm too idealistic, but I believe that if we understood one another better, this old earth would see a lot less war and strife and a lot more peace and harmony.
Aside from any such lofty aspirations on a global level, the potential benefits are very real on a personal level. By introducing our children to other peoples, we are helping them gain an appreciation for cultural diversity as well as teaching them acceptance, respect, and even love for those who are different from us. After all, wouldn't it be boring if we were all the same? And what a shame to miss out on so much knowledge, experience, and just plain fun!
Learning about other people and places can be a fascinating pursuit for everyone involved, no matter what their age. This is a subject area that readily lends itself to multi-level learning with very little effort! Even toddlers will get something out of it.
There are many ways we can explore the world with our children, including the most literal -- travel. Never before have people been able to get from one place to another so quickly. If your budget allows for exotic family vacations, that's great! But if not, that's okay, too. You can still travel "virtually" anywhere via printed materials, community activities, and of course the Internet.
A large variety of reference books, magazines, activity books, and even travel guides can be found in obvious places such as the library or bookstore (be sure to check the clearance racks). But don't forget that the best sources of treasures at bargain prices are often thrift shops, yard sales, and even eBay! Once you've accumulated the materials, take some time to preview everything yourself. If you try to read page after page straight from the text, your children will get bored and you'll lose their interest. Instead, glean the best parts beforehand and be able to share the rest in your own words.
My personal favorite resource is the Internet! We now essentially have the whole world at our fingertips. There are many, many informational web sites about other countries. Some even have interactive learning tools such as games, quizzes, or puzzles.
Usborne has a wonderful book called Internet-linked Peoples of the World, which provides the URLs to recommended web sites. And there are many other link directories available as well. But unless you are 100% sure of the source of the links you use, I would suggest previewing all sites before logging on with your children in order to avoid any nasty surprises. Even links that seem innocent enough can lead to offensive web sites. While researching Thailand at the library recently, I used one of their computers to search the Web for a few minutes. Much to my surprise and embarrassment, I pulled up a page with some very objectionable content just as some children began milling around behind me! I hit the "back" button quickly and hoped that they couldn't read as fast as I could.
Whatever resources you decide to use, just concentrate on one country at a time, and plan out how long you want to "stay" there. Introduce a different aspect of the country each day of your "visit." These can include: dress; housing; lifestyle; food; customs; games; religion; geography; history; science; art; environment; animals; customs; folklore; and so much more! Use your imagination, and let your children choose areas of interest as well. To really capture the spirit of the people and places you're studying, remember: pictures, pictures, pictures. Nothing can make you feel like you're really there better than a good picture.
Once you've collected all of the factual information you want and determined a course of action, it's time to start planning some hands-on experiences. When available, take advantage of activities in your area pertaining to other cultures. Food shows, folk dances, theatrical productions, pow-wows, and festivals are just a few of the possibilities that come to mind. And if there is a shortage of offerings, you could always organize something yourself! It's not as hard as it might seem.