In a previous post, I wrote about the type of adults my wife and I want our children to be when they grow up. One of the desired characteristics we hope to instill is cultural and spiritual understanding. We want our children introduced to as much of the world as possible, including its various religions. Such familiarity we hope will breed tolerance vice contempt.
Of course, it’s all well and good to have such a goal. But how do you get there? We have taken a number of approaches, including the types of conversations we have with our children, the books we have on our shelves, and the experiences we provide them. One concrete example, easily replicated in your own home, is our monthly “Culture Night.” Every month, on a Saturday or Sunday evening, we explore a different country through its food, music, geography and language.
The cornerstone of this event is our “Universal Yums” monthly subscription box. (We have received no compensation, monetary or otherwise, for mentioning this company). The box provides around a dozen typical snacks (chips, candy, etc) from a chosen country. Instead of diving into the box and snacking at will, we use it in a deliberate and educational fashion. As we gather around the table, I will first pull up an interactive map on the computer for a quick geography discussion, showing our children where the country is in relation to our home in the United States, and what other countries it neighbors. I will show them pictures of landmarks and street life, and then we will introduce some basic words in the language, such as hello, please and thank you.
As we sample each snack, one at a time, one of us will read the description, which often includes fun cultural tidbits. For example, this month one of the snacks from Thailand was coconut-flavored, and the accompanying paragraph discussed how monkeys harvest 99% of Thailand’s coconuts, as they are much faster than humans. After each snack, my wife will take a quick poll of who liked the snack and who thought otherwise. The accompanying pamphlet in the box also includes trivia questions, games, and other cultural information such as descriptions of annual traditions and festivals. On weekends where we are especially prepared, we will also enjoy a full meal from the country. Sometimes we’ll make it from scratch (often using the suggested recipe from the pamphlet) like when we enjoyed traditional “bangers and mash” from the UK, other times it was as as simple as buying frozen pierogis when we explored Poland, and this month we simply got takeout from our favorite local Thai restaurant.
As we eat and discuss, we will also listen to music from the country. Universal Yums makes it easy, with curated playlists providing YouTube videos of classical, folk, and modern selections, adding another level of entertainment for the kids. Throughout, we’ll encourage the kids to use some of the basic words we learned in the language.
“Culture Night” won’t make them experts, and in some ways it represents a superficial exposure, but at our children’s current ages, our regular event is a great first step toward familiarity: introducing them to the food, language and music of numerous countries, in a much more cost-effective way than buying six round-trip plane tickets every month.