Defining Culture to Kids

Today’s world is growing in diversity and many more of us are getting the wonderful opportunity to meet our counterparts from abroad.

However, kids often don’t understand why these people are different or where the other places they come from are.

Unfortunately, culture can sometimes prove a hard to define topic when trying to discuss it with your children or other kids.

The concept can be hard to understand when you have only known one world your whole life, yet at the same time, is an important part of their developmental process. How children are taught early on about culture heavily affects their views and how they will interact in an increasingly globalized world.

Definition of Cultureborsch soup

Let’s make sure we understand the definition first.

Culture is a set of values, behaviors, or traditions which are inherently gifted from the previous generation. This could include many things, such as language, religious beliefs, attitude, food, arts, music, or anything tied to what that particular group identifies as. Ethnicity is also a term that could be used here. A particular ethnic group would share a particular culture.

Some material examples might include cultural items such as the Native American headdress, or the signature Russian soup known as borsch.

But culture can be more then that. Culture is a core component of our outlook upon the world. This can be both good or bad. Culture can be beautiful as well as ugly. Mental traits such as pride or what we deem as socially acceptable are also parts of our culture. An example of this might be a Western society which thinks a man crying is a sign of weakness, or that it is shameful and you must avoid doing so. While the act in itself is neither wrong nor right, what you learn from the people around you form the foundation of how you perceive it. Unless taught otherwise, in many cases, our culture tends to make our decisions for us.

Defining Culture To Children

While it’s an easy topic to discuss with adults, teaching children about culture is more difficult.

An easy way to explain the definition of culture to a child is to compare it to a ‘way of life’ which is passed down from their parents or ancestors.

How you teach them should of course depend on the child’s age and personality. Most kids are curious about culture and why some people wear different clothes or things of similar nature. Nobody knows the kid better then you or their parents and not all methods work for the same children. So take that them into account when forming your lesson plan.

If the child is old enough, we would recommend teaching them to be critical thinkers. It is important for them to ask questions and analyze their reasoning, especially when teaching culturally sensitive topics such as discrimination. Teaching them to examine and question societal issues is thought to lead to a more thorough understanding as they grow up and connect the dots. Make sure they know not to treat people of other cultures differently. If they ask any strange questions, keep in mind that they are simply trying to learn and their thoughts generally do not stem from prejudice. These are excellent moments to shape your child’s mind and you should take advantage of them.

Make sure you listen to what your child is saying. It is important that you understand what your child is confused about so you can properly guide them. Sometimes their thought patterns may be difficult to decipher. Try asking them a few questions before you give them a direct answer. This will help you understand their current thoughts, if any, on the topic.

“Any good teacher knows how important it is to connect with students and understand our culture.”
Adora Svitak

Activities To Consider

  • Get a Pen-Pal. Nowadays you can find Pen-Pals to talk to online. You can do snail mail (We recommend using a P.O. Box for safety), or simply message them online if you don’t feel comfortable giving up your address. Many of them also want to do language exchange if you or your kid happen to be interested in learning another language.
  • Read cultural/traditional stories to them, about people in other parts of the world. This ‘breaks the barrier’ so to speak and helps them understand the similarities and hardships we all share. It also doubles as a history lesson.
  • You could partake in ethnic activities. Some interesting but simple ones might be burning incense, or taking part in a yoga class.
  • Try some ethnic food. You could try anything that interests them, perhaps traditional Eid dishes or authentic Brazillian recipes.
  • Celebrate holidays which aren’t your own. Even if you think it sounds silly, when your child grows up they are sure to remember the experiences.
  • Try doing a week of shopping at an ethnic grocery store. For example, you could try a Chinese fish market. If you like trying new foods, this can be a lot of fun and be a great way to introduce your child to the world.
  • Study maps or globes. Learning about their location in the world can make things seem more familiar and therefor less scary. They might even think ‘Oh, I remember them. We pinned their country on the map a few months ago.’
  • Crafts can be another fun activity for kids. There really is a lot of things you could make. Pottery, dream-catchers, clothing, beaded jewelry, or masks are great examples.

This is a guest post by Sarah Kim Lee.
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