While my husband and I won’t be taking our 4- and 2-year-old kids on the road like that anytime soon, we are an active duty family in the U.S. Army, and we move every three years. We will relocate to Tacoma, Wash., this fall. I used to think that my children would only have a good childhood if they lived in one house until they were 18, like I did, but families like the Oxenreiders show me that no matter where we live, my children’s experience can — and will — be rich and meaningful.
Says Jamie Martin, author of “Give Your Child the World: Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at a Time,” “We live in a time in which we have everything at our fingertips, where every answer is just a click away. A place where we’re drowning in information, yet lacking in depth. Feeling a connection with the world, with those different from us and yet so much the same, can help to heal our wounds.”
We can’t all do what the Oxenreiders did, or what my family is about to do, or even what Megan Schiller did. Owner of the Art Pantry, Schiller and her family recently completed a three-month tour of the United States in an Airstream trailer. But no matter how rooted you are, it’s possible, and necessary, to say, “Kids, meet world.”
Here are six ways to expose kids to the world beyond their neighborhood, on any budget.
Read around the world. Last summer, and again this summer, Martin has hosted a virtual book club in which participants focus on one area of the globe each week — Africa, Europe, North America and so on — reading age-appropriate books and stories about those regions. “We open the cover of a book, snuggle on the couch … and let the pages connect us with another continent, even while it deepens our own connection as a family,” Martin says.
Decorate your home with maps. You can buy beautiful, artist-designed maps from the Global Guardian Project or find some at thrift stores, like I did. Also think about globes and atlases. We’ve found a wonderful lift-the-flap atlas from Usborne Books that my kids delight in. Usborne also makes picture atlases, and offers a sticker atlas. Anytime you encounter a place in a book or talk about a relative traveling abroad, you can find the spot on a map.
Try international foods. Two years ago, my family and I lived in Vancouver, B.C., for two months and tried to eat every type of cuisine we could. It was fun watching my then-toddler slurping ramen at a Chinese Night Market. No travel is necessary for this idea, though. Search for international markets in your area. Try cooking different cuisines at home, or inviting friends from different cultures to cook for you or teach you some recipes. Use those maps to show kids where people eat these foods.
Use the mail. Martin recommends subscribing to a monthly service, such as Little Passports, that sends age-appropriate maps and materials to help children learn about different ecosystems, states and countries. The first month’s box includes a lunchbox-like suitcase to keep the materials in. And don’t dismiss the value of a classic pen pal. The borders in kids’ minds will start to expand as they bond with someone from another country.
Sponsor a child. Not all of us can travel, adopt, host a visiting student or do missions overseas. But we can save some of our money to help a child get out of poverty through organizations such as World Vision, and talk about it with our kids. Discuss the other child’s home country and culture, and the challenges they face. Kids’ empathy will grow. What if a child wanted to send gifts or sponsor another child? Then there could be another lesson about sacrifice: a little less from the family budget for meals out or toys; a little more for those in true need.
Invite neighbors into your home. Often we don’t have to travel farther than our neighborhood to find other cultures. When we lived in Washington, D.C., my family became close to our Australian neighbor, and I made friends with women whose families were from Israel and Iran. I also met a woman who had just returned from eight years in Uganda, who became a parenting mentor to me. Just by having friends over for dinner, I could expose my family to another culture.
These are all simply starting points for talking more with your kids, which is where the real magic happens. Talking about the world outside your home, and how your family interacts with that world, is how they will learn your beliefs, values and perspectives.
As Martin has said, the world is “a beautiful, wondrous, wildly misunderstood place. It’s by getting outside of ourselves that we can really get to know what’s inside of ourselves, what’s inside of each and every person on our planet: A longing for love, connection, happiness, peace.”
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