When you send your kids off to school, you hope they learn the skills needed to succeed in an increasingly interconnected world. While you want teachers to prepare children who can compete in the global economy, you also recognize that a global education must begin at home – and the earlier the better.
Like most parents, you are very busy. You don’t have time to learn another language or become an international studies scholar. But don’t despair. Here are 10 easy steps that can help you inspire future citizens of the world – and perhaps a future world leader.
1. Map it out. Make sure you have a world map and display it in an area where the family usually gathers. Knowing where you live on a map brings a perspective that the world is a big place and that growing up we only see a small part of it. When you see something on television about another place, point it out on the map. Becoming familiar with where other places are is an essential first step to understanding different views. It’s also fun.
2. Climb the family tree. Most of us have backgrounds that transcend borders. Talk with children about their ancestors. In most cases, you won’t have to go back very far to identify a relative from a different country with different customs. You’ll not only provide a great learning experience, you’ll also strengthen family ties.
3. Discuss the dinner menu. The foods we enjoy and the menus at our favorite restaurants represent a true global melting pot. Talk about where foods came from. Did you know that ketchup comes from China, the potato originated in the Andes (near what is now Peru) or that coffee hails from Ethiopia? Children will enjoy learning about their favorite foods’ paths to their plates. The Food Museum Online is just one source with fascinating histories of many different foods.
4. Watch your words. How we view our world often depends upon how we describe our world. So help your children expand their verbal horizons. If you speak another language, teach it to your child. But even if you don’t, use everyday situations to introduce international words and phrases. It can be as simple as telling children that in Italian “bath” becomes “bagno” or in French, “bed” becomes “lit.” Easy! English itself is a product of many cultures so when your child learns a new word identify its origin. You can use the Online Etymology Dictionary to show the origin of words like dinosaur (Greece), shampoo (India) and barbecue (Haiti).
5. Travel often – even if it’s only virtually. Mark Twain wrote that travel is “fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” Apply for passports for your children even if no immediate trip is planned. Use it when possible, but also consider visiting ethnic communities closer to home. Take virtual tours of cities and “walk” the halls of famous museums and buildings. Time For Kids provides an excellent site where children can “travel” around the world.
6. Turn up the music. Music moves children of all ages and places. Plug into their iPods and talk about tunes that travel the globe. From country to pop, from reggae to rap, international influences heavily shape the melodies we love. You can tell your toddler about the Wiggles’ Australian home or share with your pre-teen the British punk roots that spawned Green Day or even discuss Jamaican contributions to hip hop. Use an online radio service like Pandora to create stations to expose your kids to African music, French songs, or even just a "world music" station for a variety of cultures.
7. Connect to other children. Children are fascinated by other children. Describe what children do in other countries and how their lifestyles differ. There are many resources. Oxfam International, for example, features sensational photo stories about children. Also, explore ways for children to communicate with other children, through letters or email. They may even want to help other children through groups like Free the Children, Kids Can Make a Difference or UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund.
8. Where was it made? Even young children can be introduced to basic facts about the global economy and the global production system. One simple way to do that is to connect the clothes on their backs to where they were made. Children can also trace the origin of common household items and learn how they were assembled. Locate these nations on the map and find out about their culture. More in-depth lessons might explore the lives of workers who made these items, some of whom are children.
9. Discover the United Nations. Despite its flaws, the United Nations is the dominant international organization of our time and has united people from all over the world in many critical efforts. It also provides many great resources. For example, take a ride on the CyberSchoolBus and learn more about the U.N.’s history, its 192 member nations and important global causes. Also, introduce your children to other international organizations that link countries and cultures.
10. Stay on top of the schools. Encourage and support schools to introduce and expand global studies programs. Applaud those who champion such programs, and work to convince and persuade those who do not.
There are many ways to raise world citizens. As parents who have seen, for better and for worse, how well our own children can mimic behaviors, we’d like to offer one last bonus suggestion: Always keep in mind the power of your example. Stay curious about your world. Seek new and different perspectives. Converse with those who are different. And, perhaps most important, offer examples of ways to translate values into action. After all, tomorrow’s world citizens must not only understand their world, they may be called upon to save it.
Updated August 2012