We were talking about Chinese New Year, because we have family members who celebrate it. It sparked a whole night of discussion about the different cultural traditions of people we know and how that all came about. Seriously – it’s times like this I really appreciate Google! Anyway, the whole thing gave us the idea of writing a blog post that gives you activity ideas for helping your kids to learn about other cultures and traditions, throughout the world. The great thing is that these kinds of activities lend themselves to kids with different interests and different learning styles. So, here’s five areas that you can investigate with your kids:
Geography and Weather
Many traditions around the world have come from a pragmatic need to live with certain weather conditions or with particular geographical features. For example: we recognise four main seasons, based on dates (which some say came from times when armies needed to have fixed dates for when soldiers had to change from Winter to Summer uniforms!). In early days, indigenous Australians more commonly recognised six distinct seasons with particular traditions, such as burning to reduce fuel load and regenerate important vegetation.
So, to help your kids understand the role weather and geography can play in traditions, try this: look at a map of the world (here’s one we prepared earlier: world map) and choose a country to research. Or, you may want to choose half a dozen countries that you know have dramatically different geographical features, from your kids can choose one. Before you start, have a chat about where the country is located in the world and what kind of land forms (jungles? desserts? mountains? cities?) would you expect to see there? Is it tropical? Does it have snow?
Then, head either to the library or onto the Internet and start researching – for older kids you may let them do more of this on their own, but for younger kids, it might be fun to do this together. Make a list of the things you find out about the country, highlighting anything dramatic or unusual. Then, the next question is, ‘what traditions do the people living in that country have, to cope with this?’. For example, in countries with long, cold winters, they might have a tradition of salting and storing food and celebrating the onset of Spring with festivals or celebrations.
Language is one area we don’t really cover in our Brilliant Boxes, but is something that our own kids really enjoy. If you’d like to start with one particular language, start with a few basics that make it fun and achievable for your kids. So, write (or type) the numbers 1 to 10 in English, then in another language. Run through them a few times, then cut them out onto cards and play a game of snap, matching the English and other language words for the same number. You can increase your ‘pack’ of cards, as you learn more words. You can, of course, do this for colours, animals – any words, really.
This is a very easy topic to have a bit of fun. So, here’s a few ideas for appreciating how lucky we are, here in Australia, to embrace people from such a wide range of cultures (and your kids might just try a few different foods!):
Make one day of the week ‘cook the world’ day. The rule is that the main family meal of that day has to be from a particular country – map a few months of countries out in advance, with your kids and a world map. Together, do a bit of research to not only find recipes indigenous to that country, but find out what implements were used: spoons, forks, chopsticks or even fingers? Do people from that particular country sit at tables or on the floor to eat? Are there any other traditions associated with how the food is prepared? Try to incorporate as many that are doable.
Create a food treasure hunt. Make a list of different sorts of food that are from different countries. For example, under Italy, you could put: pasta, tomatoes, basil, boccocini cheese and prosciutto. For Japan, you might have rice, nori, Tamari sauce. Take this list to the supermarket with your kids and see if they can find all of the items on the list. It might just get them a bit curious about what all of those unusual items look like and how they’re cooked.
Art, Music and Dance
This one could be weeks of learning! So, for visual art, head to a gallery, if you can. Give your kids their own notebooks to record their favourite pieces of art, which part of the world the artist was from. See if they’d like to research a little more on that artist and the place they were from. How did their location influence their work?
You could also do a bit of research about a particular place, finding out any landscapes that may have been painted, portraying that area. How are they all different? Or similar? This can lead to really interesting discussion with older kids, as to the artist’s point of view. Your kids might like to create their own artworks depicting their favourite places – at home or places they have travelled to.
For music, a quick search on ‘world music’ will uncover a wealth of different styles of music. For younger kids, creating their own instruments is always a winner. We’ve made many percussion instruments from boxes, bottles, paper and rice, lentils and bottle tops.
I had a rather amazing music teacher in primary school who incorporated music into our everyday learning. He took a popular song playing on the radio, that we all knew, and taught it to us in rounds, with and without instruments. He then did the same with songs in other languages, to teach us that music is music is music, all over the world. He also played us recordings short pieces of instrumental music from different time periods, asking us to guess when it was from – everything from classical, to Jazz, folk and rock. It was alot of fun and much easier nowadays with youTube!
There are so many wonderful books that celebrate different cultures, traditions and countries. Head to your local library or book store and search out books that you can read together. For young children, create a discovery basket themed for a particular country or culture, including items mentioned in the book, for them to explore.
We’ve actually created our own ‘world books’ at home. My kids very interested in Japan and France, after starting to learn those languages. So, they created ‘My Japan’ and ‘My France’ books. After stapling paper together to create their ‘books’, they drew pictures of all the landmarks they knew were in that country, they drew a picture of what they thought a person from that country might wear; they drew the food people ate in that country and wrote out the words they had learnt.
So there you go: five different topic areas to help you develop a sense of wonder about the world, in your family. Now, I’m off to make dumplings . . .
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