Two years ago my brother's family accepted a career opportunity that took them to Singapore for a couple of years. They packed up their lives and with their three children they set off on what has proved to be a grand adventure. I didn't realize at the time how much their adventure would bring to my own little family.
First there were Skype calls between cousins that opened my children's eyes to a part of the world they had known nothing about. There were discussions about different foods (some very strange to them), and different school practices. The family decided that as long as they were living half way around the world they would take every opportunity to travel and see that part of the world. What would be an enormous trip from the U.S. could be reached in a matter of hours from Singapore so they set out to pack in as much travel as they could during their time there. They have traveled to Hong Kong, Thailand, India, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, and Sri Lanka during the last two years! I know, some life, right?
On his last trip to visit home my brother brought a little bag for each of my sons. The bags contained money from each country they had visited on this adventure. He thought they would think it was cool and he was right. What none of us realized at the time was how it would open up my boys' eyes to the world. Those little bags of money have led to hundreds of questions, stories, and learning. I thought I had taught my kids about cultures beyond our own, but what I saw was their insatiable appetites for learning be sparked. They wanted to know all I could tell them about each country represented in their special little bags.
To say we googled a lot is a huge understatement! We looked for facts about this and information about that. From all of this a new tradition was born. We started a family culture night. At least once a month we center our dinner around a different culture. We also use this chance to learn a little about the part of the world that brought us these recipes. We learn some words from the local language, share pictures, answer any specific questions they have expressed about that country or culture. And of course, it is all anchored with a good meal of traditional foods that represent that place and its people!
Here are a few ideas that have helped us create one of our favorite mealtime events. We all love and look forward to our monthly culture nights and the kids can't get enough of the learning it brings!
Start with a Passport! You need a passport to travel the world, right? And what a fun way to keep track of where you have been on your Culture Night travels! It can be as simple as a little notepad or folded paper or as fancy as you want to make it. Keep track of what countries you learn about and leave a little space for everyone to write down the things they find most interesting, most exciting, and just plain strange.
Cook Authentic Foods: Recipes can range from simple to complex and ingredients can be anything from common items found in a supermarket to specialty items found at special markets. Choose what foods you want to share with your family and give them the chance to experience something new (maybe new for you too!) in the name of fun and learning. Be sure to keep track of recipes in Cook'n so you know what your family liked and can add it to the repartee.
Learn, Learn, Learn: Learn a few words from the local language. You can even label the dinner table with the correct words. Teach common greetings and please and thank you. For some languages this might be easier than others, but do what you can. If it is one word, that is still fun and opens up your family's minds and ears to new language.
Use pictures and visuals to show where the country is located on a map. Discuss the climate and weather and how that might make life a little different from your own. Use pictures to show traditional clothing, flag, landmarks, and customs in the area. The internet has really brought the whole world to our fingertips so use it to bring the world in to your home.
Don't forget holidays and celebrations. These are a huge part of a culture and can be fun to learn about. You can even celebrate with them if you want. Cinco de Mayo, Chinese New Year, or the Festival of Color can all bring fun, exciting, and new things to your family and your dinner table. Enjoy learning about how and why others celebrate!
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