From international trade deals and global production lines to the boundless internet, the interconnectedness of the 21st century makes a global outlook critical to success. As American business and diplomacy engage countries around the world, it is increasingly important for children to investigate the world, weigh different perspectives, communicate ideas effectively, take action with an entrepreneurial spirit, and apply an interdisciplinary lens to their views of the world.
A child in the Montessori classroom becomes equipped with these skills early on. A Montessori child navigates multiple ages and cultures in their classroom community, and parents can play an influential role in fostering curiosity about global cultures. Using local experiences, parents can start conversations with their children that invite wonder and curiosity about how others live in the world.
At our school, we use cultural dolls to start conversations about the wider world. Local parents donated over 120 dolls to our school to represent a child’s country of origin in our community. We highlight an International Doll of the Month to explore the geography and culture of the doll’s country. From an Indian Bollywood Dance party to a presentation on chocolate production in Ghana to Russian folklore, the doll becomes a focal point for class discussions and parent engagement. When it comes to exploring culture, engaging conversation is more critical than finding hard-to-get cultural artifacts. Good questions invite exploration, authentic curiosity, and genuine wonder.
Several kinds of activities lead to conversation, research, and good questions. Here are five tips to help start a conversation between you and your child on world cultures:
Tip 1: Track your Travels
From small towns to big cities, work with your child to track their journeys on a wall map or digital map. I like a map that a child can touch and feel. You can track nearby towns, local suburbs, or countries you may dream of visiting.
Ask questions like: what continent is our town located in? how far are we from the nearest city? and what is the most beautiful part of our town?
Our experience shows that children as young as age 2 are ready to find (and show) their own town or country on a map without hesitation.
Tip 2: Read Folktales
Dive into culture by exploring folktales from around the world in picture storybooks. Use the stories to guide questions like: what is the main character wearing? what does the character’s house look like? and what does the country actually look like? Be sure to discover the answers together with your child.
In our school, students listened to a wonderful German folktale shared by a student’s grandfather from Germany. The story led to good questions like: what do children wear to school in Germany? what are houses like in Germany? and (my personal favorite) do children live in Gingerbread houses?
Tip 3: Listen to Global Music
Listen to music and watch dances from different countries online or via the radio. Listen to sounds that might be unique, like a lively Bhangra from northern India, the strums of a Balalaika from Russia, or the sound of the Djembe from Senegal. Ask your child: do you like the sounds? what does it sound like to you? what do you think the instrument looks like? and how is that sound made?
Tip 4: Smell Different Spices
Smell is another way to experience different countries. Place different spices from your pantry in clear bottles for your child to view and smell. Learn about the spices together by tracking their origin on a map and identifying what the spice actually looks like as a plant. Ask your children to describe the scent and use questions to prompt them like: does it smell sweet or spicy? where would you use these different scents? and are these scents found anywhere else in our home?
Tip 5: Grocery Store Scavenger Hunt!
Discover your local community by visiting nearby grocery stores. Some grocery stores sell specific food items from a region or country. See if you find something “red”, something “blue”, and something “spicy”.
Sometimes the layout of the store can become a game. For example, in Houston, our hometown, we have a local grocery store that features food aisles from different countries. Each aisle is identified by a series of flags hanging from the ceiling. This becomes a fun game by identifying each flag and the associated food and country.
While there is no set equation to develop a global outlook, parents can start sparking an interest in global culture from an early age. Good exploration of culture stems from lively, inquisitive conversation between parents and their children. With local resources – and good questions – you can help your child begin engaging and exploring the world around them with greater appreciation and wonder.
Kevin Kalra is the Director of Innovation and Global Strategy at Montessori Preschool @ Copperfield.
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