We get it: Children aren’t always that adventurous when it comes to experiencing things outside their personal norm. (And heck, sometimes adults aren’t either.) “But exposing kids to different customs and ways of life early on is the best way to nurture global citizens—people who are curious, kind, and open-minded,” says Patty Monahan, founder of travel company Our Whole Village. Vacations can be an easy way to introduce something new to children because the family vacation itself is often, well, something new. Here are some simple ideas to introduce cultural experiences into your next destination.
Savor global flavors.
Few things spark curiosity about another culture like dessert. Give kids a cup of peach blossom Korean bingsu (shaved ice), lemon Italian ice, or whatever international frozen treat you can find to spark curiosity about other cultures. Then ease into the main course: dining out at ethnic restaurants. Look for small, locally owned eateries where the dishes and décor authentically reflect a culture different from your own. Bonus: You'll be strengthening the family bond with something everyone loves: food!
Make learning and speaking words from another language a family affair. Whether you’re vacationing in Mexico or eating at your neighborhood Thai restaurant, work together to figure out the meaning of words on menus and signs. When traveling abroad, teach children easy words or phrases, such as “hello” and “thank you,” in the local language.
Live like a local.
Experience destinations less like tourists and more like locals by staying in apartments and homes instead of hotels, or, arranging homestays with locals for more adventurous families. Choose residential neighborhoods—ideally with a nearby market and playground—so your family can get a sense of what it’s like to live in the city, state, or country you’re visiting. Even things like riding the subway or bunking in an apartment gives suburban kids an insider look at a different kind of routine.
Go abroad at home.
You don’t have to travel internationally to help kids understand other cultures. Seek out ethnic heritages no matter where you are, such as Cuban in Miami’s Little Havana; Danish in Solvang, California (a short drive from the beaches of Santa Barbara); German in the Texas Hill Country; Acadian in Maine; Chinese in San Francisco. Don’t forget Native American influence throughout the United States, such as Navajo culture in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico.
Developing empathy in kids
• Talk about feelings—such as sad, mad, and frustrated—to help kids express themselves and recognize and respond to others’ feelings.
• Teach kids (by example) to make eye contact with people they meet.
• Encourage kids to find common ground—like playing soccer or enjoying the same movie—with children from other cultures and countries. “That helps ‘me’ become ‘we,’” Borba says.
• Cultivate kindness by reminding everyone in the family to do one or two nice things each day.