10 Ways to Raise an Intercultural Child

by Dr. Jessie Voigts /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
Jul 03, 2008 / 2 comments

Culture can be thought of as the thoughts, behaviors, values, actions, and communications of a group.  It defines who its members are, how they act, and what they believe.  The world is full of many different cultures, and each world culture has its own unique attributes.   Learning another culture is a long and complex process, requiring a constant shifting of one’s frames of reference and learning from one’s companions and surroundings. This process of learning other cultures is called intercultural development.

Being an intercultural person is one of the most important aspects of my Self. Living and learning overseas accelerated my intercultural development; I added to this with both life experiences and degrees in international economics, cross-cultural communication, and comparative and international development education.

When we had a child, I was overwhelmed with the details of a coping with a baby. Late one night, as I found myself singing a Japanese song to our daughter, I thought long and hard about how to facilitate her own intercultural development.

From our experience with her, I have created a list of ten items that we have integrated into our lives - growing her interculturally, and learning ourselves.

Here are ten ways to raise an intercultural child...


10 ways to raise an intercultural child

1. Music
Sing songs from other countries, listen to music from around the world. Either pick up these cds on your travels, or explore them via your local library or online music store. Today, our daughter listened to: jazz, Hawaiian kids, Baaba Mal, Youssou n'Dour, a Bollywood soundtrack, Angelique Kidjo, a Celtic concert, and Papa Haydn.  This soundtrack to our lives is diverse, full of meaning and different languages and joy.

2. Movies
Whether you belong to netflix, or your library has a great selection, try learning about other cultures through movies. Kids movies are an excellent way to learn about different people and places. Try travel videos to learn, or explore nature videos (we love the Galapagos Islands!).  There are kids videos about cooking in many different cuisines.  When we checked one out of the library on Cooking Chinese, it sparked a 6-month learning odyssey of learning about China - language, food, customs, people - that hasn't ended yet. As well, many of Studio Ghibli's movies have a special place in our home. We can sing the Totoro song in both Japanese and English.

3. Books
Although she can't read in other languages yet, we do explore many different cultures through books. We check out non-fiction books about people and places. We read kids books (Asterix! Japanese Anime, African tales) and lots of oversize photo and travel books. There is a great new series illustrated by our friend, Rich Cando, entitled History Dudes.  Our copy of History Dudes: Ancient Egyptians is tattered from extreme use.

4. Friends
Having a diverse group of friends is a great way to introduce a child to the normality of intercultural experiences.  Learning from intercultural neighbors can show difference on a daily basis.  Live in a small town with not a lot of diversity? Make pen pals from around the world. Join a global postcard group. Expand your horizons!

5. Language
If you aren't multi-lingual already, get the whole family involved! There are many language learning programs, including Muzzy for children.  Once your kids start reading, put post-it notes on common household items, with the names of them in a different language. No matter where you travel, you will always need to know the word for toilet.   Learn language through food, music, movies, tv shows, friends - the list is endless. Just expose kids to language - they will soak it up like a sponge.

6. Learning
Strew culture throughout your house. Decorate with items from around the world. Create an environment that celebrates difference, cultures, people. Study different cultures - our daughter has been completely immersed in ancient Egypt for over a year now (she's 6).  She draws dogs as Anubis, and cats as Bastet. She creates birthday cards using her hieroglyphics stamps (or freehand).  We also belong to a fun learning club from Highlights for Kids, called Top Secret Adventures. Each month, a new package arrives - she is the detective, solving a crime in a new country.  It is fascinating (and compelling for hours). Give gifts of books, items from different cultures,  and hand-crafted items from global artisans.

7. Food
I was raised with a lot of international foods, and have just expanded on that with my own travels and sojourns abroad. We eat a LOT of international foods, shop at ethnic grocery stores, and routinely learn new recipes from different cultures. I scour the internet, looking for new recipes. I ask my neighbors what their grandmothers made, buy international cookbooks, shop at ethnic grocery stores. Food is the stuff of life! My friend Abby Dodge has a new cookbook for kids, the Around the World Cookbook. It is fantastic! 

8. Art
Expose your children to art of the world - African sculpture, European classics, Asian art. As well, teach them about the history of art around the world. Shop for hand-crafted items from artisans around the world. Learn of different ways to create art, globally, and explore creating your own art that way.  Visit art museums whenever you travel, and ask friends who travel to send art postcards home to your children. 

9. Travel
Take your kids whenever you travel. It isn't easy to deal with diapering a baby on the airplane, but the end result is worth it. Those global nomad kids? They are travelers for life. Give your kids a head-start on a global lifestyle.  Change your ideas of what traveling means - as you changed your idea of what life meant, once you had a child.  Seeing the world through entirely new eyes is fascinating. 

10. Open-mindedness
Becoming an intercultural person means, in part, that you not only accept difference, but you embrace it. You learn about cultures, and assimilate the differences within yourself. Note the differences between people, between cultures, between worldviews. Teach your children of world religions - and why they are important to people.  Teach strategies to deal with and learn about difference. And, LIVE an example of open-mindedness. That is the best way to teach a child.

By raising an intercultural person, you are giving the world, your children, and yourself a great gift - that of peace, understanding, and being able to cope well anywhere. What a way to prepare for the future, as the world keeps getting smaller and smaller!





Comments (2)

  • wandermom

    15 years 9 months ago

    Hey, loved your comment on my post on this topic. Also recommend the  Horrible Histories series of books. My kids just love these. They are intended for older kids (9+), but they're funny and engaging - which, as we know, is all it sometimes takes to make a kid read a book and learn. Available on Amazon.com but second-hand - or shipped from the UK. Easier to pick up at any high street book store in the UK.

  • Dr. Jessie Voigts

    15 years 9 months ago

    Thanks, wandermom! i love those books. we also love the history dudes books - they make us laugh! there ARE good books out there, aren't there?! 


    Jessie Voigts

    Publisher, wanderingeducators.com

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