5 Stay-at-Home Ways to Give Your Kids a Global Advantage

Books, music, and food can give your kids the competitive advantage that comes with global awareness.

October 22, 2009

Kids find foreign cultures easier to swallow than you think.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—You don't have to travel the world to raise a cosmopolitan kid full of world knowledge and respect for other cultures. And with a shaky economy, that is certainly good news for parents who are pinching pennies and turning to educational (but fun) "staycations" at home rather than jet-setting to foreign countries.


So why do it?

"Positive experiences with the world’s cultures enhance our lives, and we might grow up to be peacemakers. The other side is that we live in a rapidly changing world, where we know that globalization shapes our daily lives and is a major determinant to financial, career, and personal success," says Homa Sabet Tavangar, author of Growing Up Global: Raising Children to Be At Home in the World (Ballantine Books, 2009).

"People of all different backgrounds work and live side-by-side; our jobs might stay here because of global opportunities, or they might be outsourced abroad, eliminated due to global competition or so many factors influenced by a global community," Tavangar adds. Planning a cultural, stay-at-home vacation can be a bit of a challenge, but once you settle on a theme and focus on five components of raising happy kids while teaching them about others cultures, it's easy. And the best part? "It makes life more interesting, too," says Tavangar. "You really break up your routine and make a whole fun journey out of creating a theme for your weekend. It's like planning a vacation."

Shortly after 9/11, Tavangar, a mother of three with a background in global business development, started compiling positive and helpful resources to teach her children to look at the world in a different way. A year later, she was in China for the first anniversary of September 11th and decided to fold her research into a book for parents, a collection of activities to help their children experience other cultures at home, and on the cheap. The way kids were being educated in China was a big part of her motivation. "I saw a contrast in how they were greeting the anniversary of that horrible day, and training their children, and how seriously they were learning to speak foreign languages and learn about the world," she says. "I didn't see that happening here."

Here are five tips for raising happy kids full of worldly knowledge without breaking the bank.

1. Always have easy access to the world. Having a globe or world map nearby, and somewhere prominently displayed, is the first step to helping your child grow up global. "You become conversant in countries' cities, and geography in general," says Tavangar. "It can come alive." If you want to take it a step further, Tavangar suggests that everyone in the house get a passport, even if there's no foreign vacation planned for the near future. "It's symbolic, she says. "It's an example that being anywhere in the world is in the realm of possibility."

2. Feast on unfamiliar foods. Unfamiliar doesn't necessarily have to mean exotic, but it could. "Trying new kinds of fruits and vegetables is a huge way to connect to the world," says Tavangar. "Take your kids to buy produce so they see where it comes from, and they get a chance to pick it out." Create themed food menus, and over dinner, learn to say a few phrases, such as "hello" and "thank you," in that country's language. It's also great to pair dinner with a movie…

3. Plan a themed movie night. "With this economy, a lot of people don't have a travel budget, but you can do a dinner-and-a-movie night," says Tavangar. Once you pick a food theme, look for a cultural movie to go with it. For instance, watch a Chinese or Japanese movie, and then have food from that country to go with it. You could eat Japanese cuisine with chopsticks, and then watch the movie My Neighbor Totoro. Couple a Korean food night (even if it just includes cabbage), with The Way Home, suggests Tavangar. The possibilities are endless. Before dinner, make sure to point out the country you'll be sampling from on the map. You can also learn to say the greeting in that country's language, and listen to its music during dinner-and-a-movie night. "You haven't physically transported to that country, but you're engaging your eyes, your ears, your taste, your touch," says Tavangar. "To have a conversation about that around your kids, it's a fun thing to do."

Even YouTube videos can serve as cultural educators. For instance, if you're serving Indian food one night, you could search YouTube for a fun music video or a Bollywood dance video from that country. And that doesn't cost a penny!

4. Start a coffee-table-top book rotation. You can travel to almost any spot on the planet through books. And you don't have to buy them all, either. "Have a rotation of beautiful books on your coffee table or near the TV, and get them from the library," says Tavangar. "I don't own every single book that I love."

She recommends Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (Material World, 2007), to start off with because food is a wonderful way to bring people together. Beyond that, look for picture books of beautiful gardens from around the world, or anything else that sparks your family's interest. "Whatever you're interested in, there's probably a gorgeous exploration in a book," says Tavangar.

5. Listen to music you can't understand. "One of the qualities of a cosmopolitan person is that they try to understand people," says Tavangar. Many people from other countries speak English, but if you're not used to hearing it in with an accent, it almost sounds foreign, explains Tavangar. She and her 6-year-old daughter like to listen to "Beautiful Day," a South African song on Putumayo Kids Presents: Picnic Playground. Noting that it's not hard on parents' patience like many kids songs (sorry, Barney), this music from around the world helped to train her daughters', and her, ears. "The first 10 times, we didn't understand a word," she says. "But the more we listened, the more our ear became accustomed to the singing and the accent of the song," says Tavangar.

Just remember, parents have to enjoy the experience, too. "You enjoy this music, and your kids will enjoy it. If it feels like homework to you, then try someone else," suggests Tavangar.