There was a day when our kids learned Latin or French. A time when students were exposed to famous artists of the past as part of the school’s curriculum. An era when 10-year-olds could be heard singing generational rhymes as they played outside in the woods until it was time for dinner. Oh how times have changed! Foreign language teachers are nearly prehistoric. A non-existent arts curriculum is being left to parent volunteers to teach or a school’s PTA to privately fund. And while most our kids have perfected the “Gangnam Style” dance moves and can bust out a word-for-word rendition of Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend”, they can’t tell you the difference between the fox trot and the tango or the lyrics of a famous nursery rhyme.
Needless to say, most our children are drowning in an overabundance of cheap pop culture while starved for rich, cultural experiences.
We could sit here and criticize the public systems. We could blame the schools, blame the government, or blame our fellow citizen for not supporting social tax increases. Heck, we could just blame the downfall of society. But if you know one thing about me and this blog, you know that there is no room for blame in my life. To blame others is to take the low road. The path of least resistance. The cheap out.
Successful people don’t blame. They don’t finger-point. They just get the job done.
Which is one reason why I am all about personal responsibility. Sure, it would be nice if our publicly-funded schools could include arts, language, and music instruction but the role of teacher and the responsibility of giving our kids a deep appreciation for life will always come down to us — the parents. And to some extent, the Aunts, the Uncles, the Grandmas, and the Grandpas.
Yes, having disposable income can certainly make it easier to expose our kids to diverse cultural experiences but what we lack in riches can be made up for with thoughtful words, engaging stories, and our own diverse local cultures. If we want it badly enough, we can take the time to unplug our kids (and ourselves!) from the digital distractions and tap into real life experiences instead.
A little girl recently told me she was Cleopatra for Halloween and that Cleopatra was “so beautiful”. I responded by telling her that yes, Cleopatra was known for her beauty but that she was also the last Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt and defended her Greek culture with fierce determination and political prowess. She was smart, witty, and charming, known for controlling men with just the sound of her “sweet voice”! This little girl stood there with wide-eyes, drinking in every word I spoke. A simple Halloween costume had suddenly become a real-life story and an effective medium for helping that child explore a culture beyond her own. It doesn’t always take money to expose our kids to rich, cultural experiences.
10 FREE Ways to Expose Our Kids to Culture:
- Tell stories of the past — what little boy doesn’t want to hear about epic battles that led to the fall of great ancient cities? Visit history websites like HistoryforKids.org or BBC.
- Borrow great literary works from the library and read a few chapters as part of a special bedtime routine (we just finished The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe).
- Listen to jazz and cultural radio stations while running errands in the car. Take out foreign language CD’s from the library.
- Make it a priority to teach (and use!) good table manners so that your kids will know how to conduct themselves well in formal situations. Print a picture of what a proper place setting looks like and get them to set the table each night until they no longer need the example. Involve kids in designing the table for formal family dinners, using kids’ craft sites to come up with simple crafts for them to decorate the table with.
- Google information about a far away country, point it out on a map, and cook one of their ethnic meals as a special family night. Get the kids involved with this fun website that features fun facts about cultures around the world.
- Take your kids on a walking tour of your own city and highlight some of the historical elements right in your own backyard. A quick wikipedia search will teach you things you didn’t even know about your own hometown!
- Search for cultural festivals in your area. Most ethnic communities host annual festivals to celebrate their cultural traditions and foods.
- Search online for museums in your area which offer a free admission day.
- Hike, camp, get out in nature! It’s far easier to appreciate the world outside your own when you learn to appreciate the world you already live in.
- Give your kids chores. Yes, chores! Hard work and the sense of accomplishment that comes with it is one of the best way to teach our children to appreciate the finer things in life. Author Nancy Sleeth says, “…coddling is a copout. It circumvents the hard work of parenting. In our desire to sidestep sulking or hissy fits, we sedate our kids with digital distractions.” Kids who never work for anything will have an extremely hard time appreciating culture. If you have to drag your kid through a museum while they complain the whole time, you have not done an adequate job of teaching them to appreciate the world around them. Hard work, and doing things we don’t necessarily want to do, is a critical part of that life lesson.
Now, if you are fortunate enough to have disposable income, there is a plethora of fantastic cultural experiences you can give your children. Of course world travel is one of the best ways to experience another culture (although I’m ashamed to say that our boys still think Spain is an all-inclusive resort) but there are also plenty of exciting opportunities in your own hometown which can create a rich, cultural experience for children.
We are fortunate to live in the Bay Area and have access to all that San Francisco offers. Engaging museums, action-packed festivals, and live music in the park are at arm’s reach. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against pop culture — last month, we took the kids to the Bridge School Benefit Concert where they danced to Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks”, listened to Sarah McLachlan sing a heartwarming rendition of “Adia”, and then simply stared in awe at the intensity of Guns N’ Roses. But to raise children that turn into well-rounded adults, there must be more than just Top 40 music and video games.
How do you make the world come alive for your kids?