Last month our family visited the local Hindu Temple. It was an organized tour with several other homeschool families. We gathered in a room for a presentation about the Hindu religion, their beliefs, deities, philosophies and common misconceptions about their faith. Then we removed our shoes and entered the prayer temple.
My girls were a bit bored during the presentation, but they did a fantastic job being respectful. They listened even though they didn’t understand everything. Religious beliefs are still an abstract concept to them. They’re picking up on it though. We do talk about many different religions, their beliefs and practices. For this presentation the girls listened and then asked us questions later.
Inside the prayer temple the girls came to life with questions for our tour guide. They asked her about different symbolism, stories related to the temple deities, and the reasons for placement of different structures. They were engaged, interested, and really taking in a different culture.
We were one of the last families to leave.
This experience had me thinking of the benefits of cultural experiences and education. We’ve always done our best to include cultural education in our regular homeschool routine, however I hadn’t given the reasons we do it as much thought.
What is Culture?
Basically culture is everything that characterizes a specific group of people. This group of people could be a religious group, a family, people from a specific neighborhood, town, city, or even country. It could be people who have a similar ethnic background, work culture, or even people who have similar life dynamics.
Culture often refers to the characteristics that are formed through language, history, food, geography, arts, beliefs and family values. A person can have a variety of cultures, such as their religious culture, their family culture, work culture, and even the culture of their age group. All of these cultures put together form an individual’s personal culture.
Benefits of Cultural Education
Better understanding of the world: Our world is filled with amazing, diverse people and cultures. The more cultures our children are exposed to, the more accepting they are of people and cultures that are different from them.
Valuing and respecting other cultures and our own: It’s not only important to be aware of other cultures, but also to value and respect them.
Reducing stereotypes: The more we know about people and cultures, the less we’re likely to fall into grouping people based on stereotypes. Everyone is different and what’s true for one person may not be true for another.
Promotes effective communication: Language is not the only player in communication. Culture can have effects on many different areas. Culture can affect speaking style, including speed, figurative language, details and more. It can also affect body language and gestures.
Increases opportunity to meet new and interesting people: By joining in on different celebrations, visiting people from different cultures, and jumping in on new experiences, kids will begin meeting new people and making new friends. This will expand their social circle and make room for even more new friends of different cultures.
New experiences: New experiences can be anything from hearing stories, participating in a traditional celebration or trying new food. A new art technique, or a musical instrument they’ve never seen before are fantastic experiences. The more you dive into cultural education, the more kids will be able to experience the world around them.
Ideas to Teach About Culture
Read books written by people of different cultures. You can learn a lot of facts by reading books about different cultures, however you get a much better feel for a culture by reading things written by those who have lived that specific life.
Learn about the economy and geography of different cultures. The economics of a country or culture is often directly related to it’s geography. Does this culture utilize money or trade? What are their main exports? What resources do they have nearby? How do these things affect their beliefs and cultural practices?
Meet people who live/d in the specific culture you’re teaching. This is the best way to learn about a culture. Visit the people and experience their stories first hand. This is a perfect time to ask any questions you might have. If you don’t have anyone in your area, see if you can find someone to do a video call with or visit a cultural center in another city if you have a chance to travel. Penpals are also a great way to learn about other cultures, and the kids can meet other kids too.
Try foods specific to the culture. Point out how Americanized cultural food isn’t always the same as food from a different country or culture. Chinese food is a good example of that. How do the beliefs, economy, and/or geography of the culture affect their food choices.
Learn about the holidays people from different cultures celebrate. What are the traditions? Why do they celebrate and what makes this holiday significant in their culture?
Listen to music from different cultures. Pay attention to any stories told in the music, the instruments, and how music plays a role in their culture.
View art created by people in the culture you’re studying. What are the main themes? Are there common materials used? What stories does it tell?
Learn about the languages used by the culture, including body language. Many people in the world speak more than one language. There are also common gestures that mean different things in different cultures.
Who are important people in their culture? Is this person important because of a title they hold? Something they’ve accomplished? A philosophy they practice?
Clothing and style often play a big role in different cultures. What people wear can be dependent on weather, religion, cultural beliefs, and style.
Learn about different religions? Recognize that different religions often have their own cultures within them. Learn about the symbolism, the deities and the mythology. What is the history of this religion and the stories they tell.
How has history molded the culture into what it is today? Has this culture changed much over the past one hundred years, or is it similar to what it was then? Did war have an impact? Technology? Disaster? Are there any historical moments that had a big impact on the culture?
Educate about cultural appropriation. What it is and why it’s important to understand.
Teach children how people in different cultures prioritize different personality characteristics above others. Understanding the background of different cultures, their history, geography, and important events they’ve experienced can help to explain the differences in these priorities.
Get involved. If you have a local refugee center, see what you can do to learn about the culture of the refugees and volunteer to help them get settled. Coming to a new country and culture can be scary, especially if you don’t know the language. This is a wonderful learning opportunity for everyone involved.
Above all else, teaching kids how to be culturally sensitive and considerate prepares kids for the real world. A world where there are a wide variety of beliefs, practices, norms and ways of life. It is a great way to remind them that what they are most familiar with isn’t always the only right way. Learning about different cultures and putting into practice the information they know will help them make friends, be successful in cultural interactions and conversations, and solve cultural diversity problems in life before they arise.
How do you incorporate cultural diversity in your homeschool? Do you have any ideas to add to this post? Share your thoughts in the comments below.