In a world that often challenges the ideas of global love and cultural awareness, it is more important than ever to encourage our children to love all people. This Valentine’s Day and throughout the entire year, I encourage you to lead by example and through your books & activities, to show your children that we can celebrate and show love to everyone. Let’s get practical – why should we teach our children to be culturally empathetic and how can we learn and grow in our understanding of all people as a family though literature?
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Our Obligation to Foster Cultural Awareness & Empathy in our Children
When our children are born, I believe they are born without hatred, without judgement, without any sort of inclination towards prejudice. Somewhere along the road – an influence infiltrates that innocent little bubble – a comment from a rude relative, a hateful action seen on the street, or marketing saying telling us what is “beautiful”.
We have an obligation to raise children who are overflowing with love, kindness, empathy and cultural awareness.
Despite that little bubble being burst, we have the responsibility of picking up the pieces and guiding the path towards peace, understanding and love.
We live in a world that is sometimes at odds with these egalitarian ideals – that says “no, no, no, this person from this country is less than or these peoples don’t deserve empathy”. Intentional parents, I urge you to look at those comments and criticisms and consider them coming from your child’s mouth.
Consider your child growing up in a world where they believe the people that are around them are the only ones that matter, that the concept of “others” is so foreign they lack the ability and knowledge to grasp how to relate.
Our children can and will say whatever pops into their minds, wouldn’t it be wonderful if they met someone who looked differently, or spoke differently, or acted differently and they have been primed and guided towards empathy and seek to learn and forge a relationship with this person?
This can be achieved through cultural awareness and an emphasis on global love in your home – through the words you speak, to the books you read – you can impress upon your child’s hearts a yearning to love everyone.
We Can Teach Global Love & Cultural Awareness through Children’s Books
If you’ve followed me for a while, read my story, or have heard me talk about building our intentional bookshelf – you will know that our family uses children’s books for everything. Any somewhat difficult, complex, conceptual or seemingly unattainable topic can be explained, understood and explored through children’s literature.
There are two key ways children’s books in particular are helpful in your exploration of cultural awareness with your kids: relatable characters and exposure to diverse cultures.
One of my favorite parts about using books or stories to dive deep into complex concepts or topics with your children is that the characters in the story are relatable. Often, they are of the mindset of a child – meaning it is not a stretch for your kid to think to themselves “hey, I could see myself doing this or that in this situation”.
It does not matter if the character is an animal, human or some other thing – it is the fact that they have some personality and deal with some conflict or find themselves in some situation – one that your child has experienced.
Because the characters are relatable, because your child can see themselves reflected in them and their experiences, there’s a trust that is formed between your child and the character. Furthermore, there is almost a mentorship or a leading by the character through the story, and the child can think “what would I do if I were confronted with that?”.
Later on when your kids are out and about in the world and they experience something like one of the characters in the book did – they have the opportunity to embody that character and their actions, modeling the value that the character represents.
For example, take the book Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Matchev. In the book, a little boy tries to attend a Pet Club Day with his elephant, but upon trying to enter he realizes that elephants are prohibited (excluded). Later, he meets another girl with an excluded animal and they realize that they should have a club where everyone is included (values: empathy, inclusion and friendship).
Now, when your child is faced with the situation – do they include someone because they are different or do they exclude them – they can recall what the characters in this story did. Despite being different, they were welcoming to all.
Just know this, it’s not to say that sharing our own experiences of discrimination, inequality, lack of empathy etc. with our children is not valuable (in fact, I think it’s totally valuable and something that can be brought out through reading) but having a more understandable example is exactly what they need and can cling to.
They are more likely to experience being shunned from a club by other kids than they are to engage in a discussion about racism in America with their coworkers, if that makes sense.
Exposure to Diverse Cultures
It goes without saying that not all of us are constantly surrounded by diversity. In fact, depending on where you live there may have been races, ethnicities, or cultures you have never been exposed to in your day to day life (and therefore, your children haven’t either).
Just because we may not have the opportunity to live in a culturally diverse area, that does not mean our responsibility and obligation to our children in teaching them the beauty of all humanity is lifted. I would argue that our obligation to enrich the lives of our children through cultural awareness is heightened if we live in areas that include an overwhelming majority of one race.
That said, books are simply the easiest way to expose yourself and your children to diversity if it simply does not exist around you.
Incorporating both non-fiction and fiction books into your reading sessions that introduce racial, ethnic and cultural diversity is a great starting place for fostering that global love in your child’s heart. Show them there is no such thing as the “other”, people are just people.
I like mentioning both fiction and non-fiction because there is merit to both in terms of cultural awareness. Fiction books allow your child to relate to a character that may be of a different culture who is faced with a similar situation – thus, allowing your child to express empathy and understanding. “We’re in this together”, camaraderie. On the flip side, practicing cultural awareness through non-fiction books allows your family to dive deeper into the richness of our diverse world, educating yourselves on the real heart of what makes these cultures vibrant and beautiful.
A great resource that dives deeper into building out a diverse bookshelf for your family is Biracial Bookworms. Author of the blog, Bethany Edwards, is a fantastic woman with a deep love, respect, and understanding of so many cultures.
I want to note: I don’t think it should stop with reading, ever. I think that the simple act of reading the books, while it does allow your children to grow an understanding and respect for a topic, how you go “beyond the book” is what dictates true discovery. The books are a solid starting point, but they aren’t the end of the equation. I’ve created an audio series & ebook all about how to maximize the power of your children’s books through activities, you can check it out here.
Learn with your children and increase your capacity for empathy and global love together
As with all things intentional parenting, working as a family together collaboratively through the learning and discovery process is so valuable. Not only is your connection with your children literally on fire because you are both being vulnerable in what you don’t know, finding things out together and learning from each other’s observations – your own capacity and understanding of any topic will naturally grow as well.
Children’s books are inherently simplistic, that’s the point. They are easy to digest for children, but they are also easy for adults to glean helpful knowledge out of as well. Instead of tossing a book to your children that encourages cultural awareness, sit down together and learn as a team. Live out what you’ve learned together, instead of considering diverse cultures as “other” you will begin to see that because you’ve taken the time to learn about them, there is an understanding of who they are and therefore a love and respect.
For Valentines Day, Encourage Global Love and Cultural Awareness in your Home
Some people find Valentine’s Day to be a cheesy excuse to be romantic one day a year (ahem, my husband is of this opinion). However, instead of letting Valentine’s Day be just another Hallmark, materialistic holiday…shift the focus to global love.
Spend February reading books about other cultures and pointing out all the things that makes them wonderfully rich. What are your favorite things about the way this culture dresses? What do you love about their food? What about their traditions and rituals do you find fascinating?
Use the “love” theme of Valentine’s Day to focus on loving all and encouraging empathy in your household.
Our Favorite Books for Encouraging Cultural Awareness, Global Love & Empathy
I couldn’t possibly let you leave this blog post without giving you a list of my favorite books about the topic. This was hard to narrow down because there are so many rich cultures, so I focused on the broader ones that apply to many cultures. If you want to see what our diverse bookshelf looks like, head over to Addison’s Bookshelf.
You’ll see a mix of fiction and non-fiction here – as I mentioned above I think both have their place in terms of instilling cultural awareness in your child’s heart.
- Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell
- Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle
- Once Upon a World Snow White (Japan Inspired) by Chloe Parkins
- Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust by Loic Dauvillier
- Hats of Faith by Medeia Cohan (our guest of honor in the book club for February 2018)
- Global Babies by The Global Fund for Children
- A Ticket Around the World by Natalia Diaz and Melissa Owens
- National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Who by Jill Esbaum
Ready to Explore the Topic of Cultural Awareness & Global Love More As a Family?
Every month both here on Addison Reads and within The Intentional Book Club we have a very distinct theme. The objective of establishing a singular theme per month is it gives you the chance to explore and dive deep into the topic with your family throughout the entire month.
This month’s theme is C U L T U R A L A W A R E N E S S. If you are interested in delving deeper into this topic with your family, we would love to have you join us in The Intentional Book Club. In the club, we focus on inviting our children into the discovery and exploration of these larger topics through the strategic use of children’s books and activities. Every month members receive a theme bundle that includes:
- 5+ purposefully chosen book recommendations that relate to the topic
- 3 activity ideas centered around the theme
- 1 guest interview with an author, illustrator or expert related to the monthly topic
- A short video lesson for your entire family
- 2 digital badges to earn as a family for mastering the skill / topic of the month
Club members also have access to curated book recommendations based on their defined focuses for their intentional bookshelves, exclusive printables and resources, and are welcome to participate in our private community for purposeful parents.
The best part? Joining the club is just $47 for lifetime access. Start engaging with your kids in meaningful ways and spending time discovering things that matter together.
February’s Club Guest – Medeia Cohan
Listen to a snippet of our interview (club members get the full interview in video form!)
Our guest of honor for February 2018 is Medeia Cohan. Medeia is an experienced writer, but this is her first children’s publication. This book is a passion project for her, with a mission to educate children about diversity and tolerance early in life. She believes that early familiarity with faith-based customs will lead to kinder future generations.
Join the Intentional Book Club for full access to the incredible interview with Medeia (where we discuss the complexities of teaching our children about diverse cultures).