I recently asked a group of my students – all of them bright juniors and seniors at the Chicago public high school where I teach – what language is spoken in the Netherlands. Their answers ranged from Gaelic to Jewish.
It’s hard to believe, but sadly, a recent National Geographic-Rober survey demonstrated that American youth don’t have even a basic grasp on world geography: only 37 percent were able to identify Iraq on a map, half can’t even locate New York, and a whopping 20 percent were unable to pinpoint the Pacific Ocean.
Geography isn’t just locations on the map: it’s cultures, environments, languages, peoples and places. It’s the key to opening the door to our children’s increasingly global futures. So how can parents bring our children up to speed? Here are seven tips for bringing the world into your home.
Give your kids access to world maps.
Stick a giant world map up on the wall of your playroom; keep an updated atlas within easy reach; place a globe on your child’s study desk. Whenever you hear a faraway country mentioned on TV or in a book, look it up together.
Take time to talk about the world.
Find an interesting article in the newspaper and share it with your child. Switch off the usual channels and watch the Discovery Channel’s amazing series Planet Earth, a showcase of natural wonders around the world.
Encourage your child to study a world language.
How many adults regret not having learned a foreign language as a child? Remember that kids soak up languages like sponges: they’ll thank you – someday - when they’re using it in their future career or backpacking across Europe. “In most countries, students begin language study at a very young age as part of their elementary school curriculum,” explains Chicago French teacher Valerie Wadycki. “If your local school doesn’t offer world languages, be the one to bring it up at the next PTA or school council meeting.”
Host a foreign exchange student.
Your children will learn firsthand about the language and customs of another culture and in turn, develop a lifelong friendship. You’ll experience a new son or daughter for the academic year. Contact Youth for Understanding or AFS Intercultural for more information. If you aren’t ready for the commitment, consider inviting a college student who is stuck in town sans famille to spend the holidays with your family. Contact the International Student Office of your local university.
Celebrate a world holiday!
Host a Chinese New Year’s party and make fortune cookies and lanterns; learn about the traditions of La Festa della Donna and give all the girls you know a bouquet of yellow flowers; fly a colorful kite on Kodomo-no-I Day. Check out: Kids Around the World Celebrate!: The Best Feasts and Festivals by Lynda Jones and The Kids' Multicultural Cookbook: Food & Fun Around the World by Deanna Cook.
Check out online resources.
Get started by taking the National Geographic Geography Bee. Next, find a satellite image of your neighborhood—zoom out and travel to any other location in the world. Learn more about the lives of everyday kids around the globe at Kids Around the World. Finally, check out our world from an alien’s perspective by visiting NASA’s astronomy picture-of-the-day!
Grab your passport!
Mark Twain said it best: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Travel gives parents and children alike a new perspective on life – both abroad and, upon return, at home. Together, compile a list of the top 10 places you want to visit as a family. Let your kids research and plan a trip with you. Then pack your suitcases, hop on that airplane, step off the beaten path and most importantly, have fun!