6 ideas for raising globally aware kids

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Natalie Hollingshead's kids started asking her questions about other cultures after watching "A Dollar a Day," a documentary on poverty in Guatemala on Netflix. (Photo courtesy YouTube)

Natalie Hollingshead’s kids started asking her questions about other cultures after watching “A Dollar a Day,” a documentary on poverty in Guatemala on Netflix. (Photo courtesy YouTube)

Friday night is family movie night at our house. Usually we let the kids pick the flick, but recently I played my trump card as mom and made everyone watch the award-winning documentary “Living on One Dollar.” In the film, a few American college students spend two months living in rural Guatemala on only $1 a day. They battle hunger, parasites and financial distress in an attempt to understand what living with poverty is really like. The premise was compelling enough to capture the interest of my two oldest kids (ages 6 and 8), and at only 56 minutes running time it was short enough to keep their attention.

After it ended we fielded questions from our kids like, “Do people really live like that? Where are their toys?” and “How do they go to the bathroom?” But it was a reflective question from my 6-year-old daughter that really got us talking: “Why do the people look so happy if they don’t have anything?”

The experience got me thinking about what I can do to raise more globally aware children. In a world of near-instantaneous interconnection, our children — tomorrow’s leaders — must learn to appreciate, communicate and interact with people in different cultures and countries. Here are six ideas for raising a global kid from the comfort of your own home:

1. Start an international night

Designate one night a month or quarter as International Night. Plan a meal, lesson and activity centered on a specific country. Older kids can do Internet research on a country and younger kids can help prepare the meal or make decorations. If you know people from other countries — we’re fortunate to have neighbors from Korea, Panama, Brazil, India, Ukraine and Germany — invite them to join you for dinner and teach you about their culture.

2. Fund a micro loan

In “Living on One Dollar,” the students receive a micro loan to plant radishes. Using websites like Kiva.org you can make a loan to an entrepreneur in a poverty-stricken or underserved area across the globe for as little for $25. It’s a great family project and a fantastic lesson in lending and borrowing, too.

3. Host an exchange student

One of my favorite bloggers recently moved her family to China for a few months to immerse her kids in the culture. It looked like an amazing experience, but the reality is that most families can’t up and move to China. If visiting another country is out of the question, why not bring the country to you and host an exchange student? There are local companies that streamline the process of finding a student to stay with your family for a few weeks or a few months.

4. Encourage second language acquisition

Childhood is often cited as the best time to learn a second language. Enrolling your kids in an immersion program could be a major boon to them in the future. If that’s not an option, finding a beginner book or audio tutorial at the library. And if you know a second language yourself, start teaching them already!

5. Get involved with a cause

There are dozens of Utah-based nonprofits involved in charitable work around the globe. If there is a cause that you feel passionate above, why not get the whole family involved? Before you get involved with any organization, it’s wise to do your due diligence and make sure the organization’s values align with yours. If you can, choose an organization that offers hands-on involvement instead of only a financial contribution.

6. Watch and learn

Learning about other countries and cultures from the comfort of your living room may not be the most authentic experience, but it’s a start. Queue up a documentary like “Living on One Dollar” on Netflix or hit up your local library for a foreign language film or a book on what life is like outside of America.

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Natalie Hollingshead is a former magazine editor turned freelance writer and editor. She writes regularly about home, family, food and travel for a handful of publications, and is co-author of the book "Happy Homemaking” (Cedar Fort, 2012) with Elyssa Andrus. A native of Alberta, Canada, Natalie lives in Orem with her husband and their three children.

One Comment

  1. Donna Breckenridge Reply

    Thank you for your article on global awareness! Our family started hosting international dancers and musicians who come to World Folkfest in 1990 and it has been a wonderful experience! It is a lot less of a commitment than hosting a foreign-exchange student for a year and it is during the summer so kids are home to participate. This year Folkfest is from 26 July through 1 August. Host families take from 2-4 guests and provide a room, meals and transportation. Folkfest provides nightly performances and activities during the day. We have invited a couple of children’s groups this year (Nepal being one of them) and guests can range in age from 11 to 91. Lifelong friendships are formed and my kids’ worlds expanded immensely. It’s a great opportunity if you are interested!

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