What children learn during the preschool years from family members, caregivers and other adults in their life will greatly impact how they will come to value, accept, and comfortably interact with diverse people. (From Scanva.org)
Sometimes we are reluctant to raise the subject of differences with our children, afraid that by acknowledging differences, we will be creating prejudice and mistrust. But the truth is that children can see for themselves that there are differences between them and others, be it hair colour, skin colour, dress or language. They are not blind, but they experience these differences neutrally. Once again – as role models – it is up to us to mediate and help children to acknowledge and live with these differences in a positive way.
That fact that children recognise these differences is not a bad thing—it’s actually very natural. It’s also an indication that as parents we can begin—even with a very young child—to model positive values concerning the worth of all people and respect for differences.
If we take the opportunity to talk to our children about culture in general, and the possibility of cultural difference between people, we can encourage them to explore this concept in a positive way. In South Africa we are lucky to have an abundance of cultural diversity, sometimes literally on our doorsteps. Our country is a mixture of languages and traditions, which make for a melting pot just waiting to be explored. Let’s encourage our children to be aware of cultural differences, to be sensitive to these differences, and to interact positively with those around them.
We have some suggestions for exposing your children to local colour and culture.
- Move outside your comfort zone – seek out groups that you might not normally interact with, right in your own town. Perhaps there is a religious or cultural festival that you might take your children to, and expose them to the sights and sounds of celebrations different from those at their own homes.
- Music is a universal language that crosses many barriers. Why not keep it local? There are numerous African musical genres that you can expose your children to. Try the Thula Project, which has a selection of African Lullabies that will have you singing along, and give you the opportunity to talk about language and difference. If you are more tech-savvy, download these African Lullabies on iTunes.
- Food can also be a great way of introducing your children to other cultures in a fun way. Try African, Indian or Chinese, remind them that a braai can be a cultural event, and tell them the history of a samosa or pap and sheba. Opportunities are all around us!
- Learn a new language, be it local or international. Language is ultimately about communication, and a new language is a way for you to experience a new culture with your children. Try our Xhosa, Zulu or Swahili counting apps, and get started with some African sounds.
We have also found a great site, which explores the A to Z of South African Culture. From ‘A is for Archeology’ to ‘Z is for Zulu’, this is an exhaustive list that will allow you to explore and talk about the wonderful diversity that makes up our beautiful country. We also like God’s Dream, a book by Archbishop Tutu. It is beautifully written and illustrated, and teaches young children that we are all connected to one another, no matter the external differences.
We should not pretend that differences don’t exist. We can acknowledge them, then move past them to the individuals involved. In the end, it’s about finding points of connection, not difference. Teach your children that we are all people, no matter the external trappings, and help them to grow into culturally sensitive adults.