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May 6, 2013

Last week, I spotted the cover of Parent Map.

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Cultural Intelligence–What is your Child’s Global I.Q.?” The article stressed the rising importance of building our children’s cultural I.Q. I was excited to see global awareness highlighted.  But, while reading, I also thought how many parents had yet another stress to add to their plate, “How do I ensure I am building my child’s cultural aptitude”.  Many may think they must travel more, eat out at ethnic restaurants, attend cultural festivals, etc.  All of which take time and money, scarcities in most families with young children.  Towards the end of the article it discussed a few ways to begin or improve building your child’s “CQ” and my mind immediately went to The World in My Backyard. I believe it is a perfect tool for children to organically build their cultural intelligence. Children can learn from my connections, but I also believe it is very easy for them to start building their own World in My Backyard. It is free, accessible and new people to meet are everywhere in our daily lives.  Today I wanted to give an example of how organic cultural learning happens with my sons because of The World in My Backyard.
As I have mentioned before, my boys were instantly excited when I share the concept for my project and soon they became conduits for new connections. Last summer, we were heading east of Seattle for a one-day rafting trip. I decided to take a quick stop on the way out of town for a coffee. My boys and I ran into the Starbucks on Mercer Island. While waiting for my coffee to be made, my son tugged my arm to get my attention. “Mom, do you hear those men talking?” he asked. I had heard an unrecognizable language being spoken between two men, but I had decided to leave my work alone that morning and be fully present with the boys. I was ecstatic that my nine year old noticed a foreign language in his midst. He then asked, “Where do you think they are from?” “I don’t know,” I replied, “why don’t you ask them?” He said he was too shy but he urged me to ask, he would not leave until the answer to his question was found. I was so excited by his enthusiasm. I leaned over to the men, apologetically interrupted their conversation, and asked where they were from. The older of the two men replied, “I am from Romania and he is from Moldova. We speak the same language because our countries share a border and, many years ago, used to be one country.” He went on, “I arrived in the United States when Carter was president and he (referring to his Moldovan friend) came to the United States six years ago.” I shared my project with them and the Romanian, Dragos, said he would be happy to participate. We exchanged information and as he was leaving he said, “I do have a good story…I escaped from Romania.”  I could not wait to sit down and learn Dragos’ story.  I was thankful for the connection, but the most memorable events from meeting the men that morning happened next.
With coffee in hand, we loaded back into the car and the first question my son asked was, “Where is Romania and that other country?” The next half hour was spent looking at maps on the iPad, reading about both countries, talking about the former USSR, President Carter and subsequent presidents. Unknowingly to my seven and nine year old, we were having a US and European history and geography lesson. My son’s awareness of people around him and his newly inspired interest in connecting with people to create our World in My Backyard resulted in an organic educational session for us all. It was really an unforgettable moment for me.
As I sat down to write today, I found a link from Parent Map called, “Growing Charactier:Raising Culturally Aware Children”, written by Sarina Behar Natkin. I wanted to share a few excerpts.

  •  75% of white parents never or almost never talk about race, while non-white parents are three times more likely to have had discussions around race with their children (Brown, Tanner-Smith, Lesane-Brown & Ezell, 2007; see footnote). For families that are part of a minority or marginalized culture, these conversations may come up regularly as family members experience subtle or not so subtle oppression because of their race or culture.

“No matter our life experience, there are concrete ways we can facilitate our children’s awareness and maybe even increase our own along the way:

  • Notice and ask questions. Since we know our kids are noticing differences and categorizing from the time they are babies, we need to take the lead and add to their understanding. When looking at picture books, feel free to use descriptive words to talk about skin color. Talk about all of the varied shades of human skin. If we don’t use the words, our children get the idea that they shouldn’t as well. Talk about differences in bodies, abilities, and family structure when opportunities present themselves. Explore the different clothing worn by people around the world. The more comfort we have in talking about these things, the more our children will as well.
  • Exposure still matters. While simply exposing our kids to diverse environments is not enough, it is still a critical part of raising culturally and socially aware kids. Besides, this exposure becomes material for having meaningful discussions with our children.

“If we want our children to make the world a better place through the exercise of their own beliefs and actions, we need to help them develop the language they need to do so. We must challenge ourselves as parents to leave the door always open to questions and conversations that will expand their understanding. These discussions will have a huge impact on your child’s ability to make sense of their world and continue building a world where we respect all human experience, not just our own.”

It is important for our children and our world to begin connecting and learning from each other!  Would you be interested in starting your own World project with your family? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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