Monday, September 12, 2005

Teaching Baby About Cultural Diversity

Many people find that they want to teach their children about cultural diversity from the very beginning. The problem is that few people grew up in a family where Mom and Dad talked about diversity in a very real way, so it is difficult to know where to start. What, after all, can you teach baby? Well, there is a lot that you can do even in the first year to help your child understand that people are multi-faceted.

There are some simple ways you can teach your baby about the diversity of humanity. The first decision you should make is to offer your child a variety of toys. Yes, you should give her or him dolls that represent different races or cultures. You also should work to purchase items, such as musical instruments or art pieces, for your baby from other cultures. If you purchase bongo drums, for example, do a little research for yourself. Where are they from? Get out your globe and show baby.

Books are one way to introduce culture to your baby. When you are shopping for books, go beyond the normal children's section. While it will mean going out of your way to find culturally specific or independent bookstores, it is worth it in the long run. There are small publishers who focus their publishing choices on non-mainstream topics. These publishers may focus on gay and lesbian families, African American culture, or progressive parents. Look for these books to introduce various ways of life to your child.

Don't depend on books to do all of the teaching for you, however. Be diverse yourself. If all of your friends share the same values as you and are the same race, family makeup, and income level, then your child is not seeing diversity. You can talk about it all you want, but that it all your doing. It becomes an abstract concept to your baby or toddler, not one that she sees.

If you do not live in a particularly diverse area, start taking your baby to cultural events whenever you can. Most mid-sized cities have folk art festivals or cultural days. Be sure to plan for these events with your little one so that he is exposed to culture and art from different areas. You also can visit museums and other cultural centers for such experiences.

Music is another way to open the door to diversity. Music from various cultures shows the influence of the environment and social values of a people. Check out CDs from your local library or purchase one from a local a cappella musical act. Show your baby that music is the universal language but that it has personality.

When baby is learning to eat, it is the best time to introduce foods. While you should, of course, be careful about what you give baby to eat, you can make sure that he or she gets a variety of foods. Purchase an international cookbook and try different recipes. Reduce or eliminate the spices for baby. Know the names of the dishes and share a little with your family about them. You never know; you may find a new favorite dish for yourself!

These ideas are only a few of the ways you can teach your little one about diversity. Be sure to live it, and your child will see the value of diversity to your everyday life.

By Julia Mercer

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