By Melody Warnick
Does your kids' exposure to foreign cultures consist almost entirely of weekly spaghetti nights? It's time to dip your toe into the global melting pot. Learning about other traditions together will pique your children's curiosity about the world at large and teach them to be open-minded about people's differences.
Attach a world map to a wall and use stickers to mark the birthplaces of foods you eat regularly: pizza from Italy, pitas from Egypt, chicken curry from India. You'll be surprised how far your palate travels— and your kids will be inspired to widen their culinary repertoire. You can even tackle an exotic cuisine at home: Spatulatta.com, the online kids' cooking site, offers video instructions for foods such as Peruvian papas rellenas (meat-stuffed potatoes) and Japanese tamago (an omelet laced with sugar and soy sauce).
Make a date to attend an international children's festival, where Croatian folk dancers, Japanese storytellers and Zimbabwean musicians can perform side by side. Pittsburgh, Seattle, Philadelphia and other cities host such art festivals annually. Or hunt in your newspaper for a local cultural event, like dragon boat races or a Greek festival at a nearby church.
Study a foreign language together, which has been shown to boost kids' performance on reading and math tests (and make them feel cool to boot). Start small by writing foreign words for everyday objects on index cards and taping them around the house; check out google.com/translate to convert English into more than 60 languages, including Arabic, Chinese and Lithuanian.
For a more in-depth approach, download free language lessons from iTunes and listen on an MP3 player.
This year at Thanksgiving, remember the Native Americans who saved the day for the Pilgrims. Place cups of popcorn (a food Native Americans grew) by each plate and eat a kernel every time you share something you're grateful for. You can even read a Cherokee or Mohawk prayer at the table: Go to firstpeople.us for ideas.
It's a digital world, but snail-mail pen pals are safer for kids—and getting a letter with exotic stamps is an old-fashioned thrill. Ask a friend from another country to connect your kid with an English-language learner back home, or try a reliable pen-pal organization, like Student Letter Exchange (pen-pal.com), a U.S.-based service that matches kids 9 and up with potential pals in other countries.
Even if you already know your ethnicity, it's fun to trace your family tree to its cross-cultural roots with a site like Ancestry.com. (You might just learn a thing or two about your heritage, too!) Then throw a party to celebrate your family history. If Great-Grandma Betsy was from Germany and Great-Grandpa Patrick from Ireland, serve up a traditional Kuchen while you listen to Irish folk music.
Another way to give your kids some global perspective is to help people in need around the world. We think joinmyvillage.com is a great place to start for older kids, because it's a community dedicated to fighting poverty. Read stories from women and girls in Malawi and join a virtual village to support the cause. You'll be raising a worldly young person without leaving home.