As much as most of us would love to be travelling the world with our children, living in exotic foreign countries and experiencing the challenge, diversity and richness of many cultures, let’s face it: it ain’t gonna happen in this lifetime. Aside from the fact that travelling with kids is your basic nightmare 80% of the time, most kids crave stability, routine and a fixed address. So do I, now that I think about it.
We know that travel has so many benefits for young minds – family bonding, expanded horizons, challenging new experiences, independence and the comfort of knowing that there are many ‘right’ ways to do things, not just one. In my eyes, the biggest benefit of all is the space to dream big dreams that have no fixed address, no time limit and no cultural restrictions. The best kind of dreams of all.
When we travelled to Europe last year, my daughter opened my eyes to the importance of cultural diversity. She went from being a typical suburban kid who wanted to be a hairdresser to a kid who one day wants to live on a houseboat, open an art gallery and start an international travellers’ club for kids. Not a bad outcome from three weeks away.
The good news is, I think we can give our kids a lot of the unique benefits of travel without even stepping on an airplane. I’m talking everyday activities that will open our kids’ minds so they can dream those giant dreams that are not bound by their own backyard. Here’s how we bring the world home.
1. Celebrate cultural festivals and events. If you live in a big city, this is the easy part. A different international festival seems to happen every other weekend – but we rarely go to them. Do you? I feel like it’s such a waste to let an Indian Curry Festival happen up the road and not take the kids to sample dhal, biryani, jalfrezi and kofta. Or see the dancing at the Thai Culture and Food Festival.We’re talking Chinese New Year celebrations, Moon Lantern festivals and Yabun and St Patrick’s Day parades. There are so many good times waiting for us!
2. Visit new neighbourhoods. Every capital city in Australia has some very unique suburbs that showcase amazing cultures. Investigate some diverse suburbs and take a train ride to spend the day looking around. We’re in Sydney and we’ve visited Auburn (where we ate the most amazing Turkish Delight possible), Cabramatta (you must visit Tan Viet Noodle House), Haberfiled (my husband is actually Italian and we’ve been visiting Pasticceria Papa for celebration cakes for years) and Liverpool which has a thriving Fijian community. Hunt out the best suburbs in your city – or towns in your area – and go live a different life for a day.
3. Eat out somewhere new. Kids are notoriously stubborn when it comes to trying new flavours, but I still think it’s important to get them to at least try. Even the smallest country town has a local Chinese restaurant, and Thai is becoming popular across the country too. If you’re in the city, the possibilities are endless – fancy some Indian, Filipino, French, Danish, Nepalese, Sri Lankan, Hungarian or Tibetan cuisine? There will be a local favourite for any culture you fancy and getting the kids to try ‘a little’ works for most kids. The best thing about eating out at a small cultural restaurant is that most cultures around the world LOVE children and yours will be welcome with open arms (and, hopefully in return, open mouths).
4. Watch and learn together. The TV and internet are masters at bringing the world into our homes. We are so lucky like that. How often do you watch your kids’ favourite show with them? I know, I know, we get so much done while they are happily engaged in an episode of Doc McStuffins, but believe me, our kids get so much more out of a show when we are there to talk them through it. Talk about the theme of the show, where the characters live, who they are friends with and what they want out of life. Television shows are remarkably diverse these days and the opportunity to talk about different cultures is abundant. When the kids are ready, food and travel shows are another great way to talk about cultural differences. Food is a grand educator and you never know, you might find your child develops a passion for eating minestrone!
5. Make the most of your local library. There are books for kids on every conceivably subject and they will open your child’s eyes to the world and even the universe (and beyond!). My son (who is a little older at 12) has graduated from Harry Potter onto Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series. He has talked about Greek and Roman mythology non-stop ever since and guess where he is hell-bent on visiting? Poor me, I might have to take him to Rome and Greece one day. Parenting is such a tough gig!
6. Bring diversity home. We live in a beautiful, multicultural country but really, how many different cultures do we really interact with? We tend to stick with the same old, same old and life goes on. Well, I have a challenge for you and it’s one I made for myself a few years ago. I challenge you to invite a few families from different backgrounds over to your place for dinner. There will be plenty of new friends to find at your kids’ school or preschool. The lady you’ve probably smiled and said hi to but nothing more. Okay, now is your chance: invite her family to dinner. I’ve never had anyone say no before and it will come as no surprise to learn that I’ve made some firm friends as a result. We’ve entertained and been entertained by our friends from India, China, Sweden, France, England and Nepal and as a result, the kids have learned all about some pretty diverse countries. How good is that?
7. Cook something new together. Cooking with the kids is such a treat, provided you set aside LOTS of extra time and you don’t expect your dish to be especially well ‘plated’. Attempt different recipes from around the world together and talk about the different cultures that created them. Why are curries so hot? Why are certain foods used? Why is meat such a scarce ingredient? How would this dish be prepared in country? Lots can be learned from the way a culture cooks and eats. Try one of these dishes to get you started:
8. Set a special homework assignment. So we loathe homework at our place (do you? Does any family actually like homework?), so last year I got fed up with it all and asked my kids’ teachers if they could forgo the usual homework in place of a project that actually meant something to us. All three teachers said yes (provided the spelling and maths were still completed) and as a result my kids spent a term putting together an in-depth look into a country of their choosing. It just so happened that we were travelling to Europe at the end of the year — a longed for and much saved for trip — so each of the kids took on a country that we planned to visit: France, Holland, England. The result of the projects was a really good knowledge of all of the countries we were visiting plus, added bonus, some really unique things to do when we got there.
How big is your kid’s world?
These are good reads about kids’ dreams too:
- 21 Secrets to Raising Kids Who Dream Big
- How to Help Your Child March to Their Own Beat
- What Our Kids’ Dreams Tell Us About Their Future