A critical part of raising children to become caring and empathetic citizens is leading them to both respect and understand different cultures. By prioritizing cultural awareness, parents can prevent their children from believing generalizations or negative stereotypes associated with a particular race, gender or ethnicity and instead promote an appreciation for their own and others’ cultural differences.
While many parents believe that younger children are too inexperienced to begin talking about culture or race, according to recent research published by the American Psychological Association, children as young as 3 months have the potential to begin developing negative biases regarding race.
“Even if adults don’t talk to kids about race, children will work to make sense of their world and will come up with their own ideas, which may be inaccurate or detrimental,” said the study’s co-author Jessica Sullivan, an associate professor of psychology at Skidmore College.
An effective way to prevent misguided beliefs or cultural stereotypes is to introduce children to books that feature main characters with a variety of backgrounds, abilities and experiences. When parents diversify children’s bookshelves, they can expand their perspectives and help them grow into responsible citizens of the world.
To get started, check out a few of our favorite books that help children celebrate diversity in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
Sharing Cultural Experiences
In a recent webinar hosted by the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), Mags Petkiewicz, principal at Gardner Academy from the San Jose Unified School District in California, spoke about how she helped restore joy to her school by giving students the opportunity to teach and share different aspects of their cultures.
“We had them create presentations where they were actually teaching about their culture and heritage,” Petkiewicz said. “We had children teaching traditional recipes, how to play different games that were of their community. Additionally, the students shared the different traditions associated with their culture including traditional clothing and music.”
Parents can adopt the same types of activities at home by cooking traditional meals from various cultures, watching movies that take place in other countries or communities, and listening to songs in different languages. This type of early exposure to diverse perspectives and traditions can go a long way in helping children appreciate differences, find similarities and identify values they share with others.
Providing Collaborative Learning Opportunities
Giving children the chance to collaborate is another effective way to build their cultural awareness and understanding.
At Camp Invention®, NIHF’s flagship summer program, participants are empowered to solve real-world problems by working together, learning to see value in their own and others’ ideas while engaging in hands-on exploration. In addition, each activity introduces participants to the diverse perspectives of some of the world’s greatest inventors: our NIHF Inductees.
Research shows that exposure to innovation at an early age increases the likelihood that children will innovate as they grow up. Because of this, authentic invention education programs that provide innovative role models can keep children inspired to follow their interests in STEM and potentially contribute to new ideas and solutions that can benefit people across communities.
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For more ideas and support in encouraging healthy perspectives, promoting greater inclusivity, and guiding our next generation of creators, innovators and leaders, we invite you to check out our blog.