ACEI, the Association for Childhood Education International, is a global organization which supports the education of children and provides information to help children learn and grow optimally. Learn more about ACEI and its Global Schools First program at acei.org.
How can we educate children to understand the world around them and to understand and appreciate differences in people and lifestyles? What guidance do we provide children to help them become more flexible, adaptable, and empathic—to engage with other people sensitively and thoughtfully and to expand their opportunities to learn about themselves and others?
We all want the best for our children, but how do we achieve it? This question is even more critical today. In many communities, and in the world at large, learning to live together, once a commonly accepted universal value, is being challenged. The ways that we live and work are changing at lightning speed, from greater freedom in where and how we work to increased likelihood of interaction with those of different backgrounds from our own, whether from neighboring towns or countries far away.
Although we are all citizens of our own nation first, a new concept called global citizenship reminds us of the core values that we all hold in common which can help bring peace and greater stability to our lives. As parents and educators, how do we raise children to be both good citizens of a nation and good global citizens, citizens who value getting along with others above disagreement and isolation?
The concept of global citizenship is often misunderstood. Simply put, global citizenship means recognizing and appreciating other people and finding common understandings about the neighborhoods and world we live in and share.
Traveling and living abroad is not required for raising a global citizen. Some steps, such as the ones suggested here, can be taken today to help children grow and develop as global citizens.
1. Place a map or globe in your home or school.
Geography is a subject that should be taught at home and in school. Where do we live, and where do we live in relation to others? When there is an event of note happening in a neighboring city or nation, take the time to show children where that city or nation is located on the map. This is an ideal time to research different places with children. Learning about other places also helps children learn about their own cities or nations and they can use critical thinking skills to compare and contrast lifestyles. For very young children, it might be more appropriate to have a map of the place where their live—their own city or town. This will help them understand that others live nearby, but that not everybody lives in the very same neighborhood.
2. Encourage children’s curiosity and questions
Children love to ask questions and should be encouraged to do so, as it is a vital way for children to learn. Sometimes, however, children can ask embarrassing questions about a person’s clothing or physical attributes such as skin color. Use these moments as learning opportunities for children and answer them openly and candidly. When children receive honest answers to their questions about the differences in people’s characteristics and lifestyles, they learn to be more accepting and to appreciate differences. Children need to understand that they live in towns and cities and a world at large where not everyone looks the same.
3. Go on adventures to communities that are different from your own.
You do not have to travel very far at all to find people living differently. Go to a neighboring town to shop at the grocery store, plan a school trip to a museum, or try out a new playground. Point out similarities and differences in community life. This helps children understand their own identities as they begin to understand the lives of others.
4. If you do travel farther, explore the local culture.
If you are able to travel farther on a vacation or school trip, embrace the local culture. Help children to understand the place or nation that they are visiting. What products does it make; what crops are grown there? Show them the local arts and crafts and eat at local restaurants to explore local foods. Children who travel can be asked to share their experiences with their classmates.
5. As you celebrate your own holidays, learn about their history and origins.
Many of the holidays we celebrate today originally came from different cultures or had their beginnings in other places. Older children can learn about the origins of holidays and begin to appreciate the interconnectedness of global traditions.
6. Understand your own family history.
Many people only have to look back a couple of generations to find ancestors who were either from different parts of their own nation or from different countries altogether. As children become curious about their family history, teach them about the places where their ancestors lived. It is relatively rare to find a family who has lived in one place for many successive generations. Most people’s family history involves migration at some period. Learning about the world by exploring family history helps children understand their own identities and appreciate an integrated world history. Children may enjoy learning about the lifestyles, family traditions, and celebrations of their ancestors and comparing them to their own lifestyles today. Learning about family histories can also become a school project for older children.
7. Support your child’s ability to empathize.
Young children are self-centered. This is a natural and important stage in child development, as children establish their own needs and preferences as individuals and understand their own feelings and emotions. However, as children mature and begin to develop relationships with others, it is critical that they learn how to empathize—how to understand what others are feeling. First, children will need adult guidance to identify and relate their own emotions to their own thoughts and actions. Once they understand their own feelings, they can begin to relate their feelings to others and to empathize. If we want our children to care about how others feel in their families, in their communities, or in the larger world, encouraging their empathic nature is vital.
8. Listen to, and learn, other languages.
Young children learn new languages easily. The neurons in their brains are developing at a rapid rate, which makes learning a new language less complicated than it can be when they are older. However, if you are not able to enroll a child in a language class or teach them a new language yourself, simply exposing children to other languages can be a valuable way to keep their brains flexible, ready to learn, and receptive of differences. Many songs, nursery rhymes, and other materials from around the world are available that will engage young children in a variety of language experiences at home or at school.
ACEI’s program, Global Schools First, supports educators as they assess their school’s approach to global citizenship—helping children to understand themselves and others. If you would like to receive more information about the Global Schools First program please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org.