Monday, July 25, 2011

One World, Many Stories: Teaching Multiculturalism to a Toddler

Prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom with a Ph.D., I worked my way through graduate schools (yes, there are multiple) and my pregnancy with several kid-related jobs:
1) I worked with babies and toddlers as a teacher/caregiver (most fun job ever - really). It paid peanuts, but I loved working with this age group, and it passed my time between studying for exams.
2) Then, while I was working on my master's thesis I moved from my suburban surroundings to THE big city and got a job giving educational assessments to students in inner city charter schools.  Loved this job too (NYC not so much), and it inspired me to get my Ph.D. specifically in Ed Psych. And,
3) I had a brief stint as a director of a child care center.  Also paid peanuts, and it wasn't nearly as fun being the boss as it was playing with the kiddies.  But, I value this job in many ways because it taught me a lot.

So what's point?  Well, I mention my experiences because a lot of the things that I have learned from working as a teacher, with teachers, with administrators, and with children, influence the activities that I do with baby bookworm (and, yes, the books we read).  My latest "lesson" with baby bookworm has been on multiculturalism; inspiration for this lesson came largely from the fact that regardless of the setting that I was working in (suburban, inner city, charter school, day care, etc), multicultural education was always an important part of the curriculum.  In the day cares, teachers were required to display photos of children from different ethnicities.  The dramatic play areas had to include baby dolls of different colors.  In the inner city charter schools (which actually were very culturally and ethnically diverse), once a month they had a day that celebrated different cultures.  These are just a few examples.  Some educators may argue (very validly) that things like these examples aren't "enough" - but that's a different topic for another day.

I didn't really think much about the importance of teaching children about multiculturalism until baby bookworm was born.  I just sorta did what the curriculum said we had to do.  But now that I have my own child who is not in a formal school setting yet with a curriculum, it got me thinking that I need to follow the same principles that I learned when I was working with kids. 

Knowing about "multiculturalism" may be of utmost importance in baby bookworm's life because she is a "mixed" baby, half Vietnamese and half "white" (and the "white" half is one quarter German, one eighth Italian, and one eighth Serbian).  I'm not even sure which box she will check when she takes her first survey and it asks for her race and/or ethnicity.  I guess maybe "other".  Maybe she will consider herself Asian, I don't know.  But what I do want her to know is that people come in many colors, from many different backgrounds, and from many different places on this Earth; they speak many different languages, partake in different customs, and have different religious beliefs. And, I would like her to know a little bit about the cultures of her ancestors, Vietnamese language included.

So like everything we do, we begin with a book.  Finding books about different cultures was actually easy this summer because the theme of the summer reading club at our library is One World, Many Stories (the theme also helped to get this topic on my radar too).  I believe this is a nation-wide theme (but don't quote me on that, ask your own wise librarian).

Here are the fabulous books we have been reading over and over for the past few weeks.

1).  Can You Say Peace?
by Karen Katz

We have a few Karen Katz books, but I had never seen this one; I am so glad we picked it up - it's now a new favorite.  The book is about the International Day of Peace (Sept 21) and shows kids from different countries and how they say Peace in their language.  Baby bookworm has actually begun to finish the sentences in this book!  So, for example, "Carlos is from Mexico.  Carlos says......", and baby bookworm will say paz (there is a pronunciation guide, don't worry).  It's a fabulous book for young children, and I'm pretty certain we will buy it.  It even contains a map on the last page and places the story's characters in their appropriate country.

The map with the characters placed in their corresponding countries

The book has great illustrations of the children from different countries

2). One World, One Day
by Barbara Kerley

This book actually got me a little teary eyed for some reason the first time I read it to baby bookworm.  It's not a "sad" book, but the photographs are SO amazingly beautiful and the message is SO sweet.  There is just something about it that is very touching, and something about seeing real kids in a book and not illustrations.  The message of the book is that kids all around the world do similar activities during the day (like traveling to school), but in different ways (by bus, by foot, etc).  There are a bunch of books that share this "we are different and yet the same" theme, although I really like this one best.  I think kids can identify well too with the book because of the photographs, and the story line is simple enough that even an infant or toddler would be happy to sit still for this book.  On the last few pages of the book is a map of the world and highlights the cities where each photograph was taken (a GREAT learning tool). Oh, and it's a National Giographic book too which is pretty cool. 

Just an example of the beautiful photography. 
Kids from different places in the world, eating different foods.
The map at the end of this book showing where all of the photographs were taken

3). Homes in Many Cultures
by Heather Adamson

This book reads like a social studies book for young children (and maybe that's what it actually is, I'm not sure).  But I don't mean that in a bad way!  Like the previous book, this book has photographs rather than illustrations.  And there is a map on each page showing exactly where each type of home can be found.  Baby bookworm really likes this book, and I like the fact that she's learning so much!

Each page shows where the home can be found

There's a glossary at the end of the book too

4). Dim Sum for Everyone
by Grace Lin

This book doesn't have a map like the others, but I chose this book because it highlights a lot of the Asian foods and ingredients that we so frequently eat at my in-law's house.  The book is about a family's trip to a Dim Sum restaurant and how everyone picks out their favorite food to eat from the cart.  As with many of the books we read, the story line is simple.  The illustrations are quite colorful and I honestly think they look exactly like the Dim Sum restaurant in our own neighborhood.  My in-laws were quite impressed when baby bookworm started randomly talking about Dim Sum!  I'm happy that she was able to learn a little bit about her Asian half, through a book (and yes, I am aware that I am using the term Asian in a generic way - dim sum is a Chinese thing, baby bookworm is half Vietnamese, but....).

The front and back flaps are full of Asian items that baby bookworm loves to identify

In addition to learning about different cultures through books, baby bookworm has "friends" from all over the world as well. Each friend has its own "story".  And bad accent.   
Baby bookworm's puppet collection includes a Japanese figure (we call her Mai), a man from Ghana (we call him Shingai),
and an American cheerleader (we call her Bambi)
This is baby bookworm's chef who is Italian; we call him Luigi

I really hope you and your baby bookworm get a chance to check out these books.  I promise that you both will learn something.  If you're not convinced, I'll leave you with this thought....This past week while vacationing at the beach, baby bookworm saw a map of the town that we were in.  She looks at me and looks back at the map and says, "Where's um....China?" 


  1. So sweet! This is an area that I am very interested in, when I was working in a school I taught lessons on diversity and as a result built up my childrens library. Now I have no use for them so they just sit on my office bookshelf untouched...There is one book in particular you might need to save for later but is told by a little girl about her Vietnamese grandmother that was a refugee. It's called The Lotus Seed. Maybe you've seen it - it might be a nice book for her to have in her collection :)

  2. Thanks for the recommendation! Daddy baby bookworm has seen that one, although I haven't. Sounds like one I'll have to check out.


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