Cultured. This adjective is used to describe something that can be cultivated or made. It can also be used to describe a person who is intellectually- and artistically aware, as well as courteous and well-mannered. And, at some point this year, I came to the beautiful and humbling realization that it also describes the family that my husband and I have created.
From the moment that each of our daughters were born, my husband and I have tried to raise them to be individuals who want to continually learn about, and positively impact, the world in which we live. Specifically, we want them to value and care about the people with whom we share this earth. And, one of the things that we do to cultivate this mindset is give them opportunities to become more aware of the different cultures that exist in our country and elsewhere. (How could we expect them to care about people they know nothing about?) I guess you could say we’re intentional about creating a cultured family.
I doubt that we’re alone in our desire to have a cultured family, so I’m sharing with you today–two weeks before the New Year begins–24 suggestions on how to do this with your loved ones in the coming year. Made up of a combination of our family’s experiences and observations, research I’ve done, and conversations I’ve had with other parents, the list will hopefully inspire you and your family to respect, appreciate, and love others–particularly those who don’t look like you–more in the coming year than you already do.
1.Go to cultural music concerts.—If you’re interested in hearing cultural music, check to see if local music venues will be presenting or hosting events featuring vocalists, groups, or bands who specialize in cultural music. You should also check to see if colleges or universities in your area might sponsor an event like this through their music department or multicultural affairs office.
2.Watch live theatrical productions highlighting other cultures.—Identify plays or musicals that feature characters and story lines that highlight cultures different from your own. Then, maximize your time at the theater by participating in an audience Q&A or an audience talkback with cast members or the show’s director if one is available to patrons.
3.Attend cultural dance events.—Cultural dance shows could introduce you and your family to beautiful types of dance that may be new to you. You may even discover that some of the choreography resembles other types of dance that are more familiar to you. Among the cultural dance events that my family has enjoyed are those presented by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (African-American dance) and Shen Yun Performing Arts (Chinese dance). Browse their websites–as well as the sites of universities, colleges and cultural centers near you–to see if they’ll be presenting events like this next year.
4.Check out ethnic art museums.—You can find out a lot about the history of an ethnic- or cultural group by examining paintings, sculptures, photography, etc., created by members of the group. So, visiting ethnic art museums can help individuals and families within and outside of the group gain a better understanding of it’s culture. This list contains the names of several ethnic art museums that exist in the U.S. Check it to see if any of them are near you.
5.Complete cultural- or ethnic art projects.—Conduct research (at your local library, at museums, on Pinterest, etc.) about the various types of cultural- or ethnic art projects you could create with your children at home. And, once you’ve completed a few projects–which may enable you to discover something new about the people from whom the craft originated–you could also lead others (e.g., students at your child’s school, members of a homeschooling co-op, birthday party guests, neighbors invited to play dates, etc.) in making them, as well.
6.Visit a general art museum.—If you don’t have an ethnic- or cultural art museum near you, peruse the website of the closest general art museum and see if they have galleries or halls that showcase works of art and artifacts created by ethnic artists. If they do, plan on perusing those areas of the institution and try to find out why certain messages, materials or techniques were used to create the collected artwork.
7.Attend cultural- or ethnic festivals.—If you live in a larger city, or one that is culturally- or ethnically diverse, attend festivals that feature the music, dance, and foods embraced by a particular culture or ethnic group whenever you can. Event coordinators typically pack so much into the celebrations that attendees can’t help but leave them feeling entertained, well fed and, hopefully, better informed about the beautiful community that hosted the festival. And, if you happen to discover that one is being held in another city while you’re traveling, try to fit it into your trip itinerary.
8.Read history books.—Borrow books from the library that teach about the history of other countries and cultures. Or, if you want to add them to your family’s library of books (so you can re-read them whenever you want or share them with a friend), buy them on Amazon or at a local book store.
9. Visit ethnic history museums.—Learn more about our country’s history, or even that of the city or state where you live, by visiting museums that honor particular ethnic groups. These institutions are intentional about featuring educational exhibits, collections of artifacts, and special programming (e.g., talks and seminars), that shed light on events, discoveries, inventions, and narratives that you won’t typically see in mainstream museums. I included one such museum in my post about Chicago-area places that visitors should see when they’re in town.
10.Learn a new language.—Many schools offer students the opportunity to learn a new language. However, if your children are homeschooled–or if you are the one who hopes to learn another language–you’ll probably need to buy one of the home-based language programs that can be used by adults and kids alike. Just think of it as a worthwhile investment that could bring into your life an opportunity for you to communicate with, help, serve alongside, or perhaps even become friends with, someone from a different ethnic background.
11.Ask a vocal coach to help you learn a song in a different language.—If you or your child takes voice lessons, ask the teacher or vocal coach if a song in a different language could be added to the portfolio of songs that have already been worked on. And, if the song ends up being sung in a recital, perhaps the attire worn during the performance could be reflective of the songwriter’s culture or ethnicity.
12.Watch television shows in a different language.—Watch television shows produced in a language other than your own and read the subtitles as you’re watching the show. This fun tip came from my youngest daughter’s Spanish teacher, who suggested she do this to help her be better prepared when her class participates in listening and speaking assessments.
13.Watch movies about other cultures.—Borrow non-fiction (e.g., documentaries) or fictional movies highlighting events, lifestyles, holidays, etc., that are common in other countries and cultures. Plan on watching them on family movie nights and jot down a few questions you’d like to discuss with your family after the movie ends.
14.Dine at an ethnic restaurant.—Go out for lunch or dinner at a restaurant in or near your hometown (or one that you found while on vacation) that serves authentic ethnic- or cultural foods. While there, ask your server about the dishes (e.g., which country or region they originated from). And, whenever possible, ask the chef to share with you important details about the cuisine, such as why certain spices, herbs or cooking techniques are used.
15.Volunteer at a charity or church that serves specific cultural groups.—Local charities and churches often offer a variety of services to ensure that the basic needs of individuals or families from different cultural- or ethnic groups are being met. Connect with the organizations, find out what they need, and then discuss with your family how all of you could work together to share your time and skills to help the staff and, ultimately, the people served by the organization.
16.Get involved in a foreign missions ministry at your local church.—Lots of churches have missions groups that travel to other countries to help out with various tasks, such as building churches or homes, teaching classes in various subjects to children or adults, and so on. If you join a ministry like this, you’ll lighten the load of your fellow ministry workers, be able to learn more about the people residing in another country, as well as show those residents that people living in a different part of the world care about them.
17.Sponsor a child.—Improve the life of a boy or girl in need who resides in another country, as well as learn about their way of life, through organizations like Compassion International or World Vision. Once sponsors are matched with children, they’re able to correspond with them, send them gifts, as well as make donations that help them receive food, medical care, a better education, as well as other forms of assistance.
18.Travel abroad.—If you are able to do so, take trips with your family to other countries to learn firsthand about other cultures. Be sure to work with a travel agent who has experience in arranging international air travel and in making hotel accommodations in other countries. They should also be able to connect you with an experienced guide in your destination who specializes in taking groups to popular tourist spots, as well as less-crowded, but equally safe, local gems.
19.Shop at an ethnic grocery store.—Look for spices, herbs and other ingredients that are popular in different ethnic cuisines or cultural foods and begin to incorporate them into your family’s meals. To make this new twist on meal prep exciting for your children, encourage them to look up the ingredients and share with you details about how long they’ve been used, how they’re grown or made, and so on. By the way, if you’d like to have your own cultural foods spice list, scroll up to the top of this page, sign up for my mailing list, and I’ll send one to you!
20.Obtain cookbooks that focus on cultural foods.—Once you’ve begun to experiment with different flavors, you could also take the next step and secure cookbooks for dishes and desserts that are popular in other cultures. Borrow them from your local library or buy them online- or from a brick-and-mortar retailer. To see suggestions on books to buy, check out this post.
21.Serve a meal featuring cultural foods.—Talk with your family and agree upon which cuisine will be featured at the meal, which could include an entree, sides and even dessert. And, if you’re feeling really adventurous, you could even host a dinner- or dessert party for a few close friends and serve some of your creations.
22.Coordinate a cultural foods potluck.—If you attend a multi-cultural church or your children attend a school with mixed demographics, ask the appropriate person on either staff if you can coordinate a cultural foods potluck for the families there. Or, depending upon the cultural- or racial make up of the block or subdivision where you live, you might even be able to do something like this for the next big neighborhood party. Either way, the goal would be to invite families from different cultures or ethnic groups to bring a different entrée, side or dessert that represents their culture to share with other attendees.
23.Learn about cultural- or ethnic holidays.—Find out which special holidays are celebrated by different cultural- or ethnic groups. Conducting this type of research (e.g., at a library, on museum websites, or through conversations with people from those respective groups, etc.) could help you better understand why those days, and the traditions connected to them, are meaningful to them.
24.Be friendly.—Be intentional about getting to know people from other nationalities and cultures. This could mean sitting with someone different at your workplace during lunch, inviting a new family at your church to sit with your family during the worship service, striking up a conversation with someone at an event who doesn’t look like you, and so on. You may discover you have more in common with other individuals than you would have ever imagined. Who knows? They may be trying to cultivate a cultured family, too!