The best way to learn about other cultures is through participant observation. With that in mind, we hope to be able to introduce our children and ourselves to a variety of cultures by living abroad (or even in varying cultures within our own country) at some point. But until that becomes a reality, we hope to be able to learn as much as we can from our living room (or other rooms and locations ;)).
One excellent resource for families with young children who wish to do this is the Families of the World video series. We discovered these at our local library and have since been hooked.
Each video follows the lives of two children: one family in a rural setting and another in a more urban setting. The camera follows the children through their daily routine: viewers learn about how the family sleeps, what they eat, where they shop, what their classrooms and schools look like, how parents and children interact, where the parents work, what types of transportation is used, and more. From a cultural anthropology perspective, the videos are full of such information that isn’t always included in a typical book about a country (e.g., how a mother cares for her newborns, what the family sleep situation is like).
Currently there are 27 countries available, each about 30 minutes long. These are specifically listed as appropriate for ages 5 to 10 years old, but they are quite informative and interesting to adults, as well. We watch these with our 2-year-old and 4-year-old and have thus far found them to be appropriate for their ages, as well. (I know with our kids, they might not have been as interested initially if we hadn’t done this together as a family.)
In fact, we’ve turned watching these into a fun family tradition of “movie night” with popcorn. (These are actually the first videos/movies we’ve watched together as a family.) Our girls love it and frequently have questions to ask as we go through the videos. After watching one where the family ate their meals seated on the floor, our oldest asked, “Would those people think it was funny that we sit at chairs for our supper?” She’s learning the reciprocity of cultures viewing each other as different. We’ve had many opportunities to explain that what are manners in one country may not be in another, and that that is okay. (She likes to point out when people “aren’t using manners.”) Our two-year old is surprisingly glued to the videos, hardly even touching her popcorn as she takes it all in. Both girls like to say, “I want to go there someday,” and have also had fun taking imaginary airplane trips to Af-wica, Kenya, Japan, and Korea.
My husband was born in South Korea and spent part of his childhood there. It was enjoyable for him to watch the Families of Korea DVD and point out to us places he’d been, foods he ate, and portions that brought back special memories. It was also interesting to watch the Families of Afghanistan shortly after reading The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, novels both set in Afghanistan. Much of the daily life and culture was just as I had pictured it in my mind after reading the novels.
The one downside of these videos is their price. On both Amazon and the producer’s site, the cost is $25 to $30 per DVD. We currently own Families of Korea (where my husband was born and where my in-laws currently live) and Families of Japan (where my sister lives), and hope to gradually add to our DVD library as we can. Thankfully, our public library carries several, as well.
Here’s a brief preview clip of Families of Japan: