At Baby Ventures, we encourage children early on to explore all the places, cultures and creatures of our diverse, wonder-filled world. How can parents foster a globally-minded worldview from a young age? We asked Mary Grace Otis, host of The Global Mom Show! The Global Mom Show is a weekly podcast that connects moms around the world who want to live globally-minded lives and teach their kids to do the same. Below is Part I of our interview with Mary Grace.
In your experience, how can travel – to new locales in particular – expand a child’s worldview in his/her early years? How would you characterize the long-term benefits of fostering such a worldview?
When I was a child, we never traveled internationally, but we were always on some sort of road trip or field trip to a nearby historical site or a state park half-way across the country. These trips, however long or short, prepared me to be curious, flexible, and optimistic about travel experiences as a child. When I was old enough to travel on my own, it was only natural for me to push the boundaries and explore overseas.
I think international travel is an amazing way to expose kids to other cultures. Of course, it’s incredible. But, if you can’t afford it, if you can’t get time off work, if you can’t seem to make that happen in your current situation, that’s okay. Travel can be as simple as a camping trip or a visit to a nearby metropolitan area. Wherever you go that’s outside of your own usual circle will expose your children to new experiences, let them see people who may look or act differently from them, give them an opportunity to see various landscapes, and teach them how to accept change to their usual schedules and norms. In my experience, those things set the foundation for more extensive travel later on. Even trips through an airport or to a multicultural festival where children have opportunities to see diversity firsthand, listen to multicultural music, or taste unusual-to-them foods can have a huge impact on small children and will give you, as a parent, an opportunity to introduce new vocabulary and concepts to a young child.
In my own children, I’ve seen that even the littlest bit of travel during the preschool ages can have a big impact in expanding a child’s worldview. The long-term benefits are the realizations that come with understanding that life doesn’t center around you or your town, but that life is varied, multifaceted, beautiful, and worth exploration.
If travel is not often possible, in what other ways can parents help broaden their children’s understanding of and appreciation for other people, places, and cultures?
There are several entry points to other cultures that are within reach for most parents. Some of the easiest ways to broaden children’s worldviews are through books, music, food, and friendships. We’re really just starting this journey in my own home with my boys, and I am always on the lookout for new resources to bring into the home that will allow us to explore other cultures. I usually start at the library, checking out all the multicultural books I can find!
I’ve written a short list of 10 Simple Ways to Create a Global Home—No Matter Where You Live, and in it I give descriptions of some of the things parents can do to incorporate an appreciation of other cultures into their home life. Simple, practical things like putting up a map in the dining room so that you can reference it whenever you hear about or read about another country; listening to podcasts about diversity and global issues that keep you inspired to pass on these values to your kids; teaching your kids another language so that they expand their understanding of culture; internationalizing your media so that you are getting music and videos from around the world as well. Those are a few simple things that make global living accessible to anyone.
How have you incorporated globally-minded living into your family’s daily life? What key tenets of globally-minded living can you share that we could all put into practice?
To me, globally-minded living is something I haven’t mastered, but something I strive to incorporate into our family life.
I believe it starts with the parents. If you want your kids to grow up excited and eager to engage with the world, then you have to also be excited about learning and engaging with the world. For me, that started with a simple framework of “looking up, looking out, and looking all around,” that I later decided is critical to becoming a global mom. The first few years of motherhood, or parenting in general, can be so all consuming, that you can feel very isolated. It can feel like the only thing you think about is just keeping everyone fed and diapered—and hopefully getting a little bit of sleep along the way. But, I actually find that when I look only at my circumstances and what I have to get done in a day or what is going on with the kids right at that moment, I can become discouraged and discontented. When I start looking up from my own mess and looking out into the world again, I’m reminded of the beauty both within my own home and family, and beyond it. Things like having beds made and cooking awesome meals seem to become less crucial, and I can focus on connecting with the world around me and teaching my children to do the same.
As far as the key tenets of globally-minded living, well, there are just so many! Believing that all people have worth and value and that all cultures have something to teach us is a start.
My framework of “looking up, looking out, and looking all around” is how I encourage moms to take practical steps to become more globally-minded. This is how I explain it:
Look up. This basically means getting out of your own way, so that you are not so self focused. It’s the simple act of looking up from your own circumstances to recognize the stories of people around you. With kids, it can be simple steps like teaching them to stop complaining because they wanted a different kind of cereal for breakfast, and reminding them how blessed they are to even have food. It starts with a sense of gratitude for our own lives and circumstances and then we have the mindset to look up and start seeing what’s around us.
Look out. Now that you are not so self focused, take some time to look out. Outside your window, outside your neighborhood, outside your city. What do you see? This could literally mean taking a walk to a new neighborhood, or taking a bus-ride across town. It basically means observing how people from other cultures and communities live, and teaching your children to look as well—not judge, but just observe. This is where we start to build compassion, empathy, and open-mindedness in ourselves and in our children—traits that are important for developing global citizens.
Look all around. This third step entails really making an effort to explore—through books, music, cuisine, language, travel, art—as many different cultures as you can. This is where we take learning as a life-long goal and understanding and building bridges between cultures as our mission.
All of this is part of what I call living with the world in mind, which basically means thinking of others as you go about your day. Living with the world in mind involves understanding how our own decisions affect others worldwide. It involves looking into how we spend our money and our time, evaluating how we educate our children, considering which charities we choose to support, and so much more. It can really impact all areas of one’s life.
Stay tuned for Part II of our interview with Mary Grace as we discuss the importance of multicultural books, coming soon!
Mary Grace Otis is a wife, a mom of three boys, a former expat and development worker, and a freelance writer for nonprofits and businesses. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Grab a copy of her free PDF guide 10 Ways to Create a Global Home—No Matter Where You Live, or join her private Facebook Community, The Global Moms Network, to connect with like-minded mamas.