How to Bridge the Cultural Experience Gap
The atmosphere and environment which you create for your child at home will strongly influence your child’s success in school. If children are raised in a home where reading materials are readily available, where they are exposed to music, art, performing arts, sports, and current events, their classroom success will increase substantially.
Research tells us that children of affluence have more diverse cultural experiences than children in middle and lower income households. Financial limitations are an obvious reason this occurs. Another reason is that many of us were raised with little exposure to literature and the arts. Because of our own lack of knowledge we may feel insecure in the world of art and culture. Actually, there are many things that you can do to enlarge your child’s cultural world, even on a limited budget. If you feel that your own knowledge is limited, relax, have fun, try out new experiences and learn along with your kids! You may find that you know far more about the cultural world than you realize.
Share Your Family’s Ethnic and Religious Cultural Heritage with Your Child.
- Many ethnic cultures have strong verbal storytelling traditions. Share the folk tales, myths, and songs of your family’s cultural heritage with your children.
- Many communities have folk festivals where dance and song of a multitude of ethnic cultures are celebrated. Look in your local newspaper or call local ethnic clubs and organizations to find out when and where the festivals will be, then pack a lunch, grab the kids, and go!
- If English is not your language of origin, encourage your children to develop parallel reading skills and interests in both languages. Most library systems now have extensive collections of literature in dozens of languages with books and magazines you can bring home and read to your child in your language of origin as well as English.
Use Digital Media Constructively.
- Use viewing streamed or televised cartoon programming as an opportunity to get your kids thinking in a constructive critical manner. Sit down as a family and watch cartoon programs then discuss what you have seen. Were the stories interesting? Did the show have characters that you cared about? Was the animation good? What style of animation was used in the program? Did you like the colors used by the animators? Did the soundtrack take away from or enhance the program? Was the program really funny and entertaining? Then compare one program to another and decide which programs are good enough to spend time watching.
- PBS and a number of cable stations, and websites such as YouTube, broadcast a wide variety of cultural programming. Use television and other digital media programming as a taste test to discover your and your kids’ cultural appetites. Never been to an opera, a ballet, a rodeo, a circus, an art museum, or a ballroom dancing exhibit? Before you purchase tickets, watch an opera or concert on television or your computer. Have your children listen and watch with you. Ask them their opinions about what they are hearing and seeing. Look at the setting, the props, the costumes, and have your kids pay attention to the audience, too. Point out how the audience dresses for a particular performance, how they behave and vocalize their approval or disapproval. After viewing a variety of performances, ask your kids if there are any differences in the audiences’ behavior and dress from one event to the other. They will soon be aware that what is appropriate behavior and dress for one situation is not necessarily appropriate in another situation. Then, if your child or teen does have the opportunity to attend a ballet, concert, or sporting event in person, they will attend the event with confidence, knowing what behavior and dress is appropriate for the occasion.
- Preview cultural websites, then share those sites with the young people in your family. Art museums, city and university libraries, YouTube, Spotify, presidential libraries, etc. host informative and interesting websites where you and your children can experience a wide variety of cultural experiences. Share and explore these websites with your kids on a regular basis.
Experiment! Bring a Wide Variety of Art and Music into Your Home.
- Libraries are a great source for books, magazines, movies, and CDs. Sometimes they even stock art posters which you can bring home for a short time. And every time you bring home your favorite rock ‘n roll or country and western CD, bring home a CD with music that is unfamiliar to you, and share both the familiar and new with your kids.
- Libraries are stocked with beautiful visual arts books. Do borrow them from the library and take them home. Slowly page through the art reproductions with your kids and talk with them about what you see. It is not necessary to read dense sections of text, but do mention the artist’s name and the title of the paintings or sculptures you see in the books.
- Most museums, especially art museums, have free or reduced admission for children. Many schedule free admission times for families. Because most are located in large urban areas, they are easily accessible by public transportation. Museums, like libraries, feel it is never too early to introduce children to their collections. They often plan free, exciting activities for kids of all ages. Museums are no longer stuffy buildings full of dead things. They are vibrant, lively gathering spots where you and your family can laugh and learn together.
- Don’t let financial limitations keep your child from attending school activities and field trips. Principals often have scholarship funds available for kids. Call your school principal and speak with him or her. They will keep the conversation confidential. If accepting financial help is not a choice for you, most principals are very open to bartering services and volunteer work in exchange for school activity and field trip fees. This, too, they will keep confidential.
Lastly, the best way to expand your children’s knowledge of the arts is to have them actively participate in artistic activities at home. Make sure your kids have simple toys which enhance their creativity like wooden blocks, crayons and magic markers, paper, pencils, and inexpensive water color and tempera paint. Don’t get upset when they make a mess, but do teach them to clean up after themselves. Encourage them to put on their own shows and plays, and to dance and move to all kinds of music. Fill your house with your favorite visual images: family photographs, art masterpiece reproductions from last year’s calendars, photographs and pictures from magazines, and art work created by your family. And whether you have the voice of a frog or the voice of a lark, sing with your kids all the songs you know and love.
© 2015 The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance