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Expose your Child to Heritage; Teach your Child Tolerance

By: Deanna Bufo Novak, attorney, mother, creator/author of a personalized children's book celebrating heritage called My Heritage Book, and founder of its publisher kidsHeritage, Inc.

As parents, we prepare our children for the outside world in many ways. We sing ABCs and count 123s, teach them to be polite, to have manners, and to treat someone as they wish to be treated. W e encourage their physical and non-physical abilities, and help develop their inherent talents. Although there is no question how important all of this is, are we missing something? In preparing them for school, sports, activities, and friends, are we also adequately preparing them for the cultural diversity that will surround them in all of these aspects of their lives? Too often, the answer is no.

For generations, immigrants from countries all over the world have flocked to America. Retaining their own cultures, while living and working next door to families of different cultures, is, in fact, a large part of what has made this a great country. Children should start learning tolerance and appreciation of this concept at an early age. "[A parent's] guidance is important while [the children] are old enough to think about social issues and young enough to be flexible in their opinions" writes Dr. Tesfa G. Gebremedhin in his article Reflecting on our Ethnic Identity and Cultural Heritag.*

A starting point for teaching your child the benefits of cultural diversity is delving into your own heritage. Remind your child that heritage is not a mere history lesson, but a unique opportunity to look into the past, present, and future all at once . However, while teaching about your family's own heritage and encouraging your child to be proud of it, it is equally as important to stress that each family's heritage is unique and wonderful, even if it is different from your own. By doing this, children gain a unique perspective of the world that surrounds them - both at home and outside of the home. "[L]earning about their ethnic identity and cultural heritage will not only teach our children something about their ancestors, but it will also teach them about themselves and how they are related to the world around them" writes Dr. Tesfa G. Gebremedhin.*

Begin your heritage exploration by spinning a globe and flipping through an atlas. If possible, take your children not only to a cultural festival celebrating your own heritage, but to any cultural festivals in your area. They can observe, first hand, people enjoying the music, food, and customs of a certain culture and begin to gain an appreciation for it. If you are cooking a traditional meal, have your children get involved and talk with them about your ancestors making the same meal many years ago. On another night, try a recipe from a different culture and talk a bout that culture. Listening to different types of music and discussing the music's origins is also a great activity.

For a more personalized approach to teaching your child about heritage, visit www.myheritagebook.com. There, you can order a personalized children's book called My Heritage Book. Each book explores the countries (up to four in one book) of your child's ancestors and contains a fill-in family tree. While encouraging reading, your child will be excited about a book that is all their own, celebrating a heritage that is equally as unique. This book is a special keepsake for a child and makes a wonderful gift.

By showing our children how interesting their own heritage is and encouraging them to be proud of it, we are preparing them to be confident individuals. Additionally, as they gain knowledge of various cultures, they will learn tolerance of others. If they are proud of their own heritage, they will begin to understand that their friends are probably also proud of theirs. If they enjoy the traditions of their heritage, they may be encouraged to ask their friends about their own unique traditions. In doing so, these children will be paving the road to a more tolerant world.

*Reflecting on our Ethnic Identity and Cultural Heritage (Apr. 14, 2005)