Summer break is finally here, along with sweltering days and late sunsets. When I was a kid, summer was my favorite season because I loved spending all day at the pool, or skateboarding, or leisurely working through my Mr. Wizard’s book of science experiments. Nerdy? Check! Also fun? Check!
Most of all, I liked summer because it was free from the structure of school, so I could explore the world without it feeling like work. My parents always took advantage of the time away from school to expose us to new experiences in various ways.
Here at Jambo, we thought it would be fun to present some suggestions for including multicultural activities into your summer vacation.
1. Foreign Language Summer Camp
Summer camps are a great opportunity to expose your children to different cultures, if you shop carefully. While your town may not have camps explicitly labeled as “multicultural,” with a little creative thinking you can find one that will accomplish the same thing.
One example is language immersion camps. We chose a Spanish language immersion camp because we have Spanish-speaking family. The kids play, make art, learn Capoeira, and generally do fun summer camp stuff. But: they are encouraged to speak Spanish anytime they are inside and the teachers speak Spanish indoors, so they will gain some proficiency in the language over the summer.
Language camps are excellent opportunities for multicultural exposure because most will include aspects of the culture and customs of native speakers of the language. As a bonus, at least some of the other kids in the camp will have some familial ties to a country where the language is prevalent, so your children will get to know people with different backgrounds in a fun setting.
2. City Summer Camp
A big obstacle to common understanding in America is our tendency to separate ourselves into comfortable communities of people just like us. A municipal camp is a great way to help your kids break out of the bubble and get to know their neighbors better.
What you’re looking for is a camp that’s operated by a city, county, or other government agency. If your city is not very diverse, you can choose a nearby city with a more balanced population. (Many municipal camps will have residency requirements, so you may have to pay a little more if you leave your city.)
Municipal camps are excellent for exposing your children to a cross-segment of the community. Many cities will deeply subsidize the cost, or use income-based pricing so that the camps are accessible to people across the income scale.
For example, the City of Atlanta runs a camp that is $35 per week. Durham, NC has a camp that can be as low as $13 per week. City camps embrace socioeconomic and ethnic diversity by their accessibility.
If there are no municipal camps that near you that fit the bill, try looking at a YMCA or Girls & Boys Clubs as alternatives.
City Camps are also really handy because they often are available in 1-week increments. So if you’ve scheduled other activities that don’t fill the summer, you can add in a couple of weeks of city camp to round out the summer.
The way to a kid’s heart is through her stomach. Or something like that! But kids do need to eat every day, and mealtimes present another opportunity to expand your children’s world.
In most cities, there are restaurants representing cultures from around the globe. It’s simple and fun to use restaurant excursions as a cultural experience that’s cheaper than international travel.
Start by choosing a restaurant. Then have your children research the country where the restaurant’s cuisine originates. (If your kiddos are younger, you can do the research and explain it to them.)
What languages do people speak there? What is the climate like? What are some of the important facts about the place? Are there distinctive buildings or geographic features there? What things do we have in our house that were made there? What does the traditional dress look like? What kind of music do they listen to?
Even if you’re planning around a type of ethnic cuisine that is broadly available in America, you can make it a learning experience. Go a little deeper and have your kids explore the regional differences in the cuisine, where in the country each dish is from, etc.
The idea is to give your kids some background, like you were going on a family trip there. As part of this, you can also research dishes they may encounter at the restaurant. Talk about them ahead of time, so the kids understand that the food has a lot in common with the food they eat at home. (This is especially important if your kids are finicky eaters.)
Finally, head over to the restaurant and chow down!
Museums are an obvious, but often overlooked option for broadening horizons. While some museums have summer camps, it’s more fun to mix and match museums during the summer.
In order to boost your kids’ multicultural IQ, you need to be deliberate. If you’re doing cultural research for food, why not add a museum trip so the kids can see artifacts from the culture?
The basic idea is to seek out exhibits that highlight the history of different ethnic groups in your area. Sometimes, the large museums will have ample coverage. But often times, you will need to search for smaller under-the-radar museums to get the proper content.
For example, if you want to learn about the native American communities that were in the area before Europeans arrived, the New Echota State Historic Site in Georgia is a better choice than the more popular museums. Smaller museums also tend to be less crowded, so you may be able to get more commentary from guides while you’re there. You may even save some money, as smaller museums tend to be cheaper as well.
Museums are also a great rainy-day activity if you happen to travel during your vacation.
I hope these suggestions give you some ideas about how to integrate multicultural education and awareness into your summer plans. The main thing is to keep it fun! Done properly, your kids will look forward to new chances to learn.