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Global Citizenship

Dear Debi,
My 2-year-old daughter has suddenly become curious about the differences between herself and other children. How can I teach her about the similarities and differences in a way that’s appropriate for her age?
Brenda Carrillo
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Demonstrate interest & respect for what happens outside your neighborhood
  • Take children on outings
  • Use local resources like museums & libraries
Expert Advice
Greg Uba
Greg Uba
Early Childhood Education Instructor
“Global citizenship” is the idea that children and their families are part of a much bigger picture that includes their community, their city, their state, the country they inhabit, and the country of their ancestors. This membership in a global community means that they need to gain an understanding of the different cultures of these diverse communities.

Lots of times teachers or parents will say, "We don't have ‘those’ children in our classroom or our neighborhood. So why should we make a big deal out of it?" And the answer of course is, "Who better than you? Who do these children look to for affirmation of their actions and of their world? Do we want girls to learn to be women by watching television? Do we want boys to learn to be men by watching movies? Do we want our children to judge other people based upon video game representations of class, race and gender?" Watching children of different social, racial, gender... different cultural backgrounds meet each other in the park or a playground, or a classroom is a beautiful thing. They are so free of prejudice and discrimination. They have an opportunity to grow up with true experiences of other people and not the media and prejudicial stereotypes that they might otherwise acquire. The older they get, the harder it becomes to overturn the stereotypes that develop from the media and other influences.

Any time you can travel outside your home community with your child provides that child with an opportunity to learn to engage with others or to shut them out. Every discriminatory action we make goes into the child's memory banks. Every time we go into a low income community and lock the doors and roll up the windows a child is given a message about the people that inhabit that community. Every time we share in the culture of others, whether thru family, friends, faith organizations we give children real experiences with other cultures. Every time we visit a park, museum, community center outside our own, we give a lesson. Every time someone different than us walks into our home as a respected guest, we build a bridge. I sometimes tell people that a measure of your openness to other cultures is in the people that you introduce to your own parents and people that you invite into your home.

To help your kids learn more about other parts of your community, simply begin exploring. Find the ethnic and cultural communities that are nearby. Visit respectfully, of course. Global citizenship is not about food or music or costume as much as it is about sharing a meal, a story, a moment of time. Sometimes the lessons are hard. Sometimes you have to deal with a situation where a child says that they can't be friends with so and so because of such and such a reason. It means that there is work to do. This is a reason to keep toys and activities simple. Children from any culture will create toys and games. Simple toys and simple games will tend to have more in common with children around the world.

I've been fortunate to work in programs where children and parents and teachers have had disabilities for instance. Children identify that other child or adult by name and not by disability. They learn that the other person is defined not by a disability or ability, but by relationships. For example, a father comes to pick up his child. He has a disability. The other children see him. What they say is "Your Father's here!" What they see is their friend running into the embrace of her father. What they learn is that love is love no matter what language is spoken or if love appears in a wheelchair. In fact our ability to learn other languages is best when we are very young. Our ability to develop a taste for a spice, or enjoy a certain musical scale, or favor a certain color scheme, or enjoy a certain scent... all these things come from our experiences with the wider world.

I tend to think that it is much easier for children to understand their similarities than we give them credit for. Again, just watch children at a park. They can speak different languages and wear different clothes, but more often than not, if the adults allow, they will find a way to communicate thru play. When we celebrate our various cultures, we celebrate our differences. This is where adults can facilitate the process by participating in the community at large.
Child Care Provider Comments
Nora Urrea
Nora Urrea
Mother of five
Because I have many children, we have many materials around the house like books, globes and maps. In Southern California, children are exposed to all colors of the rainbow. In other parts of the country, children may have to travel so that they can become exposed to different cultures. Also, showing them different films are good. They show the children different places in the world and even expose them to various languages.
Clarissa August
Clarissa August
Family child care provider for 21 years
There’s a children's song that goes like this, “The world is a rainbow, full of many colors . . .” so my advice is to explore the world with your child. There are so many places to go and see and participate in cultural activities. To jump start your child’s adventures you could start exposing him to different ethnic and cultural backgrounds through books, PBS programs, age-appropriate videos, etc. Let him know that although we may have different skin color we are all the same on the inside.
Sari Cuervo
Sari Cuervo
Mother of Two
My son is being raised in a multicultural family. I am Jewish and my husband is Cuban. We expose him to everyday life and answer his questions. We believe that if you set a good example for your children, they will follow. I take him places with me so that he can see how I interact with other people. I treat all people the same no matter what race they are.

Featured Activity:
"People in Your City" Collage
Global Citizenship Featured Video:
Global Citizenship
Topic: Social & Emotional Development
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