5 Ways to Study World Cultures

One of the things that we homeschoolers take great pride in is how we focus on preparing our children for life, not just college.

I often hear about how one of the advantages that homeschooled kids have is their opportunities to interact with people of different ages, as opposed to simply their peers.

We study world cultures in our homeschool for a similar reason: to help our kids be able to communicate with anyone.

World Cultures and Homeschooling

One of the factors that made us choose to homeschool our children is that it made traveling with them so much easier. We didn’t have to worry about what they might miss in class and didn’t have to deal with catching up after we returned. Plus, my husband and I realized that traveling was providing our kids with wonderful real-life learning opportunities.

We both also loved that our children were experiencing different countries and cultures in person. Doing so helped them understand and appreciate the differences and the similarities that exist between people who may look and sound different.

Recent years have made travel difficult for us. Pandemic aside, we added a third member to our family and I’ve chosen to care for my 93-year-old grandmother who is on Hospice. So I have had to explore different ways to teach my children about other countries and societies.

Studying world cultures is a wonderful way to enrich your homeschool lessons. Not only does it facilitate your child’s ability to interact with strangers, but it nurtures an adventurous spirit and their appreciation for all things beautiful in this world. 

Here are five ways to explore world cultures in your own homeschool journey.

Diverse Books

As an avid book lover, nothing excites me more than a great read. So many beautiful books have been (and are being) written by multicultural authors who choose to share their stories and their heritage with everyone.

More and more I’m seeing homeschool curricula including these stories in their reading lists. (I was absolutely delighted to discover the “Around the World with Picture Books Parts 1 & 2” from Beautiful Feet Books.)

Here are just a few of the wonderful children’s authors that I highly recommend.

For picture books:

  • Lulu Delacre
  • Brad Wagnon
  • Kao Kalia Yang
  • Ifeoma Onyefulu
  • Duncan Tonatiuh 

For older children:

  • Joy Harjo
  • Joseph Bruchac
  • Grace Lin
  • Aisha Saeed
  • Margarita Engle
  • Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

Study a New Language

One of the most engaging ways to teach about world cultures is by learning a new language. Languages are profoundly influenced by the societies in which they are spoken.

For example, Spanish is the official language of 20 countries and is commonly spoken in four others, plus Puerto Rico. Castilian Spanish, which is spoken in Spain, sounds different from the Spanish spoken in Mexico. And Cuban Spanish has completely different words for certain items. 

Even if you only take time to learn some of the unique words or phrases spoken in another country, the time you spend learning about their context in that culture is tremendously fun and a great way to study a foreign culture.

Merge with Geography

Of course, the most sensible way to study world cultures is in conjunction with your geography lessons. This has great advantages as exploring the actual countries makes it easier to remember where they are located geographically speaking. And immersing yourself in the stories surrounding a country is a great way to make geography come alive for your students.

Geography of the World by Thematic Worksheets on TeachersPayTeachers is a great spine. You can supplement these worksheets with documentaries, books, and crafts from each country. 

Watch Movies and Documentaries

A movie, TV series, or documentary is a great supplement to studying another culture. For example, PBS KIDS’ animated series Molly of Denali is a fabulous look at native Alaska that is geared for children ages 4 to 8. I love how it proves that different cultures don’t just exist in other countries and that right here in the United States, we have many different cultures. 

Or you might consider The Eagle Huntress movie that provides a magnificent look at Mongolian culture as it follows the story of Aisholpan as she defies the father-son tradition by training to become an eagle hunter. My kids were especially fascinated by this one since it involves eagles. It is a great one for the whole family.

There are many documentaries and documentary series that are great for families, too. One of them is the documentary Happiness by Thomas Balmès, which is the story of a nine-year-old boy who is studying to be a monk in the Himalayan town of Bhutan. Or (one of my favorites!) the docu-series In the Americas with host David Yetman. It is so well done and explores the history, people, and diversity of countries throughout North, Central, and South America.  

Of course, these are just a few examples of the hundreds – thousands? – of media now available. There is no limit to how many you can find or watch. I would recommend simply doing a search for “family movies or documentaries about/set in [Name of Country]”. As always, be sure to preview it first before sharing it with your children.

Travel as a Family

And finally, absolutely nothing can help you study world cultures better than immersion. Traveling in person to a different country or culture gives your children the full experience; sights, sounds, smells, food, music, language, etc. Everything is observed and analyzed by your kids.

This leads to understanding different viewpoints and helps children become aware that there are many approaches or solutions to problems and challenges. This, in turn, enables children to become critical thinkers and empathetic to other people.  

Traveling also provides an opportunity to establish and nurture new friendships, which are simply wonderful for maintaining the new skills mentioned above. For my family, travel has been the best way to incorporate world culture studies in our homeschool.

Monica Olivera

About the author

Monica Olivera is an author, freelance education writer, and homeschooling mom. Her site helps Hispanic parents and homeschoolers get more involved in their children's education by providing resources, tips, and opportunities. Her education articles have appeared in numerous online sites such as NBCNews, latinamom.me, and PBSParents.

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