Tolerance. Dignity. Respect. Peace.
We live in a world where future generations depend on these concepts being understood – and valued by our children.
During my teaching days – I remember always starting the school year off with books that highlighted the importance of respect and dignity – no matter what our differences. Books like Whoever You Are by Mem Fox, One Green Apple by Eve Bunting, Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus, The Dot by Peter Reynolds and What Does It Mean To Be Global?, by Rania DiOrio.
But as a mom? Although discussions about differences – from cultural to religious to academic – come up at the dinner table or before bedtime … my secret weapon to foster an understanding of the differences that make our world so unique – is a bit more experiential.
For me – travel – and all of the first hand learning that comes from travel – offers real time opportunities to not just learn about tolerance, respect and dignity – but model and practice them. Yes – you read correctly – my parenting secret is to teach kids about tolerance through travel.
How does travel teach about respect, dignity, tolerance and peace?
While a book can spur a lively conversation, walking along the streets of a new city – in a new country ….or even within the United States – provides real life examples of how our individual differences make us who we are. But also? The fact that despite our differences – we all want the same things: good health, peace, education and happiness.
I often wish that I could travel the world with my ten year old daughter – but the reality is that time (and money) make an around the world trip difficult. But even though she has only traveled abroad to Italy, Canada and Mexico – we try to pay attention to the big and little differences no matter where we are– from the markets in New York City’s Chinatown to the Native American reservations in Arizona. Even the airport and airplane offers an opportunity for understanding. Standing under the shadow of the Statue of Liberty – overlooking Ellis Island – we looked around us at all the people coming to visit this landmark and thought about the people who traveled by ship – towards the freedom that this statue represented. Just the fact that the groups of tourists represented all walks of life was a reminder about how we may all come from different backgrounds – but the ties that bind one human to another – making our global society more and more interdependent – are always there.
The next best thing to experiencing life through travel is to surround ourselves with photographs and information. My daughter’s wanderlust thirst has been fueled through online research about places where we might travel one day – Morocco, Egypt, Israel, Tanzania, China and India. She has sat for hours, noticing all the big and little things about my photographs from my own travel to Haiti – and the images taken by colleagues and friends whose travels have taken them to Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya. Every time she asks to look at my Instagram feed with me – she takes a virtual tour through the world – most recently with images from Myamar, Malta and Northern Ireland – and more than just look at the “pretty” pictures – I ask her to tell me what she noticed – what looks different – and what looks similar.
Through her interest in travel and the world – she has learned about the issues that face young children that do not have access to life-saving vaccines from diseases that kill – simply because of the geography of where these children were born. The word’s of Malala Yousafzai – about the importance of education for all children, especially girls have been embedded in her mindset. Over and over she talks about the day that children everywhere can grow up – no matter where they live – with access to health care and education.
The truth of the matter is that while September 21, 2014 marked the International Day of Peace and Tolerance – these conversations with our children need to happen every day… in the car, at the dinner table, on a train, listening to the news and at school. My daughter loves to listen (or watch) the national news…which we all know, is often filled with stories that even adults sometimes have difficulty processing. While the conversations can be difficult, they need to happen. We cannot pretend as parents that the conversations about bullying, diversity and respect that take place at school – are enough to foster long term meaning and understanding. Whether you love to travel or not – the more real life experiences that we give our children to facilitate these conversations – the better.
In lieu of an around the world field trip, explore these resources for more information and ideas to talk with kids about tolerance, respect, dignity and peace:
- Explore the resources at the NEA Parents Page
- Listen to NEA radio podcasts of tips to get involved in your child’s education
- Visit the classroom resources at Tolerance.org
- Read the book “Beyond the Golden Rule“
This post reflects a collaboration with the National Education Association’s Raise Your Hand for Student Success campaign. All thoughts and opinions are, of course, my own.