Celebrating World Cultures Over the Summer

Our Strategy Share series features innovative ideas, projects, and approaches from inside and outside our community of educators. The following post was written by National Geographic Certified Educator Julie Yeros, an elementary educator from Denver, Colorado.

Hi! I’m Julie Yeros, an elementary educator and creator of Globe Trottin’ Kids—a global learning website for students and educators. While my home base is in the beautiful state of Colorado, I have family scattered across three continents.

My multicultural family and travel experiences fuel my passion to explore the incredible diversity of our world. I see how contagious that excitement is for children. When I connect with students over stories, pictures, and games from around the world, I recognize the importance of teaching children how we are connected globally and how we are more similar than different.

I believe in introducing our youngest learners to world geography and cultures by creating an environment that values and respects diversity. Developing cultural awareness in the primary grades leads to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the world we all share. Over nearly three decades, I have developed classroom resources that I find effective in sparking student curiosity.

Julie Yeros, Nat Geo Educator
Photograph courtesy Julie Yeros

Just because it’s summer, doesn’t mean the global learning can’t continue! Summer offers a variety of opportunities to extend classroom learning through authentic experiences. Through food, festivals and fun activities, kids can continue to explore world geography and cultures all summer long!

Food

Whether you’re growing food in your garden, exploring a farmer’s market, or shopping in a grocery store, food offers a variety of opportunities for global connections:

  • Did you know that the potato, one of the most common foods in the world, was once only grown in parts of South America? Pick a piece of produce and investigate its natural history. Download and print this world map, then locate and record the source of the produce. Is the produce native to your country or a result of globalization?
  • Keep a journal to record notes and observations about produce that is new to you, encouraging the use of all the senses to describe the item in detail. Add drawings or photographs of produce to your journal.
A trip to our local market yielded this interesting bitter melon. We recorded adjectives like spiky, rough, bumpy, seeded, watery and crunchy. We learned that it originated in India and spread to China in the 14th century. It grows in tropical regions and is said to have many health benefits. Photograph by Julie Yeros
  • Take advantage of children’s natural curiosity and encourage them to taste new foods. Try a new restaurant, attend a food truck rally, and research international recipes to cook together.
  • Create a meal plan for a dinner party featuring one particular cuisine or a different cuisine for each course. Make invitations and menus that celebrate the diversity of food around the world.
  • Pack a global summer picnic! Try some Spanish tapas or a Japanese bento box.

Festivals

Summer inspires a variety of festivals featuring global cultures, food, film, music, dance and art. They are wonderful opportunities to promote cultural understanding and tolerance of other cultures and traditions. Be mindful of discussing why the festival is celebrated, its significance, and its customs.

Conduct a simple search for festivals in your area and schedule the dates on your calendar. In our area we found an Irish Festival featuring kilts, bagpipes, and Irish step dancing; a Black Arts Festival that takes place in an African village-themed setting with outdoor vendors and live music; and a Dragon Boat Festival where the main event is the racing, but also includes food, music, and cultural performances.

Our family favorite is the Greek Festival—a weekend filled with traditional Greek folk dancing, bouzouki playing, and vendors selling imported Greek jewelry, ceramics, olive oil, and more.

Fun Activities

Inspire creativity and encourage play through games, crafts, and exploration:

  • Kids all over the world play games that have similar concepts but may use different materials or be called a different name. Oonch Neech (Up and Down) is a traditional game played in Pakistan. Locate Pakistan on a map and compare Oonch Neech to a similar game played in your country. Here are the rules of play:
  1. Find an area with lots of places for kids to get their feet off the ground (swings, ladders, rings, etc.).
  2. Choose one player to be “It.” The other players try to avoid getting tagged by “It.”
  3. “It” starts the game by choosing either oonch (up) or neech (down). Neech means the ground is not safe and players can be tagged out if they are not up (oonch) on something. Oonch means the ground is safe and players can be tagged if they are not down (neech).
  4. The player who is tagged first becomes “It” for the next round.
  • Cheer on your favorite teams and learn about country flags during international sporting events like the World Cup, Wimbledon, and Tour de France.
  • Visit the zoo and choose one animal from every continent to research further. Then, prepare an informational brochure for future zoo visitors.
  • Get crafty by creating your own Chinese fans, exploring the art of Japanese paper folding (origami), or cutting paper into beautiful designs to make Mexican papel picado. Try a DIY musical instrument like a sistrum from Ancient Egypt, a didgeridoo from Australia, or a shekere from West Africa.
  • Have fun with geography in your daily life, from making a papier-mâché globe to exploring maps. Check out National Geographic’s ideas for geography fun.

These ideas are just the start! Summer is the perfect time to enrich classroom learning through global foods, festivals, and fun!

Julie Yeros is an elementary educator from Denver, Colorado. She is founder of Globe Trottin’ Kids and a National Geographic Certified Educator.

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