Diversity month gives us the opportunity to delve into the cultures, ethnicities, and languages found throughout the world. It provides an opportunity to learn about traditions, values, and beliefs that may be both different and similar to our own. When we provide our children with knowledge from other cultures, they are able to better appreciate and respect others, no matter where they might be from.
Each year, my children pick a new culture they would like to learn about. We’ve discussed the culture of places like Italy, Western Asia, and a few others. In a couple of months, we will be headed to Jamaica on a cruise, so the kids thought it would be a good idea to take a deep dive into the Jamican culture before we immerse ourselves in the country. With that in mind, we’ll research and discuss the language, food, music, local practices, and clothing.
Although the official language in Jamaica is English, Creole is also spoken by many people. Creole combines elements of many other languages, from Spanish and African dialects, to Irish, British and American phrases.
We are fortunate enough to have a local Jamaican restaurant near our home. The woman who does the cooking there is a wonderful lady. I spoke with her the other day and she agreed to show my children how she prepares a few dishes, such as curry goat (yes, my kids will try this), jerk chicken, and callaloo—a dish made with leafy greens cooked with onion, garlic, tomatoes, thyme and Scotch bonnet pepper.
Unlike typical American cuisine, the meals are often spicy. Luckily, in my family we don’t mind spicy food. The woman who prepares these meals says she cooks many of the vegetables and stews for hours. The flavors are so rich and the colors are vibrant. My kids loved the jerk chicken with the plantains. It was a real treat!
When I think about Jamaican music, I think reggae. And the reggae I enjoy the most is Bob Marley. That may be unsurprising but the rhythms and lyrics are uplifting and usually tell a story that I can explain to my kids. I let them listen to music with child-friendly lyrics and themes of family and love (which isn’t hard to find within reggae music.) One of our favorites is “Family Time” by Ziggy Marley.
The official VisitJamaica website says:
“Reggae music is synonymous with both hardship and a good time, both the endurance of and the celebration of overcoming a struggle. The feel-good experience of reggae music blaring from sound system speakers is had both at the local corner store and a major reggae festival. Closely linked with the Rastafarian religion, reggae invokes a sense of upliftment and an appreciation of life in all its forms.”
You can also celebrate the music of the country you choose to learn more about. For example, Poland has polka music, the steel drums of calypso are native to Trinidad and Tobago, andK-Pop is from South Korea. Listening to the music of a culture is a great way to introduce new sounds and melodies to your kiddos.
The Jamaican people have many traditions that are specific to their culture. For instance, a Jamaican funeral lasts for eight nights. People gather and celebrate the deceased by drinking and dancing. On the ninth night, they sing farewell songs, and change the furnishings in the home so it looks different. This difference, in theory, will prevent the spirit of the deceased from returning because they won’t recognize their own home.
Pick out a few traditions from the country you choose and discuss how they are different or similar to your own. You could compare and contrast religious beliefs, how people communicate with one another, any social norms that are different from your own (it is taboo to blow your nose in public in Saudi Arabia), even driving habits—people in Europe drive on the opposite side of the road than we do in America. What other differences or similarities stand out to you?
The traditional clothing in Jamaica is created with bold and bright colors. The dresses are often handmade using calico cloth. Rastafarian clothing is also common, and is usually made with red, green and gold fabrics woven from natural fibers.
Bandana cloth is a light, inexpensive, and cool cloth. It became a symbol of the Jamaican national culture after the 1940′s. This history interests my daughter, so we plan on investigating the clothing styles and the types of cloth that Jamaican people use. We’ll typically compare and contrast them to the materials that American clothing manufacturers use.
The Importance of Inclusion
I find it particularly unfortunate that people from different cultures are often excluded from events such as birthday parties and playdates. It’s mainly because they’re different, and the children who share the same culture, say, in a classroom, don’t include them because they don’t understand them.
Once we include them and engage with them, we find out that although they may be different, we share many similarities too—and the main thing is a need for acceptance. Everyone wants to be accepted for who they are, even if they’re a little different. Afterall, our customs and the things we might consider ‘normal’ are different too when compared to many other cultures.
Different but the Same
We are all different from one another—yet we are the same. People from other countries have their own cultures and norms. The fun thing is to discover and embrace each other’s similarities and differences, no matter what they are.
Educating your children with different cultural lessons will make them more tolerant when they meet someone who is different from themselves. Instead of ignoring that person, I hope they are open to including them in their lives and, subsequently, learning more about them. It’s a lesson that will last a lifetime.