Guest post by Alyssa Abel, education writer at Syllabusy
A young child’s mind is a sponge. In ancient times, Aristotle spoke about the tabula rasa, or blank slate, all children are born possessing. What we as a society choose to write on that slate influences everything from a child’s career trajectory to society itself.
Children know no boundaries of race, religion or culture. We instill them with these ideals over time. If we hope to become a more fair, just, diverse and accepting society, we benefit from exposing children to different cultures from a young age. Here’s why early cultural exposure improves children’s lives and learning capabilities.
1. Promotes Early Language Learning
Young children between the ages of 2 1/2 to 3 have several advantages over adults when it comes to learning new languages. Youth naturally reach out through vocal expression and respond accordingly when adults mimic sounds back to them. As they age, their brains grow more resistant to change, making later language acquisition more difficult — which begs the question as to why so many schools in the U.S. do not offer foreign language instruction until high school.
Exposing your children to different languages won’t only help them become multilingual — it will also help them build proficiency in their native tongue. Growing proficiency in different languages exposes young minds to the concepts of grammar and syntax well before they’re able to vocalize these terms. This makes future grammar classes in their native language make more sense.
2. Aids Brain Development
Cultural immersion experiences aid in the development of young brains. In such experiences, students learn by completely immersing themselves in a different culture — the language, the way people interact, their codes of conduct and more.
Scientific evidence supports the hypothesis that children of similar socioeconomic backgrounds who are monolingual will perform as well as their bilingual peers on verbal intelligence tests. However, when it comes to nonverbal intelligence, bilingual students outperform monolingual ones on tests that required symbolic interpretation. Researchers believe switching back and forth between two words for the same object develops greater symbolic awareness and nonverbal acuity.
3. Broadens Perspective
As an adult, ask yourself honestly — how much do you know about life in Quebec? In Mexico City? In Tokyo? Chances are, unless you’re an extensive globetrotter, you may not have an extensive understanding of cultures other than your own. And this means losing valuable opportunities to broaden perspective.
People need not have extensive travel budgets to participate in cultural immersion. Making friends from diverse backgrounds or pursuing cultural education experiences can help build an understanding of different ways of life. As parents and educators, encourage friendships and interactions between different cultural backgrounds. Humans often have an aversion to what they do not understand — but by developing a welcoming perspective in young children, we build a more accepting society.
4. Introduces an Open Mind
Each of us possesses a unique schema consisting of our life experiences, our social influences and our physical realities. In children aged 2-3, this schema is developing. Therefore, while we can encourage open-mindedness as adults, doing so while children remain young provides the building blocks for later development of this skill.
For example, many adults may have difficulty understanding others’ challenges, cultures and lifestyles, but children who are exposed to more at an early age possess a greater basis for comprehension as they grow.
5. Increases Empathy
Empathy gets a bad reputation in American society. We’re taught from early ages that independence and self-reliance matter above all. But evolutionary biology teaches us that it was our ability to work together and care for one another that ensured the survival of the human species.
Cultural awareness helps foster empathy by building the ability to interpret social cues. Kids as young as 2 1/2 to 3 years old begin to take in socially prevailing cues, feelings and stereotypes about others and themselves. Those raised with cultural sensitivity clue into the facial expressions and interjections that symbolize pain, anger or discomfort in others and can take proactive measures to help.
6. Breaks Social Barriers
Did you know the majority of people identifying as Caucasian possess no non-white friends? This explains much of the racial bigotry that, sadly, still impacts the world today.
Young children know no color lines. Children aged 2-3 will play with anyone, even if they speak, look and move quite differently. The time to develop acceptance of diversity occurs before the world imposes ideas upon fresh minds.
7. Develops Problem-Solving Skills
Two heads together work better than one alone, and fostering cultural awareness in children builds problem-solving ability. People from diverse backgrounds have unique ways of looking at the world. This means they bring new solutions to the table.
This learning begins at an early age. Watch children create something as simple as a block tower together. They share ideas, and they work together to overcome obstacles — like their tower crashing to the ground. Often, they’ll pick up and start over. This early introduction to problem-solving lays the groundwork for a more creative, productive mindset as an adult.
8. Provides the Building Blocks for Success
A recent study revealed that companies with diverse staff produced 19 percent more revenue than those with more gentrified employees. Acceptance of diversity is a soft skill coveted by employers because it is difficult to overcome cultural conditioning to the contrary.
By immersing children in cultural education from an early age, you prepare them to become global citizens with an enriched cultural understanding and better preparation for whatever their future holds.
Cultural Awareness Benefits Early Education
In an increasingly smaller world joined together by technology, acceptance of other cultures accelerates childhood learning and spurs success. It also eases relationships between human beings, and, over time, can help build a better, more inclusive world.
About the Author
Alyssa Abel is an education blogger with an interest in experiential learning and emerging methods. Learn more and stay up-to-date on her blog, Syllabusy.