You’re here because you want to raise globally-minded children, right? Or maybe because you love learning about new cultures or languages yourself and want to find a way to share that with your kids. Or maybe your family is biracial or multicultural and you want to make sure your children grow up knowing about their heritage intimately.
But how do we, as parents, find time to squeeze “learning about culture” in between our kids’ schoolwork, karate classes, piano lessons, soccer practices, robotics club, girl scouts, horseback riding–and the most important thing that occupies the time of a child–play?
Spoiler! I don’t really have the answer.
But I do have a suggestion.
A library card is enough. By simply using your library card you can travel the globe and meet people from different countries around the world. Recently my kids and I started studying the country of Costa Rica. At first I worried I wouldn’t be able to give them a rich experience of the country with my limited time (I have four kids) and resources (I have four kids). I didn’t have money to buy extra craft supplies for a Pinterest project, let alone time to prep something like that. Plus my youngest is one-year-old and into everything so crafts are on hold at our house.
What about food? There are some amazing people out there doing amazing things with food to help their kids taste the world. While these are hashtag goals of mine, it’s not something I can do right now in my current stage of life.
So for a girl who loves crafting and eating I started to get bummed. Now what? How would we make learning about Costa Rica FUN!?
Books. Why do I forget it’s usually as easy as: Just read. Spend time with your kids with books. Anyone else feel like books are the answer to a lot of problems?
As easy as it is, you may need help getting started. Here are some tips I’ve learned over the last month and a half or so, and a great book list about Costa Rica to get you started, if that happens to be your country of choice. (Scroll to the bottom of this post to see the books in list form.)
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6 Tips to Use Your Library Card as a Passport to Costa Rica
1. Start With a General Guide
Spark an Interest: Think of non-fiction books like a book of matches. You only need one to light a fire, and you can always come back for more if you need. You’re not going to use an entire book of matches at once. Browse through a tour guide for the country, or a non-fiction book written for kids and see what pictures or paragraphs catch your children’s attention.
Supplement: Non-fiction books can also be a supplement to other books you read about the subject. For example, one of the storybooks below mentions the Monte Verde cloud forest of Costa Rica, and so we can open our tour guide and find a map of that region and photographs of what it really looks like in person.
ABCs: Another fun way to get a general look at a country are the ABCs books from Picture Window Books. You can find them for many different countries. The Costa Rica ABCs has great illustrations and offers up some fun facts about Costa Rica in a concise ABC format. This is perhaps a quicker way to learn some interesting general facts about the country than the more extensive travel guides or non-fiction encyclopedia-type books. Great for younger kids for sure!
2. Let Curiosity Run the Show
Curiosity breeds curiosity.
If your kids see you interested in learning something, they will want to learn too. And seeing their excitement and curiosity will cause you to want to seek out more information, ideas, experiences to share with them.
Use your child’s special interests as a starting point. That way the curiosity will come naturally. Nothing will feel forced–for you or your child. If they like food, help them explore the cuisine of the country. If they’re into animals, find out what wildlife lives there. We found this really awesome book called Life-Size Zoo. The table of contents is set up like a map of a zoo, and all the photos show the actual size of the animals. Having this book on hand definitely piqued the interest of my kids to learn more about the animals of the country.
One book that stood out to me was Handle With Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey. I visited a butterfly farm/sanctuary when I was in Costa Rica ten or so years ago. So maybe nostalgia was the reason for my interest in this book. The photographs were beautiful, and the book is a great example of the importance Costa Ricans put on protecting and studying ecosystems, then environment, and wildlife. My kids didn’t show much interest in this one. I think it would suit older students well, especially if you could order a caterpillar to learn about the life-cycle of a butterfly in your own home.
3. Get to Know the People
This might have been my kids’ favorite. We found an awesome video series called “Families of the World” that follows the lives of children living in countries around the world. The Costa Rica video follows Estibaliz, a young girl living in rural Cabuya, and then Jose from the city of Escazu. I think “meeting” these kids helped us feel truly connected to the country, like we had actually visited there and spoken with the locals. The video is slightly dated, but I still highly recommend it. If you can’t find this video series at your library, we also found a great book that has the same personal approach: “Costa Rica (Letters from Around the World).” In this book, a young boy named Victor shares about his life in letters written to his penpal Kit. Victor’s life fascinated my boys because he lives in the rain forest and has a house with no windows.
4. No Need to Buy a Bunch of Things
I’ll have to confess, this is my usual method. But it’s not necessary. For example . . . we learned from Victor that he likes to eat fried bananas for a snack with a little honey drizzled on top. We had bananas and honey on hand and were able to try it! In the video we noticed that Costa Ricans often eat a hard-boiled egg with their dinners and rice and beans with their breakfasts (gallo pinto). Those are all simple things we were able try. Of course there are more complex recipes Costa Rica has that are delicious, and I hope to try more things like that. But we didn’t have to revamp our spice rack to get a little taste of cuisine from another country.
5. Read a Story
Fiction is a great addition to exploring the country. We found two fun ones about the wildlife of Costa Rica. The Umbrella by the lovely Jan Brett follows a boy Carlos on his walk in the cloud forest in search of a tree frog, a toucan, a kinkajou and other exotic jungle animals. We wrote down the list of animals that Carlos looks for and went to our local zoo to see if we could find some of them too!
You can also pair a fictional story with a non-fiction book. We had fun reading Sloth Slept On and then A Little Book of Sloth. Both books have great facts about sloths, and the photographs in Sloth Slept On and then A Little Book of Sloth will make you fall in love with the sweet, slow-moving animals.
6. How to Choose Your Destination
If you don’t want to start with Costa Rica, or after you’re finished exploring Costa Rica with the books above, how will you choose your next “destination”? I suggest starting with one of these fun “kids around the world” books: Children from Australia to Zimbabwe: A Photographic Journey around the World by Maya Ajmera and Anna Rhesa Versola, Children Just Like Me: A Unique Celebration of Children Around the World by Barnabas and Anabel Kindersley, or Children Just Like Me: A School Like Mine: A Celebration of Schools Around the World by Penny Smith and Zahavit Shaley. Each of the books features real children from around the world, highlighting aspects of their everyday lives with lots of photographs and interactive texts. See which child grabs your children’s attention and start requesting books from the library about that child’s home country.
Do you have any books about Costa Rica that you can add to our list? What other countries have you “traveled” to through books? Wherever your next journey may take you, we wish you buen viaje!
B O O K S Mentioned in this Post
Costa Rica (Enchantment of the World) by Nel Yomtov (Scholastic)
Insight Guides: Costa Rica Ed. Brian Bell, Huw Hennessy & Paul Murphy (Discovery Channel)
Costa Rica ABCs: A Book About the People and Places of Costa Rica by Sharon Katz Cooper (Picture Window Books)
Life-Size Zoo by Teruyuki Komiya (Parent’s Choice Gold Award)
Handle With Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey by Loree Griffin Burns (Millbrook Press)
Families of the World: Families of Costa Rica by Master Communications, Inc.
Costa Rica (Letters from Around the World) by Patrick Cunningham (Cherrytree Books)
The Umbrella by Jan Brett
Sloth Slept On by Frann Preston-Gannon
A Little Book of Sloth by Lucy Cooke
Children from Australia to Zimbabwe: A Photographic Journey around the World by Maya Ajmera and Anna Rhesa Versola
Children Just Like Me: A Unique Celebration of Children Around the World by Barnabas and Anabel Kindersley
Children Just Like Me: A School Like Mine: A Celebration of Schools Around the World by Penny Smith and Zahavit Shalevby
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