Special events / Teach Your Children Well

Teach Your Children Well: #1 Everyone has a Story

Sure, it’s great to bring your kids out to free events in the city. Why do you do it? To get out of the house? Definitely. To give them something to do? Certainly. To teach them about the world? In a round-about way, yes. Maybe you aren’t explaining life every step of the way to the playgym and back again, but you can bet that they’re absorbing every insignificant-seeming comment you make and off-hand action you do. The best and worst of you gets mirrored back the minute they start to talk, maybe even before. My Monita may only be a year and change, but I recognize the growling noise I make when I’m frustrated echoing back at me when she can’t figure out a toy. I’ve tried to curb my swearing and eat sweets only when she isn’t looking, but it’s only a matter of time before I get the first curse word and demand for chocolate bouncing back at me too.

But that’s the small stuff. What do I really want to teach her? I’m not talking about reading, writing and ‘rithmatic here, even though I was a high school teacher before I had a class of just one of my own. What kind of a person do I hope to raise? It’s a new year, and I’m going to start something a little different on Vancouver Under 5. In addition to posts about what to do for less than $5, I’m going to think about the values that I hope to instill in my daughter. When I find an event or activity that helps teach something I think is important, I’ll keep you informed. It might not be an event specifically for kids under 5, or even for kids at all, but hopefully it will be worthwhile. So here’s the first one…

Value I hope she’ll learn: 
Everyone has a story… (a.k.a. Embracing Diversity
/ Looking beyond Stereotypes)

I was lucky enough to grow up with parents who were out of the ordinary. We lived on a boat during some of my formative years and traveled through the Caribbean stopping at islands here and there, where I’d get to know local kids and sometimes attend the island’s school. It taught me to enjoy meeting new people, trying new foods and above all, traveling. Despite this, I’m embarrassed to admit that as a teenager I was actually a bit afraid of people from some racial groups and knew nothing about tolerating mental illness. Racist and stereotyping jokes popped up both at home and in school. I had a few friends who weren’t “white middle-class”, but most were like me, a cultural mish-mash from Europe. It was only much later, mainly thanks to all the globe-trotting I did in my 20s, that I got a better picture of the amazing diversity of people out there. As an adult, I’m thankful to be raising a kid in a city as multicultural as Vancouver, but I still worry about how to keep Monita from developing the sterotypes inherent in everyday interactions.

It begs the question: how do you learn to accept people who are different than you are? There’s an easy answer: you get to know them personally. It starts with a conversation. While I don’t always have the gumption to walk right up to a stranger to have a chat just for the heck of it, I am a practiced user of the library. Fortunately for us, the Human Library is coming soon to Vancouver as part of the PuSh Festival. Innovative, inexpensive to run and with the aim of increasing tolerance throughout the world, the Human Library has a set of “living books” with titles like “Refugee”, “Drag Queen”, “Homeless” or “Facially Disfigured”. The overall list of titles is impressive, with many interesting titles set for the Vancouver edition. When you take out a “book”, you’re connected to a person who has volunteered to represent that group. You sit together in the library. You talk. Hopefully, you both come away from the experience with a little more understanding than when you started.

Started as a youth movement in Copenhagen, Denmark with the tagline “Stop the Violence”, the Human Library grew to 30,000 members in 2000. Since then it has been featured in more than 27 countries, some of which have permanent Human Libraries that open periodically. No, it isn’t an event that’s specifically geared to kids under 5. But my hope for Monita is that by seeing her Mom talk with a wide variety of people, she’ll learn that there are a lot of different types of people in this world, and that it’s a good thing. Not to mention, that by taking out a “living book”, I’ll be learning about how to break my own prejudices. So if she asks me someday “Why is that person like that?” I’ll have something to say.

How to visit the Human Library:
When: January 18-20, 25-27, 2013 and February 1-3, 2013, 12 noon-4 p.m.
Where: Level 3, Central Library, 350 West Georgia St. (map)
Cost: Priceless (but you can visit for free)

If you’re interested in becoming a “book”, the Human Library website includes fun points like “How to become a Bestseller“. Anyone interested in representing Stay at Home Moms or Dads? How about “Public Breastfeeder” as a title? If you attend the Human Library, post a comment to let me and other readers know about your experience.

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