5 Cheap Ways to Take in a Little Culture with Kids

No matter the age of your kids, giving them to cultural experience helps expand their world. The following are 5 ways to take in a little culture with your kids.

Giving your children opportunities to expand their background knowledge will help them in the classroom, too. Kids with more and varied experiences will have more to draw from when reading and comprehending texts and other content. They’ll have larger vocabularies and make more connections with what they read and encounter, according to a report from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC):

“During these early grades, children can learn from the symbolic experiences of reading books and listening to stories; however, their understanding of what they read is based on their ability to relate the written word to their own experience” (source).

These cultural experiences also help build empathy and increase other social and emotional intelligence. We’re raising little world citizens, and the more we can do to help them navigate and explore their world, the better. Here are a few budget-friendly ways to do that.

Cultural experience #1: Visit a museum or art exhibit.

Many children have opportunities to visit local museums like the children’s museum or science center/planetarium on school-age field trips. And we often think of taking the kids to the zoo. But how often do we think of taking them to fine art museums or art exhibits? Fine art museums often have a children’s section or specially themed days to engage the little ones as well. Find out what days your local museums offer free admission by googling {museum name + free admission}. This applies to historical sites, too!

Our local Frist Museum offers free admission for children all the time – $12 tickets for adults. They have an entire gallery dedicated to kids! There’s interactive spaces for drawing and creating.

Here are some tips when visiting museums with kids:

  1. Go early. Kids are fresher and less likely to melt down.
  2. Pack pencils & paper. Engage your children with what they see. Can they draw a favorite picture they see?
  3. Make a game. See if your child can find certain colors or certain objects. Check them off a list and reward with a small treat.
  4. Pace yourself. Don’t try to take in everything. Pick one or two areas of interest. Take bathroom breaks and bring a picnic lunch to enjoy outside.

Local universities and colleges often host art exhibits for free or a reduced cost. I brought my art-loving 8-year-old to a local art gallery to see the work of a local artist. The entire visit was less than 30 minutes and is an experience she still remembers.

You can even find art in local coffeeshops. Next time you stop in for a latte, take a minute to look at and discuss the art with your child. Open their eyes to art and culture around them in everyday places.

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My daughter at the Lyle the Crocodile play

Cultural experience #2: Attend a play or concert.

Most kids are born with a flair for the dramatic! Plays are a great way to expose them to great literature in a way that’ll keep them on the edges of their seats and entertained. Your local theatre may offer walk-up discounts or student discounts. Do a little digging beforehand to find out the best deal. Sign up for emails from local art companies to find out when discount codes on ticket may become available. Finally, tickets make the PERFECT gift. Instead of another toy, offer them tickets to a play or concert. We’ve done this on a number of occasions, and it’s always a hit.

Want to see a concert for free? Loop Events will connect you with easy volunteer opportunities that include free admission to the show (and kids ages 14-15 can accompany you! 16 and up can serve).

Here are some tips when attending plays and concerts with kids:

  1. Make sure they have the attention span to make it through. I’ll never forget taking both girls to a children’s play and the youngest having a meltdown. We had to leave and my older child was CRUSHED because she didn’t get to see the 2nd half.
  2. Sit toward the end of an aisle. Kids have to go to the bathroom or need snacks or get scared …. sitting toward the end of the aisle will mean less hassle for you to exit if you need to (and come back in).
  3. Encourage them to talk about what they’ve seen. Ask questions to see what they thought about or how they felt about what they saw, then encourage them to act out their own play or concert at home. Kids LOVE an audience of their own!

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Cultural experience #3: Tour your city. Be a tourist for a day!

You’d be amazed what you’ll learn when you pretend to be a tourist in your own city. Plus, as a parent I often take for granted that my children know the same things about our city that I do. Talk about your city as you drive to points of interest, or invest in a bus or trolley tour. Bring the camera and sunscreen and fully embrace the tourist experience! Sign up for emails to local tours to take advantage of discounts. Pick up brochures from local touristy destinations and look for coupons. Most will offer discounts on their websites. Check Groupon for discounts to local attractions as well.

Finally, the cheapest way is to plan your own tour! Research local historical sites or plan a route through downtown to hit notable spots. Print out or read from your phone historical facts or cultural nuggets as you explore your city on foot or by trolley.

Here are some tips when being a tourist with kids:

  1. Let them take the photos! Kids love opportunities to take photos. Allowing them to capture memories will help keep them engaged in what they’re seeing and give them good experience!
  2. Go during the slow season. Chances are your town has a busy and slow season. Plan your trip taking in local culture during seasons or times or the week or day when things aren’t as crowded. It’ll be less stressful. Also, if you’re buying tickets to anything, they’ll likely be cheaper during these times as well.
  3. Encourage them to find souvenirs. Give them ideas of things to look for that will help commemorate their trip. It could be a special rock or leaf or they could collect brochures and make a collage or page in a scrapbook (along with the photos they’re taking!)
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Click here for ways to celebrate Mardis Gras with kids.

Cultural experience #4: Celebrate other cultures.

Choose a topic, holiday or cultural event (like birthdays) to explore other cultures. How do children in other cultures celebrate birthdays or Christmas? Take a trip to your local public library and check out books, DVDs and music related to your topic. Our public library has entire kits related to topics like this. Ask your librarian if they offer something similar.

To apply what you’re learning in a practical way, throw a party with those cultural elements (like a Chinese New Year Party). Or invite someone in your home to lead a cultural celebration. Two years my daughter and I participated in a Passover seder dinner, and it was an enlightening experience for me and my then 7-year-old. Contact your local cultural center or houses of worship for activities that are open to the public. Or ask a librarian to help you research a holiday from another culture that you can celebrate at home as a family (or perhaps with another family in town!)

Check to see if your city has cultural festivals you can attend. Nashville has an annual cultural festival. This festival celebrates the wonderfully diverse cultures that make up our city. It features a world market, performances and global village and a kids’ area with storytelling, puppet shows, hands-on art.

Some ideas for studying topics in other cultures:

  • Birthday traditions in other countries
  • Christmas around the world
  • Learn to say “I love you” in other languages.
  • Make elements that symbolize a cultural celebration: paper lantern for Chinese New Year, rangoli for Diwali—the Hindu “festival of lights” or sugar skulls for Dia de los Muertos (“Day of the Dead”) Get more info on those here.

Cultural experience #5: Take an immersive experience.

There have been two recent experiences that piqued my curiosity, and that I think are valuable for kids. The first is the Compassion Experience, a traveling exhibit that transforms tractor trailers in a parking lot into a third-world country experience for families. These are free programs normally sponsored by local churches that allow you to walk through a simulated environment (self-guided with audio headsets) that shows the life of a child in poverty (and the affect child sponsorship has on their lives). We did this last year and ended up sponsoring a child. That relationship has been a rich and rewarding one for our family. But the immersive experience was education and age-appropriate for my 8-year-old as well. It was well worth the visit even if we hadn’t chosen to become sponsors.

The second experience I heard about lately is charity: water‘s virtual reality installation about clean water. Using Samsung Gear VR headsets, the 360 virtual reality shares the life of a 13 year old girl and the affect clean water has on her and her family. The documentary is also geared toward signing up donors, but if you have the chance to walk through it, it’s one that will be education and memorable for you and your family.

Here’s a little more about it:

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