By Elina Bolokhova From Ideas That Spark
Do you long for your child to choose the symphony over SpongeBob and couscous over mac 'n' cheese? Raising a cultured kid can be easier than you think. So lift your pinkies and try the following tips.
Night at the MuseumYou can introduce your children to high culture in a non-threatening way by tying it to their interests. There is at least one museum per big city that offers kid-oriented programs where your child can learn in a fun, hands-on manner. Start small by visiting history-oriented exhibits with plenty of artifacts on display versus diving straight into abstract modern art. If you're going to the theater, opt for a show with an easy-to-follow plot that you can read and discuss with your child beforehand. For the ballet, a show with catchy music, like Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker or Swan Lake, is always a big hit with kids.
If you choose to brave the opera, opt for a show like Hansel and Gretel or something with elaborate costumes. Operas are famous for their length -- if your kiddo is too antsy to sit through an entire performance, start with Met Opera on Demand at MetOperaFamily.org. You'll be able to stream operas online, in the comfort of your own home (so copious bathroom breaks will never be a problem).
Finally, many local symphonies offer educational programs that teach children about classical music or stage family concerts with kid-friendly performances that are perfect for little ears. See what's near you and take advantage of it.
Hit the RoadExpand your little one's horizons by going on a trip and immersing yourselves in a different way of life. And while it's been said that travel is the one thing you buy that makes you richer, traveling doesn't have to break the bank. Pack into the car and drive to nearby cultural enclaves -- it's cheaper than a plane ticket, and you'll spend quality time together on the road. Do a little research before your trip and entertain your kids with fun facts or hang a large world map in your child's room and use a push pin for every country you "visit." For a taste of France, head to New Orleans, drive to San Francisco to see the largest Chinatown outside of Asia or go south and stop by Little Havana in Miami, Fla. Top off the trip by dropping into a local restaurant.
Give Back and Get BackVolunteering can make your tiny tot more cultured and hone his empathy -- all while making the world a better place. Better still: It's fun! Whether it's baking treats for a charity sale or working in a communal garden, volunteering helps your little one associate helping the community with having a great time. What's more, opening your heart can actually expand the mind. One study showed that children who volunteer heighten their psychological, social and intellectual development. Visit VolunteerMatch.org to find kid-friendly volunteer opportunities near you.
Expand Their PalateAdding variety to your child's plate will not only make them less likely to turn up their nose at different cuisines, it'll also make your life easier. Imagine: only one meal at dinnertime and no short-order cooking. Start by serving your kids what you're eating and do it early -- the younger a child is when you introduce a new food, the more likely your kiddo will accept it.
If your child is older, don't despair . . . she isn't doomed to a lifetime of peanut butter sandwiches. Your little one will be much more open to trying new foods if you get her involved in the meal prep and planning. Let her take the reins in the supermarket by choosing the veggie-du-jour or give her small tasks in the kitchen when you're cooking dinner. Go international by making a meal plan around whatever country your child is studying in school and dig in while discussing that country's history and culture.
Is your kid still refusing to chow down? Be patient. It can take up to 12 times of offering a new food before a young child will eat it. Pair that new food with an old favorite and offer it to your kids when they're super-hungry -- after all, broccoli doesn't look so bad when you're famished.
Elina Bolokhova is a freelance writer, editor and digital content strategist. The former Parenting.com editor has been published in Parenting and Babytalk magazines, as well as on CNN, AOL and Yahoo. She specializes in lifestyle writing, with a focus on beauty, food and travel.
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