Part of my quest to show my kids as much of the world as possible while they’re still young involves exposing them to international influences as much as possible. So when I found out that my daughter’s preschool would be learning a new letter of the alphabet each week for most of the year last fall, I decided to do my own little geography enrichment program at home with the kids. I cracked open my trusty old atlas, and picked a country to correspond with each letter to learn about each week with crafts, books, videos and new recipes. It turned out to be a fun adventure for all of us, especially “International Wednesdays”, the night each week when I tried to cook a whole meal of dishes from the country we were studying. Of course, some meals were more successful than others; You see more French restaurants than Lithuanian ones for a reason.
Some letters were also much easier than others as well. The letter “I” left me with some tough choices. India? Ireland? Italy? Should I chose Germany or Greece for “G” week? And what can you do with Omani cuisine anyway? My energy level also varied a bit from week to week. Qatar week turned out to be really busy, so I ended up substituting lamb for beef in a recipe, making a dessert of orange slices and figs and printing out a colouring page of camels for the kids. For Vietnam week I went all out; Pho made from scratch, summer rolls with homemade peanut sauce, Vietnamese coffee, Tet dragon crafts and traditional Vietnamese hats.
Finding information was rarely a problem. I usually started during our weekly visit to the local library. The kids section had books on most countries and even though they were mostly aimed at school aged kids, there were often pictures, recipes and crafts that I could use. There is also a children’s magazine series called “Faces” that has great pictures and articles aimed at introducing young children to other cultures. Then I’d usually go on line to search. There were websites dedicated to every type of cuisine imaginable. (Kosher, vegan, gluten free desserts from Eastern Europe? There’s probably a website for that!) I also found some kids videos on National Geographic kids and other educational websites, although they were usually aimed at older kids and often did not hold a preschooler’s interest. Oddly enough, Rick Steves travel videos were often favourites of theirs.
Now that the school year is ending and we ran out of letters a few weeks ago, I’m already looking forward to doing something similar next year, since my son will be starting preschool in the fall. While one country per letter was fun, I have to admit it was a bit limiting. Some countries I would have liked to do were missed, while other letters offered very limited choices. Or none. I did have to cheat when I got to the letter “X” and do MeXico. For next year I’m thinking of loosening up my definitions and doing one place for each letter instead of a country. That way I could perhaps do Queensland, or Quebec for Q, perhaps Oslo or Osaka for O and Xian for X. Hawaii and Tuscany might make the cut, along with some of my other favourite locations. And I could try even more new recipes and fill my cupboards with even more exotic ingredients that I only use once.
I had good intentions of taking pictures of all our special meals this year in order to remember our little world food adventure, but most weeks I usually remembered about three minutes after we had all started digging in. And, of course I’m no Food Network photographer. But here is a very small sampling of the fun, international meals we had in our alphabetical journey around the world.