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What do our kids know about where they live?

"Charlie. What country do we live in?"

Charlie, my seven year old looks out of the window as I glance at him in the rear-view mirror.

"Ummmmm…" He chews on his fingers for a minute, then turns to me triumphant… and gives me the name of the street in our compound.

Later my older daughters ask me about various issues that have come up in the press recently concerning countries in the Middle East. On talking to them, I realise that they can’t point to Qatar on the map and have no idea what countries are nearby and how they all sit together.

So, Monday’s project is to print off an outline of the Middle East and practice filling in the countries. Have a go in the map below yourself. If you are really keen you can even fill in the dots for the cities.

Courtesy of BYU Geography Department. This map is for illustrative purposes only, borders may not be exact.

But how to discuss the political and cultural sensitivities of the region—that’s a tricky one with children. One I would be open to ideas about.

It is a common circumstance for families in this region that expat children don’t learn much Arabic and have little idea of the politics of the region. Children in countries very close by have a much greater sense of national identity and belonging, however expat children aren’t in their home country and sometimes, as a result, are less interested in what is going on around them.

So how much should we encourage our children to learn about the region and how much can we really expect them to be interested beyond those areas that impact them directly? Let’s not forget that some teenagers, when asked in the UK, struggle to name the Prime Minister and as for the capital city of various European countriesforget it. My own knowledge of capital cities is woolly at best.

Writing as someone who came to the region for an adventure, I believe the more you can learn the better. However, I do appreciate that the longer you have been in the country the more the initial interest in finding out about local culture and politics fades as the humdrum of daily life takes over. 

But when you go back to your home country and you talk to friends about where you live and what it’s like, you remember how different it is to your home life, you suddenly become more aware of the colour and culture that you are surrounded by every day.

So now, in our house, we make a concerted effort to discuss at the dinner table what’s going on around us, what regional festivals mean, differing religious beliefs and why other nationalities might think differently to us. We’ve looked at the map and filled in the countries, and now the girls are reading a children’s weekly newspaper on current affairs. Not everything is always understood or remembered, but at least I think we’re making progress.

"Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever." Gandhi

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