You’re a cultural anthropologist!


            The other day I noticed this legend on a t-shirt: “Only nepotism will get you a better job.” It advertised a website through which people can find jobs. It got me to thinking: What could a foreigner - either from another country, another planet, or traveling from another time period - learn about us, based on t-shirts people wear?

            Cultural anthropologists study living cultures and people, using a method called participant observation This is how they understand cultures and how those cultures adapt and contribute to both local and global history, economy, politics, and social changes.

            You and your child can do this, too, without ever traveling to a foreign destination. Together, you can pick an item that you would like to observe, and see what you can find out about people by looking at it. Let’s say you continue with my t-shirt example. You’ll look to see what you can find out about people by what is written on their t-shirts.

            Write down what you see. Depending on the age of your child, you can take turns being the scribe. After you have collected your data, it is time to analyze it. What kinds of messages have you observed?

            Find a way to categorize what you saw. You may find that one category is schools (from elementary to university), one is sports teams, one is cities or countries, one is advertising. See what you come up with.

            Several skills are enhanced by doing this, including writing, reading, drawing conclusions, and sharpening powers of observation. There is also the added enjoyment of working together between parent and child(ren), which is terrific for oral language development.

            What are some other things that you can observe this way? How about billboards, bumper stickers, or hats?

            If you travel, you can make observations about any one of a number of things: the way houses look in the area you are visiting, the types of cars you see on the road, the kind of clothing people wear, the types of stores where people shop, the kinds of bread or other food that they eat, etc.

            Enjoy your observations!

            This column has been incorporated into Teach Your Children Well: A Teacher’s  Advice for Parents.