He prefers to play while eating his spaghetti.

Italian Culture & Heritage Activities for Children

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr

October is Italian Heritage month, and your little one seems fascinated by all things Italian. He wants to eat Italian food, most of all because he likes to pretend the spaghetti strands are worms and meatballs are boulders the worms crawl over. You don’t have any Italian heritage, but it’s a fun way to learn about other cultures. You just wish he would find some other way to refer to spaghetti!

1. Geography and History

When your preschooler thinks about Italian things, she might think about the pizza restaurant down the street. Help her find Italy on the map and color a picture of Italy’s green-, white- and red-striped flag. Look at pictures of famous Italian cities such as Rome, Genoa, Florence and Milan. If she notices that Italy is surrounded by the Adriatic Sea, you might say, “That’s why explorers like Columbus, da Verrizzano and Vespucci were such good sailors.” You might look at the countries that Italian explorers roamed.

2. Food

Italian cooking might bring odors of lasagna and pizza or minestrone to your nose. Explore the odors of spices such as rosemary, thyme, oregano and basil. Sample tasty treats such as biscotti, gelato and ravioli. Let him help you make an Italian dinner for the family. He could make place mats for the meal with pictures of the Italian map or flag or famous Italian landmarks.

3. Games and Children's Activities

An exploration of the lives of Italian children might show your preschooler that Italian children have a lot in common with her. Explore Italian folk dances she might learn if she lived in Italy or a local community of those whose families emigrated from Italy. Read her stories such as “Strega Nona” or “The Legend of Befana,” both by Tomie DePaola, that would be familiar to Italian children. Italian nursery rhymes include “Chimney, Chimney,” “The Befana Comes at Night” and “Trucci Trucci Cavallucci.”

4. Speaking Italian

Teach your chlid some simple Italian. Easy options include learning to count in Italian and learning the names of body parts. Your child might enjoy learning to say “ciao" for both “hello” and “goodbye” and “arrivederci" for "goodbye." Use phrases such as "scusi" for "excuse me," "per favore" for "please" and "grazie" for "thank you." Sometimes it's easier to sing in a language than to speak it, so listen to Italian versions of "Santa Lucia" or " Gesù Bambino.”

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images