Italian influence is evident in various aspects of American culture, including art, fashion and especially food. If all your child knows about Italy is pizza, it might be time for her to understand that there's so much more to this boot-shaped European country. Teach your child about the proud heritage and culture of Italy through a variety of kid-friendly, engaging activities.
Books on Italy
Read kid-friendly books with your child that introduce her to Italy, its history and culture. For children ages 3 and older, "Ciao Bambino!: A Child's Tour of Italy," by Danna Troncatty Leahy provides an introduction to Italy through the eyes of a little boy and his teddy bear. It includes some major cultural sights and a few Italian words. For kids ages 7 and older, "Italy," by Madeline Donaldson provides more detailed information on the sights, sounds and culture of Italy, as well as the food, heritage and daily life of Italians. Kids ages 9 and older can check out "Italy: The Culture," by Greg Nickels, which focuses on the people of Italy, their literature and art contributions to the world, as well as their many traditions, festivals and famous works of art.
Play games with your child and her friends that kids in Italy play. To play a modified version of "Lupo Mangia Frutta," which translates to "Fruit-eater Wolf," assign one child to be the wolf. The other children each choose to be a type of fruit -- and stand next to each other in a line. The wolf should stand a few yards away and say, "I am the fruit-eater wolf!" The kids should reply, "Which kind of fruit do you want?" The wolf then calls out a fruit and the child who chose to be that fruit has try to run past the wolf to a safety zone. If the wolf tags him, he's out, but if he makes it to the other side, he's safe. The last fruit standing wins. To play "Strega Comanda Color," or "Witch Says Colors," one child is the witch. The kids form a large circle around the witch. When she calls out a color, the kids must race to tag something in the room of that color. If the witch is able to tag someone before the can tag a color, that child is out.
Italian Festivals and Events
Take your child to any Italian festivals or events in your area. You can likely find various Italian celebrations taking place in communities with large populations of Italians throughout the year. For example, many Italian communities have a Columbus Day celebration to honor the Italian explorer who reached the Americas, as well as a Feast of San Gennaro celebration, which honors the beloved Saint Gennaro. Many festivals feature plenty of authentic Italian food, traditional and modern Italian music, religious processions and traditional Italian games. If no festivals are planned near you, see if there is a Little Italy neighborhood in the closest city to you. Many large and medium-sized cities have one or more Italian sections, including New York City, Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco and Boston. At just about any "Little Italy" neighborhood, you can take your child to visit the Italian restaurants and bakeries, visit a heritage or cultural center and possibly spot elderly Italians playing bocce ball in a neighborhood park.
Kid-friendly Italian Snacks
Make simple Italian dishes with your child. Make any type of pasta the family loves, whether it's traditional spaghetti and meat sauce, pasta with a light pesto sauce, or a hearty penne pasta with vodka sauce -- and let your little one help out where he can. For example, he can add the pasta noodles to the water -- and then toss the cooked pasta with olive oil. You can also make miniature margherita pizzas, letting your child roll out the dough, spread the tomato sauce, and top with fresh sliced mozzarella and Italian seasoning. For easy cannolis, purchase prepared cannoli shells and make a simple ricotta filling by combining fresh ricotta with powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Put it into a pastry bag and show your child how to gently squeeze and fill the cannoli shells with the sweet ricotta filling. Talk to your child as you are cooking about the origins of what you are preparing, such as from what region of Italy it comes.
- Ciao Bambino!: A Child's Tour of Italy; Danna Troncatty Leahy
- Italy; Madeline Donaldson
- Italy: The Culture; Greg Nickels
- The National Italian American Foundation: Italian Festivals
- Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images