If you consider cultural diversity an important part of children’s education, the San Francisco Bay Area is probably one of the best places in the country to be. Whether you live in SF or are lucky enough to visit for be here for a while, you’ll discover an abundance of cultural diversity to enjoy with children. You don’t even have to leave the city to give kids an authentic taste of other cultures, and a chance to experience them with their minds, hearts, and five senses. From science-based mini-missions to Chinatown, the San Francisco Bay Area is alive with educational and cultural diversity. We’ve compiled a list of our favorite community resources, educational programs, and fun events that teach children cultural diversity through learning and hands-on experience. So educate yourselves- and enjoy!
The Children’s Creativity Museum
The Children’s Creativity Museum is the perfect place for burgeoning young artists to fine-tune their senses and skills. Designed for kids aged 2-12, the museum is a stunning multi-media art and technology experience. We love it because it has a little something for everyone- and if there ever was a diverse population, children are it! The programs, workshops, and activities at the Children’s Creativity Museum cater to the unique talents and abilities of different children. Most of all, they make learning fun and are highly interactive. The concept of enjoyable learning leaves an indelible impression on children if introduced at a young age by hands-on experience. The Children’s Creativity Museum teaches children innovation from a young age by encouraging them to use their senses to make discoveries and solve problems.
As early as the toddler years, kids can become “Early Explorers” in affordable hands-on workshops that introduce them to art, science, music, and even language learning. There are also free daily drop-in activities where very young children use simple science to make cool crafts. The Imagination Lab is open to all, and features a large sandbox where children can try their hand at topography. They can move, dig, and shape malleable kinetic sand into landscapes and majesties of their own creation. Learning to navigate the natural world through creative play brings children and communities together for the best cause- learning for fun.
In the Imagine Lab, young children have the opportunity to create an original in unique studio spaces, and then display their creation at the museum or in virtual space within the center’s DIY Cloud Gallery. They can be proud of what they’ve created with the guidance of Museum staff, and enjoy the cacophony of “oohs” and “ahhs” from delighted families and caregivers.
The Community Lab at the Children’s Creativity Museum has recently transformed into a whole new world- the Sketch Town exhibit! Sketch Town is just what it sounds like and more. An interactive exhibit that teaches young visitors to create drawings of buildings and vehicles, Sketch Town also lets children scan them and interact with them. The result is a an animated virtual city in which they can run wild and explore to their hearts’ content. The simulated city takes on its own life on an immense projection surface, giving children the experience of temporarily entering a whole new world.
An added benefit for kids? Sketch Town is also an exciting way to learn together about building communities. Urban planning, architecture, city living, and all the real life forms of transportation are eagerly explored through play. You can watch your kids create their own city of advanced technology and cultural diversity- and if you watch closely enough you’re very likely to learn a thing or two.
Have you got young coders on your hands? The Children’s Creativity Museum is home to the Tech Lab. Daily activities include such veritable technological wonders as programming robots to navigate mazes, composing music, and learning instruments. Tech Lab activities are specially designed to teach creative problem solving, a tool that will prove invaluable for children of all ages as they move through school. Older kids can program robots to respond to sensory input and utilize loops to sidestep obstacles. If you’re reading this and find your head spinning, don’t worry- it simply means you’ve (perhaps narrowly) escaped Gen X, and we’re here to give you a pocketful of ideas to help your kids make the most of all it has to offer.
As with the Imagination Lab, access to the Tech Lab is included in general admission fees. Also included in a day’s adventure is The Mystery Box Challenge. The Mystery Box Challenge is a beloved exhibit that tasks young prodigies in the making to create an age-appropriate prompt inviting invention. Yes, you heard us right. The catch-22 is that the kids can only use materials inside the box they’ve been provided with. They are thus presented with the challenge of thinking critically and in design terms: What is the purpose of this invention? What does it need to do to fulfill its purpose? How can I build it so that it functions and stays together? Children are encouraged to work together on their inventions, which encourages communication and the exchange of ideas among peer groups.
The Children’s Creativity Museum also has a venue for private events that can be booked in advance. It’s a great place for children’s educational programs to host their special activities or events, and offers space for fun presentations or performances.
We believe that the Museum’s greatest asset is the bridge it builds between children and communities through a love of learning. Children and families from all communities, backgrounds, and income levels can enjoy art and technology together. A fun facilitator of cultural diversity in the San Francisco Bay Area, The Children’s Creativity Museum is an ideal starting place for collaboration, inclusion, and the celebration of each child’s diverse multitude of talents and interests.
Oakland Aviation Museum
Have you heard of the Oakland Aviation Museum? If not, it’s age-inclusive must-see for young children (and parents who are eager to give their children yet another cool Bay Area cultural experience. Showcasing vintage military aircraft and how they worked in their time, Oakland Aviation Museum is another hands-on learning experience that engages children’s natural curiosity. Admission is affordable- just $9 for adults, $7 for teens, and $ for children over five. Children can freely explore trucks, trains, and planes in an American engineering experience that piques their curiosity and titillates their senses.
A cult favorite among a culturally diverse population of Bay Area kids, the Exploratorium is an interactive, play-based museum that offers enough science-based fun to get your kids’ heads spinning (which is, well, sort of their goal). This vast, child-centered museum is a strong Bay Area resource for cultural diversity, uniting kids and families from many different backgrounds in the name of science- and fun! Children can play with their shadows, learn levitation, touch a tornado, combine colors to form new ones, break light apart, create sound waves, and so on. (Really, the list goes on and on, as do active children). The Exploratorium has been making its own hands-on exhibits for over four decades, and now features over 650 exciting, interactive exhibits. They’re even working toward creating a complete virtual collection of these exhibits for kids to experience online if they must.
With the Sun Painting Exhibit, the sky is the literally the limit. A device called heliostat, which tracks the sun throughout the day and reflects its light through a window in the roof, this exhibit will make kids look up to science. Kids are in awe of it because it directs sunlight through two banks of prisms, effectively breaking it up into a rainbow of spectral colors. These colors then recombine on a giant screen, capturing the delicate vibrancy of the natural color spectrum. The ever-shifting array of lights is a profound metaphor for life, which is also constantly changing and expanding.
Playing with Electricity (and More) at The Tinkering Studio
The Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio hosts both large and small-scale public events in which visitors are invited to collaborate with them as they tinker with science and inventions. Children of all ages, and at all learning levels, can explore mechanical elements such as cams, linkages, and levers as they create their own moving sculptures. In the Tinkering Studio, children can also explore chain reactions by assembling Rube Goldberg-inspired contraptions that use everyday materials to demonstrate cause and effect.
Disclaimer: This is the only time we’ll encourage your kids to play with electricity. In a totally safe environment and under the supervision of highly-trained instructors, children can actually tinker with electricity using lights, batteries, buzzers, motors, switches, and much more. It might sound like every parent’s worst nightmare (especially if you’re the parent of young children), but we assure you that it’s all in good, safe fun. In fact, a central part of the learning experience involves teaching children about safety when coming into contact with electricity. Last but not least on our list is light painting, which allows kids to create stunning images and illusions using elements of everyday life like cameras and various light sources.
Did you know that the Exploratorium offers fun field trips guided by extensively trained Field Trip Explorers? Field Trip Explorers are experienced educators who have a passion for working with kids. Their academic and professional backgrounds are different, and they embrace cultural diversity among themselves and their young students. The main goal is to empower everyone to learn together, creating a strong, science-based core among the diverse next generation.
The Community Educational Engagement Program (CEE) has provided the Exploratorium with vital connections to community-based organizations that work impoverished children, teens, and their families. The program provides The Exploratorium with educational exhibits and activities. CEE staff circulates throughout neighborhood programs, inviting participants to the Exploratorium for fun field trips. They also readily provide free educational materials, professional in-service workshops for educators and staff, and other resources to community members.
The CEE currently works with the San Francisco Public Library, the San Francisco Unified School District, and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. The CEE has recently worked with diverse groups such as 826 Valencia, Aim High, Chinatown Self-Help for the Elderly, Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and First graduate. As activists for underprivileged communities and supporters of cultural diversity, the CEE has played a major role in the educational development of many Bay Area communities.
Getting back briefly to the Exploratorium, the facility’s dedication to cultural diversity is also evident in its history. In 1998, they teamed up with none other than NASA’s Sun-Earth Education Forum to webcast the solar eclipse from Aruba. Not only was this a fantastical cosmic feat, but it was also an important step in history: The Exploratorium was the very first organization to bring a solar eclipse to life on the Internet. But they didn’t stop there. In the years to come, they tracked this solar eclipse with webcasts from Zambia, China, Turkey, Micronesia, and right here in North America.
In 2012, The Exploratorium collaborated with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages NASA’S famous Mars Science Laboratory mission! A team effort was made to develop the Return to Mars website, which showed over twenty live webcasts about a rover that goes by the apt name of Curiosity. This astounding accomplishment followed a 2004 collaboration in with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in which The Exploratorium followed ambitious rovers Spirit and Opportunity on their mission into the sky- and beyond.
Engaging Youth in Black History Month
This year, San Francisco is celebrating Black History Month with an exciting series of events that commemorates the contributions of African-Americans in the Bay Area, nationwide, and throughout history. It begins on February 1st and is already picking up momentum in ticket sales, so if you’re interested, now is the time to grab yours. If you’ve got older children or teenagers in tow, the chance to capture an iconic photo of the legendary Painted Ladies could be a hit. Cultural diversity is a more integral part of American life than ever, and Black History Month joins us as a community in celebration of the contributions and experiences of the African and African-American community throughout history. The African-American Art and Culture Complex houses an art gallery, three art exhibition spaces, a spacious theater, a recording studio, and abundant archives of African-American history. It also features two dance studios and other multi-purpose space where younger and older children can explore.
San Francisco has a promising community of young writers and teenaged cult followings of contemporary poetry that celebrates cultural diversity. An adult exhibit that will inspire awe in many teens as well, Kristine May’s series of sculptures, titled “Brutally Soft”, depict the strength and vulnerability of being a woman. The sculptures are inspired by iconic black female authors like Maya Angelou, as well as upcoming new poets like Nayyirah Weheed. Come February, the social media world will flood with images of this breathtaking popular exhibit. This beautiful kind of interaction is living proof that technology is more than just a void our kids fall into when they reach a certain age, resurfacing only occasionally; it has also become a platform for education and the celebration of beloved cultural diversity.
For the visual artists (and art lovers) among the children in your life, on February 12th the California Historical Society is hosting a discussion on the history of California African-American comic book artists. These artists range from Morris Turner, the first nationally syndicated African American cartoonist, to Ryan Coogler, director of “Fruitvale Station” and pop cult favorite “Black Panther”.
For Black History Month, the Oakland Museum of California will feature performances by K-8th graders portraying a history of oppression and commemorating the lost and realized dreams of the African-American population in the struggle for equality. Featured students and audience members will also experience music as a powerful conduit to empathy and effective communication between people and cultures.
Chinatown for Kids
Chinese culture comes to life among the intricate facades and authentic shops and restaurants of Chinatown. The world-famous destination for culture diversity displays animated murals of Chinese art and takes on the teaming vibrancy of Chinese city streets. Watch your children grow wide-eyed with wonder as they nearly burst with the vivid life and color of Chinatown.
Many kids of all ages like to touch more than look, and Chinatown is bursting at the seams with authentic vintage Chinese costume shops, San Francisco and Chinese souvenir stores, tea shops, and art and culture galleries. Kids can take home real Chinese teapots, toys, chopsticks, samurai swords, and a plethora of other souvenirs that will make them feel as if they’ve stepped out of their city and into another world (at least for a day).
What do kids love more than cookies? Hopefully, fortune cookies (at least when in Chinatown). The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory has the dingy appearance of a vintage Chinese mom-and-pop shop, but that’s exactly how it’s supposed to feel. Upon entering, you’ll feel like you stepped right into China, where older Chinese women expertly mold hot dough into the iconic fortune cookies we all know and love. Delicious free samples are on display, and you can bring home a one-pound bag of fortune cookies for $5 dollars or less! The only (teensy-tiny) drawback is that pictures cost 50 cents, even if it’s snapped on your Android or iPhone. We think it’s a small price to pay for such an intimate, handcrafted experience of cultural diversity for kids and families.
Education a’la France
EFBA, or Education Francais Bay Area, is a non-profit organization that promotes cultural diversity and bilingualism by teaching French to children of all ages. Its key objective is to utilize play as leverage in learning a language, and make the learning process enjoyable for children. EFBA is currently offering a French cultural program called “Museum Quest”, which is exactly what it sounds like- exploratory trips to museums and other cultural sites located throughout the Bay Area. The annual program exposes children to French culture through history, nature, science, geography, art, and technology. What we love about EFBA that this exposure is not its only mission. EFBA also seeks to broaden the language context by introducing children to situations in which they are called upon to interact and communicate in French. In other words, kids don’t just learn the language- they learn how to use it comfortably in diverse contexts through play. Actually, EFBA encourages parents to think of the programs they offer not as classes, but fun leisure activities. This standard creates an educational model in which children can learn language without being conscious of learning at all. In our opinion, that’s the best kind of learning there is.
Each event features a story or a mission to accomplish for children, stimulating their creativity and using communication to solve problems. It goes without saying that all of this action and adventure takes place in French, so children are challenged to draw upon their new language skills and use the in natural, intuitive ways. During museum journeys, children are given a booklet with games that guides them through the various exhibits they will pass through. Each team of kids is chaperoned by an adult who patiently encourages them to use their observatory skills to solve riddles. Bonus points for these riveting educational mini-adventures: There is also a super-fun scavenger through the Art Gallery.
Cultural diversity is at an all-time peak in our nation, and San Francisco actively reflects the integration of multiple cultures into a society that is deeply evolving. There are a multitude of resources that incentivize education and leisure to bring communities together. Our favorites among those combine both learning and fun, which is why we’ve chosen the ones we did for this article. Naturally, we can’t begin to cover all of the wonderful, culturally diverse resources that San Francisco and the Bay Area have to offer, but we hope we’ve given you a good start.