Helping young children learn about diversity is an important role for child care providers. Teaching inclusiveness needs to be a conscious and deliberate effort by adults. Diversity is not taught during a single day or activity. Respect for all people is a concept that should be woven in all activities and lessons, from reading to art, and from singing to pretend play.
Here are some ways you can help children recognize the ways that people are similar and different, and to teach them to embrace diversity.
When working with children in child care, be sure to emphasize the acceptance and value of every person of all backgrounds. Help children identify some common bonds that children of all cultures share, such as family, foods, music, languages, and art. Point out these commonalities, and use them as a basis to teach about ways that people are similar and different. You should be well educated on where all the children in your class come from, what they celebrate, and what they believe in. If you decide to celebrate holidays in your classroom, celebrate all holidays for all cultures in your class — don't just focus on the most commonly celebrated Christian holidays.
Families are a great resource for teaching about cultural similarities and differences. Post photos of each child with his or her family. Encourage children to talk about their own families and traditions and to compare family traditions around meals, holidays, and other activities. You can even invite families to come speak to the children in your class about their culture and traditions.
Avoid a focus on teaching young children specific, isolated facts about different cultures. Children may become confused or frustrated with too much specific information because they do not understand the context of time and faraway places. Instead, use activities that will expose children to new concepts and allow them to experiment with different materials. Incorporate materials from a variety of cultures into your library, dramatic play area, puzzles, and other learning materials. Consider inviting parents of your children to share a traditional food or activity to help the class learn about family differences.
It is important to extend lessons in diversity to include concepts such as respecting differences, being inclusive, and appreciating others just the way they are. Go to your local library and ask for children’s books that depict children of all abilities. Build activities from these books and encourage the children to make them part of their free and dramatic play.
Remember that children learn respect and acceptance from the adults around them, so model the valuing of different cultures in your interactions with children.
To learn more about supporting children's social relationships and emotional development in the child care setting, take a look at the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles: