The musical South Pacific contains a song entitled, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.” It lyrically represents the concept that nobody is born feeling one way or the other about those who are different; children must be “carefully taught” the attitudes of their society.
While the lyrics of the song tend to have a negative connotation, the title can be understood to mean children must be carefully taught to view the diversity of the world in a favorable light. The United States has such a wide variety of peoples that children have the opportunity to learn more about different cultures than ever before.
Your classrooms may contain children from myriad cultures, and your students treat everyone with respect because this situation is the norm. On the other hand, your class may be quite homogeneous, and it is up to you to introduce the concept that not everyone thinks the same way and that's OK.
An essential element of early childhood learning is becoming socially aware and capable of interacting with those who are different. Presenting cultural diversity activities throughout the school year can provide useful lessons that the children carry for a lifetime.
What does cultural diversity mean?
Cultural diversity is typically thought to mean differences in race, ethnicity, and gender, but it also encompasses those with physical challenges or who speak a different language. According to a paper by Patreese D. Ingram, Ed.D., one in five people in the United States speaks a language other than English in the home.
William Henry, the author of "Beyond the Melting Pot" (1990), stated by 2056 the average American resident will trace his or her roots to Africa, Asia, a Hispanic country, the Pacific Islands, or Arabia.
Cultural diversity has always been with us, but attitudes toward those with differences are in the news more than ever. To provide a stable environment, children have got to be carefully taught to embrace diversity and value human differences. They must learn acceptable social behavior and responses, just as they may expect others to behave acceptably toward them.
Audit your materials for culturally diverse narratives
How much and what sort of diversity do the materials in your childcare facility reflect?
- Select books and games about other countries, religions, races, beliefs and values.
- Present units on a variety of religious holidays beyond Christmas and Hanukkah. Include Ramadan, Kwanzaa, and Janmashtami.
- Provide videos that show a variety of family units and cultures.
- Strive to show families in different economic circumstances.
- Ask if the toys and dolls in the facility reflect a balance of males and females, and of the major ethnic groups in the United States.
Children pick up cues from the materials they see every day. Show them that men and women can perform the same or similar jobs at home and at work. Let them know that physical challenges do not mean a person is unable to have a productive life and fulfilling work.
Enjoy activities introducing new cultures throughout the year
While cultural lessons are often centered around holidays, children learn every day. Give them the tools to experiment and experience different perspectives.
- Encourage all children to try a variety of roles, and let them learn what it is like for someone with a physical challenge.
- Request parents introduce games they play at home to everyone at the preschool.
- Give children the opportunity to experience music, food, and clothing styles from around the world.
- Roleplay appropriate behavior and courteous interactions.
By the time they are three, children begin to notice differences in others and show the influence of society’s norms. Preschool is not too early to introduce these topics.
Diversify your staff and the design of your facility
If possible, attract and hire staff that reflects the community and the make-up of your classes. Also, ensure your staff has been provided with the appropriate cultural training so they can relate to the children in their care. Also, a diverse staff allows children to interact with people from all backgrounds and ages.
Not everyone understands what a stereotype is or knows when they are exhibiting behavior designed to reinforce stereotypes. Before they can teach preschoolers, they must understand the origins of bigotry and racism and be mindful of what they say.
Develop an anti-bias policy and communicate to the staff and, when appropriate, to the children that you expect unbiased behavior and interactions. If students show bias, make sure your staff knows how to handle it positively.
When is the last time you looked at your walls? How is your facility decorated? Your artwork and designs are other areas you can use to show cultural diversity. Post pictures of families with two mothers or two fathers. Show families with step-children of different ethnicities or foster families.
Display images of the world with the countries labeled and people of different cultures in native dress to help the children understand that people wear, eat, and act differently all around them.
Market your cultural diversity
Many parents look for a childcare facility that reflects their beliefs while others seek out preschools that enrich their children through teaching diverse attitudes. Promote the cultural diversity of your program as part of your marketing activity.
Show pictures of the staff and children performing some of the activities you expect to share and encourage parents to help add to the experience.
Childcare management software with a parent portal is an excellent tool for helping families to share their backgrounds and beliefs, while you and your staff can post videos and images reflecting your lessons. Also, you can build notifications into your schedules and profiles to alert you and your staff to important days.
Examples of diversity activities
Do you have children from a cross-cultural family in class? Ask the parents to present how they accommodate differences between the wider family. Is there a new family in the neighborhood? Invite them to share their beliefs or activities.
Let children know that it is all right to ask about differences as long as they are made in a positive light. Children need to understand how they can learn about the lives around them, and your staff can model the appropriate ways of communicating.
Cultural diversity has been presented in educational settings for decades. Over the past 50 years, we have all been exposed to an increasing number of changes and differences in lifestyles, ethnicities, language, and attitudes.
Teaching children from a young age how to interact positively with others different from themselves is crucial for bringing balance into our institutions and engagements. These children will grow up to be our new leaders, and you can provide the tools for them to succeed.