Inside: Learn more about promoting diversity in the preschool classroom with these activities and approaches and why this is important for young children.
As a teacher, it is extremely important to be aware of implicit bias within our behaviors. While a teacher may already be very aware of how different races are treated, sometimes we do not realize that our own learned behaviors are affecting how we teach. Keeping our minds open to changing our methods allows us to grow as educators, ensuring that we are offering the best support for our children.
Diversity is not a negative concept.
Lately, I have felt some honest confusion from fellow early educators.
“Doesn’t this promote separation of races? Why should we focus on differences? We’re all humans. We shouldn’t treat each other differently depending on race.”
The definition of diversity is simply a range of different things. When children learn very early that differences are normal, they learn to view them without a lens of discomfort. Children naturally begin to pick up on differences around the preschool age on their own. You may hear questions about why their skin isn’t the same as another child’s, why someone needs to use a wheelchair, how people speak other languages, and more beginning around this age. Many parents and educators experience that initial moment of panic. How am I supposed to explain to a three-year-old about racism, poverty, and disability? The key is keeping it age appropriate. Young children need honesty, simplicity, and their own time to process new concepts.
Shielding children from topics such as inequality only prevents them from gaining clarification about the world around them. They are already noticing differences. It’s the way that they hear us talk about these differences that impacts how they view them.
Promoting Diversity in the Preschool Classroom: Ideas and Activities
Read Multicultural Books – Learning about cultures through books allows children to connect with the experiences of the characters on the pages. (Growing Book By Book)
Create “I Am Different” Books – Create a paper book for each child about how they are individual and unique, and how this is important. Include photos of the child for them to see their own qualities. (Things to Share and Remember)
Play Dough Metaphor – Prepare bundles of plain uncolored play dough and have children help knead food coloring in while talking about how the dough is all similar even though the colors are different. Relate this to how everyone on the inside has feelings and thoughts. (Bonbon Break)
Teach With M&M’s – This metaphor is similar to the play dough example in that it shows that the different colors do not affect the quality of the inside. (Removing the Stumbling Block)
Read Books About Poverty/Hunger – This selection of children’s books touch on the concept of inequality in a way that is understandable and not too heavy. (Rebekah Gienapp)
Despite Our Differences Sheet – This printable sheet has children draw themselves next to a friend to discuss the ways that they are similar and different, and how both are important. (StrongLuv)
Read Books About Multiracial Families – Share with children how families can be made up of all different appearances, and that love is what matters in a family. This also ties in with the concept of adopted children and how some people’s parents might not look like them, but they are still family. (Life Love Liz)
Teach Simple Sign Language – Integrate simple signs for familiar words and common phrases such as “all done”. (Baby Sign Language)
Aspects to Focus On As an Educator
- Remain judgement and assumption-free. Behaviors and lifestyles vary between cultures. Assuming that our own are standard or ‘normal’ can be dismissive of diversity. This includes many aspects of a family’s life, such as eating habits, speech patterns, parenting styles, clothing preferences, and more. For many cultures, it is not rude to say something in a way that may feel blunt to others. For example, “Pass me the red crayon” would be considered polite, while we may think that it should be said as “Can you please pass me the red crayon?”. Getting to know families with an open mind is crucial for understanding these differences.
- Encourage questions. Sometimes, we as adults view blunt questions about differences to be rude. Guide questions that children have into a conversation in a way that shows that curiosity can be approached with kindness.
- Ask questions yourself. The best way to find out about a child’s background and home life is by asking the children or parents questions. This also helps educators to build a relationship with the families in general.
- Keep your materials diverse. A majority of the materials available to educators do not represent the beautiful differences that our children have. Take a look at the materials that you have available to your preschoolers within the classroom. Are children able to walk into your classroom and see themselves represented in books, dolls, decor, and other elements?
The dolls in the photos have been collected by us over the years. Some of them are from: