Diversity

Diversity

Children show interest in diversity when they notice differences in other people. Whether their reaction to a difference is positive or negative, this is a teachable moment.

Early childhood educators can use children's natural curiosity to teach important lessons about diversity, prejudice, discrimination and inclusion.

Educators can teach children there are many different ways of living, being, thinking and feeling. This makes our world rich and wonderful. Even though we have differences, we can live together in harmony.

UNCRC, NQS and EYLF

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child applies to all children, regardless of their race, religion, abilities, beliefs, and the type of family they come from.

The National Quality Standard requires childcare centres to provide inclusive environments (3.2.1) and for every child's dignity and rights to be maintained (5.1.2).

Diversity links to learning outcomes of The Early Years Learning Framework, which asks that children develop knowledgeable and confident self identities (1.3) and respond to diversity with respect (2.2). Children should develop a sense of belonging to groups and communities and an understanding of the reciprocal rights and responsibilities necessary for active community participation (2.1).

Learning experiences

Brainstorm similarities and differences

Using a large piece of paper, ask children to list ways that people can be different. Now, brainstorm ways that people can be the same.

Conduct research

  • Survey your children and find out what everyone ate for dinner last night. Research the cultural origin of each dish.
  • Survey your children and find out how everyone spends their weekends.
  • Research the background of everyone's name. Pin each person's name to a world map.

Celebrate types of diversity

  • Learn about Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Connect with elders in your local area.
  • Explore cultures of the staff and families at your service.
  • Learn a song or read a book in another language.
  • Invite people with disabilities to speak with or teach skills to your children.
  • Connect with different age groups, including the elderly.
  • Encourage children to play with non-traditional toys for their gender.
  • Paint a self-portrait. Discuss bodies and beauty. Each child mixes paint to match their skin, hair and eye colours.
  • Explain that all love is special. Read a book about different family types.

Learning environments

Use provocations

Provoke curiosity displays about culture and diversity that the children can interact with. Place pictures at the children's eye level. Put cultural artifacts in play areas, not on display tables in your foyer.

Use cultural artifacts, props and costumes that come with a story. Tell that story to the children.

Establish an inclusive environment

Make adjustments to your learning environments to support  individuals and foster a sense of belonging.

Explain to your children what you are doing and why. Involve them in the process of evaluating and improving your learning environments.

Feature diversity

Feature diverse people in your toys and resources, but ensure they do not reinforce stereotypes. Avoid cartoon characters as they can oversimplify people.

  • Not everyone in Japan wears a kimono. Cultures are much more than traditional costumes.
  • Not all firefighters are men and not all nurses are women.
  • Diverse families are not only same-sex couples with adopted children.
  • Skin colours are more than very white and very black. Celebrate all the variations in between.

Family and community connections

  • Regularly invite people to talk to the children about their lives. Select people from a variety of cultures, age groups and backgrounds.
  • Encourage the children to talk about their own lives. Instead of show and tell (where children bring toys), ask the children to tell stories about what happened on the weekend or the things they enjoy doing at home.
  • Create a photo and artwork wall called "things my family likes to do". The purpose is to uncover different ways of living and stories that might not be told otherwise. Contributions may include hobbies, special talents, rituals, games, and places to visit.

Interactions

Talk openly and honestly

Adults often stop children from talking about differences like skin colour, body shape and ability. However, this teaches children there is something wrong or taboo about their observation.

Try this when children comment or ask a question about someone being different:

  1. Acknowledge that the observation is correct: "Yes, she is very tall."
  2. Explain why the observation is correct: "Both of her parents are tall, children often look like their relatives".
  3. Send a positive, respectful message: "It is good that we all look different. She must be very good at reaching things in our tall cupboard".

Challenge bias. Promote fairness.

  • When something unfair happens throughout the day, speak up immediately. Teach children to do the same.
  • Help children express their feelings appropriately. Give them words and phrases to use (e.g. "I feel sad when you don't let me play.")
  • Talk about fairness and inclusion formally as a group on a regular basis.

Routines

  • With the children, evaluate every transition and routine in your day. Write a list of moments when a child had difficulties completing the task or being involved socially. Together, look for ways to overcome these challenges so your daily routines are more inclusive.
  • Offer choice and variety in equipment, including  bedding and eating utensils. Normalise cultural diversity in daily routines.
  • At the end of each day, sit everyone in a circle. Each child says something they liked about another child (e.g. nice hair, good climbing).

Events

Celebrate Harmony Day

Harmony Day is a significant event on all Australian early childhood education calendars. It is held every year on 21st March, the same day as International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The week that this day falls in is Harmony Week.

Australia is one of the world's most multicultural countries. Harmony Day celebrates cultural diversity, inclusion and belonging for everyone. People often wear orange on Harmony Day, which represents social communication and meaningful conversations. Some childcare services choose to wear rainbow colours instead, as it is easier for staff and families.

Join in the celebration by organising an event, attending a local gathering, or planning learning activities about diversity.

Other special days about diversity

Discussions

  • How can people be discriminated against?
  • What do all people have in common?
  • Why do some people not like people who are different to them?
  • Why can difference be a good thing?

Reflections

  • Do educators value the practices, values and beliefs of all families? How do they respond to different approaches to child raising?
  • What is inclusion? It isn't just about disability.
  • Can all educators explain what prejudice, anti-bias and discrimination mean?

Resources

Picture books

  • Whoever You Are by Mem Fox
  • We're All Wonders by R J Palacio
  • Global Babies by The Global Fund for Children

Websites