Tapping Into the Opportunity to Learn Through the Customs of Others
Cultural diversity surrounds us. Diverse cultures in early learning is a tremendous opportunity. Celebrating diverse cultures means doing more than hanging a calendar with different events on the wall and using “flags of the world” worksheets. As early learning educators, we know it means valuing and including all families and staff involved in your early childhood service. It also means participating in the wider community to share authentic cultural activities with children and families.
noun: cultural diversity
the existence of a variety of cultural or ethnic groups within a society.
“cultural diversity has increased, exposing kids to new tastes and experiences”
What Really Is Cultural Diversity?
Google cultural+diversity+definition and the quote above is what you’ll see. It’s telling that the example the definition uses – refers not only to an increase in cultural diversity in society but also relates it to kids. It’s never too early for children to be made aware that different cultural experiences aren’t scary, they’re amazing. It’s also important to foster an openness to encountering difference in their lives. Children listen and learn from parents, carers and teachers so our attitudes matter.
Young children are constantly forming opinions based on what they hear and see. All those “why?” questions are helping children to establish their world view. If they hear and see acceptance and feel able to talk about differences it helps them make sense of their world around them.
Whenever a child asks me for the “flesh” coloured pencil/crayon I use it as a ‘teachable moment’. “What color is that”? I ask. For some children it’s still challenging to think that “flesh” might mean more than one color. It seems like such a simple exchange but “skin/flesh/nude-colored” products exist in a commercial world where until very recently a multiplicity of skin tones wasn’t accounted for.
I’m not for one moment suggesting we begin a race debate with early learners, I’m just using it as one example of the unwritten stereotypes teachers address daily in culturally diverse societies. In a world where more than 232 million people are international migrants, children will encounter racial, ethnic, religious, gender, family and socioeconomic groups different to them – and that’s ok.
In early learning services, teachers have to be aware that the families whose children they teach may not share the same values or social understandings as them.
“Working constructively with families whose educational views and cultural values are different from those of the teacher requires great care and thoughtfulness. [Early childhood education] is based on an understanding that values are not universally shared; that understanding different family values is necessary; and that conscious thought needs to be given to how family values are catered for.” Teaching & Learning in Culturally Diverse Early Childhood Centres
Connecting can mean re-evaluating actions sometimes taken for granted – eye contact; greetings; arbitrary unwritten rules (mealtimes, how people are addressed etc); language barriers; physical barriers; religious views (not celebrating events such as Easter/birthdays, modes of dress); kinship roles to list just a very few examples.
So how do we as teachers, navigate the diverse cultures of the children and families that we care for on a daily basis? I’ve listed some of the ways here – I’m sure you can think of others:
- Be Respectful
- Use Empathy
- Encourage Positive Relationships
- Find ways to Communicate (especially when there are language barriers)
- Understand Yourself
- Challenge Stereotypes and Discrimination
- Be Open
But more importantly – we share – we share the children’s lives, the family’s love for their child/ren, we share their stories. Sharing opens doors, it helps overcome language barriers and if there is mutual respect, sharing often becomes a two way exchange of experiences.
At Educa we get feedback everyday about how online portfolios help educators share with diverse families. Using Educa helps Aiga Salevalasi Aoga Amata support their bilingual community
The goal of working ‘with’ families to create partnerships founded on respect means supporting the cultural identity of all children in your service. Finding ways to share isn’t always easy – but a diverse environment benefits all children who attend your service, and shared learning activities open pathways for discussion, which ultimately enhance children’s sense of belonging.
Ways to Share Cultural Diversity
Sing and Tell Stories Together
It’s about being open to learning and to people’s stories. All knowledge is valid and there are many different ways of sharing stories
- Head to What do We do All Day – check out Multicultural and Diverse Children’s Books for a range of collections including Books that will take you around the world and Diverse Picture Books Classics
- See our list of Six heartwarming stories celebrating family diversity for some suggestions too!
- Ask families to share stories that are special to them (send in books, come in and tell stories)
- Support Home Languages using stories and language cards – as well as teaching in English
- Watch DVDs – (in student’s home languages as well as English)
- Retell oral stories – legends, fairytales, dreamtime stories, fables from around the world often share similar themes
- Encourage children to participate in oral storytelling to support language development and value their own family stories
Invite Families to Share
Cultural celebrations happen throughout the year. These are opportunities for communicating and interacting across cultures. Encourage families to share important cultural holidays or celebrations with you in authentic ways. Organize inclusive activities that children share in together.
Some examples include Diwali (India), NAIDOC Week (Australia), Chinese or Lunar New Year, Thanksgiving (US), El Dia de los Muertos – Day of the Dead (Mexico) Loy Krathong (Thailand). Include families in the cultural activities you introduce to the children. These celebrations provide children with learning experiences using art, food, song, dance and stories.
Explore Multicultural Websites for Ideas and Activities
Get children involved in games, activities and languages from around the globe.
Here are just a few sites to get you started
- From Many Lands
- The Activity Idea Place
- We are different, we are the same: Teaching young children about diversity
- Jennifer’s Language pages Say thank you in more than 465 languages
Cultural competence is a skill that educators need to keep developing for working ‘with’ parents. It helps to remind ourselves as educators just how large and diverse the world is.
- Tour the World – takes you on a trip around the world that highlights just how many countries make up the globe we live on. It’s an eye opening realization just how expansive the world is – and that the children you teach may have ancestry in any number of those lands.
- Discuss in your planning meetings the cultural landscape of the children in the service.
- Are there learning experiences/resources that you need to adjust so children feel included in learning activities?
- Work together to find ways to embed the children’s languages and culture into your everyday practices.
- Talk to parents and children about cultural knowledges/practices that are important to their families, with the understanding that these may be very different to your own.
- It might be as simple as asking a question relating to a learning story you are sharing. “We did xyz today…how does this look if you are doing it at home?”
- Searching census statistics for your region or country can also be an eye opening experience – for example in the United States – there is one international migrant every 29 seconds.
- Read, share and discuss professional learning videos and documents. There are a wide range of resources and research to support teachers in culturally diverse classrooms. All early learning curriculums, quality standards and guidelines have cultural diversity embedded in their goals – it’s important to consider how to embed these in your planning and portfolios
One Final Thought
Remember that sharing early learning ‘with’ culturally diverse families and communities means more than just being aware that families have different cultures and heritages. It means being sensitive and receptive to all families. Ensure the practices in your early learning service are inclusive and that differences are valued.