In the 2010 U. S. census report, nearly three quarters of the population identified as non-Hispanic white when asked about their races. Researchers project that by 2050, the percentage of non-Hispanic whites will decrease to about half of the U.S. population.
The increasing ethnic, cultural, language, class, and religious diversity in the United States requires early childhood teachers to provide diverse, multicultural lessons. Diversity, in its many forms, offers the potential to enrich teaching-learning experiences, to enhance personal and social interactions, and to enrich schools and communities through an offering of multiple perspectives.
Diversity can affect psychosocial development during early childhood by helping children create positive self-images, form strong relationships with peers, and develop positive attitudes towards other children from both similar and different backgrounds. Teaching tolerance and acceptance in young people is essential to fostering their ability to believe that all groups of people are equally valuable. In addition, according to the research of V.O. Pang, promoting tolerance and acceptance leads to a fair and inclusive environment.
Early childhood education settings should provide an environment that allows children to explore diversity through developmentally appropriate toys, books, music, and activities. Some ways educators may consider exploring diversity in their classroom settings include promoting activities that allow children to not only learn about diversity, but also to see its role in their own lives. Important areas educators may choose to focus on in their classrooms include class, race, culture, disabilities, family structures, and gender roles.
Example activities may include having children identify how they are similar and different from peers in their classrooms — educators can have children describe their family structures, traditions and/or rituals within their homes, or roles of family members in their home.
Some books that help educators facilitate these dialogues include:
One curriculum that educators use to explore diversity is called “Fairness for All Individuals through Respect" (FAIR), which was co-created by Dr. Toni Zimmerman, Dr. Jen Krafchick, and Dr. Jen Aberle. FAIR is an experiential, multicultural education program that addresses fairness in social interactions through five unique activities. The curriculum gives children an opportunity to explore their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors toward and about people who are similar and different from themselves. The activities are described briefly below.
For this activity, an educator reads several short stories with a variety of characters, and at the end of each story, students are asked to consider what images come to their minds regarding the various people in the stories. The activity allows students to recognize that we associate particular characteristics (such as gender, race, class, or age) with specific roles, while simultaneously encouraging students to expand these notions and to challenge stereotypes.
Students are presented with a variety of domestic, scientific, nursery, and athletic toys, as well as board and computer games. Children can also be presented with dress-up clothing, make-up, and books. The students then distribute the toys to their classmates, allowing them to identify how gender is a major sorting force that can lead to rigid gender roles and discourage the development of an individual.
In this activity, students are asked to go through magazines to identify “in-the-box" and “out-of-the box" images. “In-the-box" is a metaphor for rigid messages that surround us and limit free expression to be an individual (for instance, that girls should like wearing feminine clothes). The students will paste “in-the-box" and “out-of-the-box" images to reflect such qualities as they learn to recognize the limitations of these messages. The goal of this activity is to help students discover that they hold ideas about what girls and boys should “do," and allow them to identify ways they can break these molds to be themselves.
For this activity, students are divided into groups and asked to construct a home with a myriad of materials. Some groups will receive an abundance of materials, while others will receive limited supplies. The students should create their homes without being able to see the materials that the other groups received. At the conclusion of building, students come together and present their homes to one another. After sharing, students are asked to reflect on their experiences, with the idea of proving that the structure of one’s house has nothing to do with one’s character. The goal of this activity is to help students understand and dispel stereotypes related to class.
In this exercise, students hear a story about four marine creatures: a shark, a carp, a crab, and a dolphin. Each creature has a specific role to play. After hearing the story, students are asked to discuss times when they have acted like each of these creatures. The goal is to help students realize that the creatures reside in all of us, but a commitment should be made to work towards social justice every day.
Early childhood educators may also need to engage parents to encourage tolerance and equity. Educators may consider involving parents in these efforts through the use of email, social media, or invitations to participate in various planned activities. In addition, educators may offer workshops designed specifically for parents to introduce the idea of diversity. Such gatherings allow educators to gain an understanding of the attitudes and beliefs of parents that shape their engagement. In addition, the educator may gain a sense of the how a student’s home environment may affect her views on diversity. During these workshops, educators can stress the importance of continuous and open dialogue at home in order to enhance the diversity activities that take place during the school day.
While dialogues about diversity may seem sensitive, it is important that early childhood educators start these conversations when children are young. Differences between individuals should be openly (and appropriately) discussed to promote tolerance. Bringing diversity into the classroom through toys, books, music, and activities will model positive social interactions that children can carry forward throughout their school careers.