In today’s diverse communities, it is becoming more important for teachers to integrate diversity into the early childhood classroom. Awareness of the world around us begins as young children start to recognize colors, language, and similarities and differences between them and their peers. Through this, they start to form their own self-image and question those differences while looking at the world around them. Integrating diversity takes thought and careful planning on the teachers’ part. So how do you create a safe, accepting and successful learning environment while guiding the children in your classroom to see the world through a lens of sensitivity, respect, value and appreciation for others in their world?
What is Multicultural Education?
Multicultural education has expanded into groups including people of color, religion, culture, women, age, gender, people with disabilities, etc. Including these groups into curriculum and weaving these themes throughout the classroom is important in the early years of development as children are becoming more aware of people that may seem different then how they see themselves. Giving children opportunities to interact with various people groups at a young age, the more aware and more sensitive children will be to others, as long as they are given the right tools for communication.
How to Create a Multicultural Learning Environment?
Displaying posters, providing books, dolls, play foods, and dress up clothes that show various races, cultures, people with disabilities, and non-gender stereotypes showing men and women doing similar activities are the beginning steps in creating an early childhood environment that fosters respect and sensitivity towards others and celebrates those similarities and differences in a healthy way.
Parents are a great resource and are usually more than happy to talk about their culture and maybe will even volunteer to read a book about where they come from or teach the children how to count in their language. Encourage parents to bring in photos of their families to display in the classroom and use those photos to encourage conversations about accepting others for who they are.
Following is a short list of ideas and activities that you can do in your classroom. There are many great articles and resources that will help you in creating your multicultural learning environment, but remember that just having a few posters, toys, books and other materials around your classroom is not enough–you must use those materials to encourage conversations and actively engage your children in conversations about the importance of being respectful, sensitive, and appreciative of everyone around them.
List of Activities and Ideas:
•Read different proverbs and traditions from cultures around the world
•Collect various retellings of Stone Soup from different cultures and see how they compare
•Play games from different countries
•Dance and sing to music from cultures around the world and talk about the instruments being played
•Hold a world celebration day- have parents volunteer to bring foods from their culture in to share
•Celebrate holidays around the world – just remember to be sensitive and accurate when teaching these holidays, and if you teach one, you should teach all of them.
•Have a puppet show using puppets depicting various races
•Learn and sing songs in other languages
•Teach your children words and/or the alphabet in sign language
•Incorporate skin-tone crayons into the art center and have children create pictures of themselves and friends
•Thumbprint art- recognize various patterns in children’s thumbprints
•Make graphs of the different characteristics of the children in your classroom
Resources to Check Out:
• Welcoming Dual Language Learners
• Engaging Children in Multicultural Activities and Conversations
• Creative Diversity Materials
• ersi.info (to find out how the Environment Rating Scales view diversity in the classroom)