We live in a multicultural society. There is bounty and beauty in all of the cultures, races, and religions that make up the United States, and we should be celebrating our differences and encouraging our children to do the same. Admittedly, this can prove to be a challenge when you're looking to create a cohesive child care environment. To help on this quest, I've compiled six ways to incorporate culture and diversity into child care while maintaining a shared community of learners that also highlights what is common among all children.
There is a breadth of research on the need for inclusive, dynamic, multicultural learning in early childhood education. In their call for intercultural education, scholars Leslie Ponciano and Ani Shabazian wrote: "As society becomes increasingly multiracial, multilingual, and multicultural, so too grows the need for educators' abilities to support children’s development by instilling in them the tools they need to live together respectfully and stand up to prejudice." This begins by evaluating the needs of your child care situation, and determining what the needs and strengths are in the community as a whole, and what isn't currently being addressed. It needs to begin at the ground level, reaching out to encompass not only the students, but also the educators, staff, and families.
Evaluating what the community of students and their families can learn from each other is essential, but it's important to note that it is not the job of minority groups to educate white people about their culture, as The Guardian pointed out. If it is offered, or becomes a part of a collective conversation, then that's fine... but the burden does not lie with minorities alone. I know that in the region where I grew up, child care was fairly segregated. My preschool was 98 percent white, and it still is. I went through most of my education with teachers who didn't understand my culture, and couldn't pronounce my last name. This is still too common throughout the country, but there are ways to mitigate its effects.
1. Make It A Cultural Community
I am not advocating for the co-opting of cultures that aren't represented in the classroom, but I am suggesting that the activities and practices of the environment actively engage in learning about other communities and cultures. In Culture and Child Development in Early Childhood Programs, Carollee Howes wrote that these practices are "everyday ways of doing things such as what and how to share in circle time... " and also things like "what happens when the children discover a worm in the playground." These conversations and activities can open up arenas for cultural learning through connecting these activities to a story or historical lesson. For instance, if you're strawberry picking, or painting strawberries, you could link it to Joseph Bruchac's storybook, The First Strawberries, a gorgeous indigenous American imagining of the first woman and man.
2. Celebrate With The Children
My family is Slavic/Balkan, Chinese, Malay, Jamaican, Jewish, Arab, and Puerto Rican. Across these groups, we hit quite a few holidays, cultural differences, and histories. One of the things I love best about early childhood education is just how much children want to learn about the world. It's all new to them, and they're too young to have formed concrete ideas about any of it. I love going into my children's classroom, or having someone from my family go in, and talk about what makes them unique. Usually, childcare groups are very receptive to this. Maybe my husband goes in and speaks about Lunar New Year, or my brother-in-law talks about Carnaval and traditional Jamaican foods. I love to go in and talk about our traditional pottery and handicrafts.
3. Include Same Sex and Nonbinary Couples In Your Art and Books
We all remember learning how to read with flannel boards and pictures on the wall. It was usually a picture of a woman and man with their children labeled "Mom, Dad, brother, sister." It subconsciously reinforces the gender binary and the idea that families only look one way. This is troubling not only for kids who might be in the LGBTQIA+ group, but also for other kids from non-traditional families. That includes single parents, gay parents, grandparents or aunties raising the children, and basically any other grouping you can think of. In a truly multicultural and diverse childcare environment, there must be a dedication to what Ponciano and Shabazian refer to as an anti-bias curriculum. A great place to start is by adding picture books that feature same-sex parents for storytime. It should be normalized, because it is normal.
4. Education for the Educators Should Be Ongoing
In New York City, the public educational system has mandated anti-bias training so that the educators understand how their inherent bias might impact their students and the families of those students. Organizations such as GLSEN, offer programs designed to assure that teachers and staff don't inadvertently cause harm with their words or actions.
5. Look At Classrooms Around The World
Rasmussen College had a fantastic idea of setting up a program where students look at how classrooms or childcare environments look around the world. Research and discover how those children get to school, what do they study? Who are their teachers? It's a great way to learn about other cultures as well as other children.
6. As Ever, Food Is A Fantastic Teacher
My favorite thing about my heritage is its food. My husband and family say the same. It also can teach us so much about a culture. My father's family is from deep in the mountains, high up where it is cold a good part of the year. This means we eat a lot of hearty foods like onions, rye, and wheat, as well as meats and dairy, which are abundant. My husband's family is from the tropics. Their food is filled with fresh fruits and vegetables with almost no meat other than a little chicken and fish. Bringing in meals from other cultures is a multi-sensory experience that engages everyone in lively conversation and learning.
There is no one "best way" on how to incorporate culture and diversity in childcare, but instead, it requires a multifaceted approach that continues throughout a child's education. As parents, it is up to us to determine if and how those needs are being met in our children's school. It's a heavy task, but incredibly important.