Children need an environment in which they can begin to learn about differences. Between the ages of 2 and 5, children are becoming aware of gender, race, ethnicity, and disabilities (Neugebauer, 1992). Our goal with this month's theme is for children to develop fairness and tolerance for differences and to learn to challenge unfair treatment of others. After all, the brave firefighters and police who rushed in to save the people at the World Trade Towers didn't give any consideration to racial background. They were saving people, plain and simple.
Learning basic social skills such as saying thank you, sharing toys, greeting friends in an appropriate manner, etc., gives children basic tools to develop tolerance of others. Our physical environment also plays a role in our cultural learning. Posters demonstrating ethnic and racial diversity, dolls of varying colours, sizes, gender, even those with disabilities, crayons that contain a variety of skin tones all play a role in learning to accept differences. Look around your facility and see where you can improve on this theme. You can find calendars like the one at earthcalendat.net that note holidays from other cultures and point these days to celebrate out to the children. When we recognize and celebrate the differences among staff, parents, and children we set the example for them to follow.
Some of the ways you can enhance the theme of Accepting Differences is to plan ways to share differences by:
Taking one day to talk about how we are all the same, especially when it comes to feelings.
You can also use props to demonstrate how we may be different on the outside but the same on
the inside. One idea is to use brown and white eggs. Ask the children to tell you how they are
different in colour, size, shape. The using clear bowls break the eggs open and ask the children
to tell you what they see. The results, despite the obvious differences, we are all build the same
on the inside, which is what makes us human beings.
Have some clothing from different cultures in the dress-up area. Demonstrate how they are worn
and why a certain culture dresses they way they do. Your librarian can help you find books to
read to the children on this topic.
For a wonderful list of books for young children on multiculturalism and diversity visit this National Network For Child Care link or take a field trip to your local library. Talk to your local librarian about setting up a reading session for your children on multiculturalism. You might also want to ask the parents to bring in books from home about their culture so you can share these with the children.
Here's an interesting story children can act out. Begin by telling what happened not so very long ago, when the children's parents or family members were about their age:
One day, a black woman named Rosa Parks was riding home on a bus after a long day of work. She was very tired. She got on the bus and sat in a vacant seat.
In those days her city had a special law: if there weren't enough seats on the bus for white
people,black people were supposed to give up their seats to them. Soon after she got on, the
bus seats were full, and then more people got on. The white people expected Rosa to get up
from her seat.
Rosa was exhausted. She said, "No," and wouldn't give up her seat. Rosa Parks was arrested
and put in jail. Many people heard what happened; some didn't think it was fair. So the black
people in her town said, "We aren't going to ride the bus any more until the law is changed."
For one year they didn't ride the bus. Finally, the law was changed! Rosa Parks wanted African
Americans to be treated fairly. All across the country, people began to insist on their civil
Encourage the children to act out the story. Use props such as chairs, stools, or boxes for bus seats. Children can choose who will be the bus driver, Rosa Parks, the person who wanted a seat, the police officer, and other passengers on the bus. Let children direct the action and use their own words. Props such as bus tickets and shopping bags might be used.
After the children have finished reenacting what happened, talk about how each of the people involved probably felt: Rosa Parks, the driver, the person who wanted Rosa's seat, the police officer. Why did they do what they did? Expand children's play if they're interested. You could build on themes including transportation, women in history, the Civil Rights Movement, or local, state, and federal laws.
(From the National Network for Child Care - NNCC. (1994). The Rosa Parks story: How one person made a difference. In M. Lopes (Ed.) CareGiver News (December, p.1). Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Cooperative Extension.)
Music & Creative Movement
Parents and staff with varying cultural backgrounds can be a valuable resource with this theme. Ask them to share music that their family enjoys. Let the children listen music and get them to sing and dance. Children will begin to see that all people like to sing and dance, but every group has its own special ways of doing it. Talk with the children about how different music sounds: loud, soft, fast, or slow. Listen for the different instruments. Again, ask parents if they have any instruments they would be willing to share with the children to enhance their learning experience.
Arts & Crafts
Set out white 3" x 5" cards, a black ink pad, a pen, and a magnifying glass. Ask the children to
make prints of their thumbs by pressing them on the ink pad and then on the cards. Label each
print with the child's name. Let children use the magnifying glass to see how the prints are alike
and different. Point out that everyone has patterns on the skin of their fingers and each person's
fingerprints are different from anyone else's.
Boil eggs of differing colours and sizes. Have the children using crayons, markers, felt pieces,
etc. to decorate the egg in their own likeness. (Can be used in conjunction with the egg
demonstration noted above.)
Read the poem A Box of Crayons by Shane DeRolf, to your children . It is about the different
colors getting along and liking each other. Then, have the children draw their portraits on a a
precut oversized crayon pattern. Cut the crayon out when the children are done. Place all the
crayons into a giant box of crayons that you can create using construction paper. This craft
makes an adorable wall handing piece demonstrating the diversity of everyone in your group.
Another craft and art idea you can tie into your language skills is learning about masks from
around the world and what they symbolize. When you're done the children can create their own
masks. The following day you can have each child tell a story about their mask, write the story
on a board or note pad, and perhaps make your own book of mask stories. Blends in with the
Halloween theme too.
Another fun art activity has to do with learning about skin color. Children can mix paints to find
their own individual skin colors.
Cooking: Learn about the different ways other cultures use to prepare foods. Host an ethnic lunch each month, for example, cook tortillas for lunch during Mexican week. Have parents or grandparents prepare a snack from their culture. Ask them to tell you about the food, how it is made, it's orgins, etc., and talk about these with the children. While talking with the children about these foods, point out that no matter what specific things we like to eat, all children get hungry and all people can enjoy eating food together.
Science: Learning about the various backgrounds of the wonderful people who make up our universe teachers and caregivers with opportunities to teach the children about the different lands that people live in. Some may inhabit rain forests, deserts, mountains. Librarians can assist you in finding science activities related to theseregions. Housing and transportation can also make their way into this learning environment. The possibilities are a diverse as the people themselves.
Math: Your librarian can also assist you in locating math activities and concepts that are used by different cultures around the world. Of course, you can teach simple math concepts by using props related to the culture you are teaching at the time.
You can start scheduling your activities based on holidays, or perhaps teach the children about one particular culture and way of life each month. Research native dances, costumes, way of life. Read books to the children about children from that particular culture. Find ways to honour the cultural uniqueness of children from this culture. Learn the different foods and serve some of these at snack times or host a cultural lunch on these days. Prepare arts and crafts native to the culture of the month. Your local librarian could help you immensely in this endeavor.
Scheduling anti-biased activities can also begin as a result of observing the children and talking with them. Caregivers can ask questions from pictures of people from different cultures to see what the children know and where there may be any misinformation. The children's responses will guide you to necessary directions for curriculum activities. It is also important to watch and to listen to how the children interact with each other particularly when children of varying backgrounds are part of the environment. Learning activities can be geared as a result of these "teachable moment" observations.
Taking Appropriate Action Against Discrimination
Children have to be tought that there is no place for discrimination or hurtful behaviour in our community. Caregivers and directors should have rules in place that address ethnic and gender slurs or hostile remarks about another's appearance or disability so that children clearly understand that these remarks or actions are not acceptable.
As children learn by example, it is equally important to take a stand against adults who use bigoted language around the children. Children need to know that such behavior is unacceptable even if it is from a familiar adult. Asking the offending adult not to talk that was around children sends a clear message to all involved.