By Catherine M. Pruissen
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 to help 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 ideas to enahnce the theme of Accepting Differences:
Take some time to talk to the children about how we are all the same, especially when it come 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. Then, using clear bowls, break the eggs open and ask the children to tell you what they see. The results, despite the obvious differences, is that we are all built 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 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 customs and culture.
Here's an interesting story children can act out. Begin by telling the children a story about how things were not so very long ago.
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 ights.
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 their family enjoys. Get the children to sing and dance as they listen to the music. Children will begin to see that all people like to sing and dance, and that every group has its own special ways of doing so. Talk with the children about how different music sounds: loud, soft, fast, or slow. Listen for the different instruments. Ask parents if they have any instruments they would be willing to share with the children to enhance their learning experience.
Arts & Crafts
Using white 3" x 5" cards, a black ink pad, a pen, and a magnifying glass, have the children make prints of their thumbs by pressing them on the ink pad and then on the cards. (This works best when you press the finger on its side first and roll the finger until the print is done.) 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 decorage the eggs in their own likeness using crayons, markers, felt pieces, etc. (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 colours 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.
Children can also 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, its 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 enjoy eating food together.
Science: Learning about the various backgrounds of the wonderful people who make up our universe provides 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 these regions. 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.