Young children don't get an inclusive or empathetic attitude by participating in a few well-chosen activities during circle time.
Inclusivity is an attitude formed by hearing, seeing, and living a life that doesn't set out to exclude others because of size, shape, color, age, gender, physical abilities, religion, place of residence, attributes, or whom they choose to love.
When children repeatedly observe these types of attitudes and behaviors in the adults around them, they too, will show similar attitudes and behaviors. The key word here is repeatedly.
Young children learn through observation, listening, trial and error, and repetition. This is brain science.
I know that since you’re here you already have a good understanding of how quickly the young brain develops, I think it’s always a good idea to share links like these with co-teachers during a meeting or with parents in a newsletter. Why hide what we know?
Brain science Isn't for everyone but maybe it’s of interest to you!
If so, you may also want to know the easiest and best ways to impress very young children with ideas of inclusivity without seeming too preachy, awkward, or embarrassed.
You might worry that others in the lives of the children you work with aren't as inclusive as you'd like them to be. Or that the world they live in is so homogenous they could feel helpless and stuck concerning inclusivity.
Here are 3 concrete things you can do right away to help promote an inclusive attitude.
Discover family-appropriate cultural activities to visit. Seeing and playing with children who look and sound a little bit different than themselves can be very beneficial to all. Young children don’t seem to need to speak the same language in order to play together.
Here's a real-life story about inclusion.
I have a friend who spent much of her life as a mom bringing people together. She was genuinely interested in people who were different from her. She focussed on people with young children and set up or found activities that were free and fun. Anything to have a chance to get together with the kids.
I learned so much about people from her and from the interesting friends she attracted.
She wasn’t afraid to talk to anybody she found interesting. She also wasn’t afraid to talk about her own shortcomings as a parent. She was non-judgmental and able to ask a slightly nosy question out of curiosity that never seemed ill-intentioned. She used parenting as a common ground to bring people together that might not otherwise notice or connect with each other.
When I asked her my own nosy questions about how she got that way she told me that she moved around a lot as a child and learned that if you want friends you have to make them fast and hold on to them by staying in touch when you move.
And people are more interesting when they’re not all the same.
Use “I” messages to help children understand that differences can be OK and even positive. They work especially well when you need to set a boundary. For example, what if you hear a child say something like this?
Missy's mom has a big butt!
Missy’s mom might be a different size or shape than you’re used to but good people come in all shapes and sizes. I really like Missy’s mom and I think her shape is just right for her.
Your skin is so ugly!
I have grandma skin. It’s not ugly, just different than your young skin.
Why are you Black?
I’m Black because my mommy was Black and my daddy was Black! I like my brown skin and hair.
My goal is for children to accept differences in others and realize that they may have more in common than they think.
Here’s my favorite story about an "I" message.
One day, Bernadette and Emily were playing with dolls on the floor in front of me. Suddenly, Bernadette threw a doll angrily on the floor saying, “I don’t want that doll! That’s the Black one!
As a younger teacher, I may have used blame, shame, or angry surprise to show my dislike for racist outbursts. I may have said, That’s not OK, or Where did you hear that?!
But this day, I almost accidentally said the right thing. I thought about it quickly because it was true.
I grabbed the Black doll from the floor and said, “Then I want to play with this one. She’s so special. I got her from a garage sale and she has a name. It’s Missy. She also has hair. The little girl who used to take care of her had to give her up because she needed to make space in her room for new toys. She was so glad that I was buying her and bringing her to a childcare center where she would be loved and cared for.'
After that, everyone wanted the “Black” dolly named Missy. That’s because I gave her a name and an identity. And I appreciated her.
Make all feel welcome. Set the example for inclusion by inviting families into your learning spaces. Make no assumptions about what they’d like to do during their time with the children. Instead, talk with them about it.
You can start by setting up comfortable seating for adults or nursing parents in spaces shared with children. This encourages conversation and/or getting used to others.
Then if you want to take it one step further, you can try this! Here's an example email or text to parents.
Instead of doing a traditional “Child of the Week” or “Show and Tell” activity, we’re going to explore something new this year.
We’d like you welcome you into our classrooms in a different way. Since we think it’s important to get to know all families as well as children we’re going to invite you to come in and interact with the children during playtime.
You might read stories, show pictures, wear something culturally significant, sing a song together, or hang out and chat. You might want to share a culturally significant snack or any snack that your family enjoys together.
Please see Ms. Mary about signing up for a day and she can answer any questions you have. See you soon!
I sometimes show children this video of Iz singing Over The Rainbow. I ask them if they’ve ever seen anyone that big. Then I tell them that good people come in all shapes and sizes.
They really enjoy the singing and the rainbows so by the end of the video, they're totally with me. They see that Iz likes to sing, play music, and swim just like many of them. They also get to see that people from Hawaii come in all different sizes, ages and have varying colors of skin.
You can decide for yourself what to say about them celebrating his life by putting his ashes in the sea at the end.
assignment: discover and report on at least 3 places or events in your community that combine a respect for cultural diversity and fun!
Early Childhood Rocks is a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the world through early childhood education
Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! (click on the word) She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.