One Little Sentence That Promotes Inclusion in Toddlers and Preschoolers
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Ever hear a comment come out of the mouth of a young child that seems incredibly rude and uncaring, yet they say it with complete innocence and candor?
Wow! Missy's Mom has a big butt!
Kids can't have 2 Dads!
Is George's Mom a boy or a girl?
Why are you in a wheelchair?
Why is his skin ugly?
How do you respond? The answer to this problem lies in our core beliefs about inclusion. It forces us to think about our own attitudes in order to come up with an appropriate response.
By the way SHHHHH! Isn’t the best response. That just tells them not to interact with people who are different than us in any way.
But what is the best way to respond?
Chances are, the child is just curious and doesn't mean any harm. So what should we say in order to promote inclusion and a non-bias attitude in kids as young as 2,3 or 4?
Let's start with 2 very special words. Good people.......
Missy's mom might be a different size than you're used to. Good people come in all different shapes and sizes. (Sometimes, if the situation feels right, I might add something like, "Missy's Mom spends a lot of time volunteering at the neighborhood community center where we play, remember?”)
Most of the time, though, I just keep it short and matter of fact.
Good people can dress in many different ways.
Good people have all different kinds of abilities.
Good families can look different than your family and enjoy many of the same things.
Good people come from many different places and cultures and they don't always look, talk or smell the same way as you do.
Good people have different types and colors of skin. Grandma skin looks different than baby skin doesn't it? I wouldn't call it ugly, just different.
When you choose words like these, you're helping children learn to accept human beings for who they are instead of how they look. This is at the core of an antibias attitude.
Repetition is the way children form brain connections and brain connections form early.
In the first few years of life, more than 1 million new neural connections form every second. After this period of rapid proliferation, connections are reduced through a process called pruning, which allows brain circuits to become more efficient. In light of these findings, focussing on early childhood only makes sense. -Center for the Developing Child, Harvard University-
So the earlier we can promote inclusion, the better. Here's a great rock and roll song by Ralph’s World that adults and children can enjoy together. Don’t be afraid to dance to this one and play it often to help the message sink in!*
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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! 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 and is the founder of early childhood rocks!, a non-profit organization dedicated to changing the world through early childhood care and education.
Derman-Sparks, Louise. Anti-Bias Curriculum: Tools for Empowering Young Children. National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2001.
Derman-Sparks, Louise, et al. Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves. National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2020.
Hammond, Zaretta, and Yvette Jackson. Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students. Corwin, a SAGE Company, 2015.
Iruka, Iheoma U., et al. Don't Look Away Embracing Anti-Bias Classrooms. Gryphon House, 2021.
Anti-Bias Curriculum for the Preschool Classroom. Redleaf Press, 2021