I sometimes start one of my training courses with the question, “If you were a chocolate bar or sweet, what would you be and why?” Learners always come up with great answers: “I’d be an Aero because I have a bubbly personality” or “I would be a caramel bar because I’m really a softie” or even “I’d be a Florentine because I’m a bit nutty!” What I love is that everyone is different.
Diversity recognises that differences are a natural part of society and these are viewed as a benefit not a threat. Celebrating our differences with young children is a great way of showing that we are all unique individuals. We are all different, aren’t we?
I don’t like eating fish, I wear glasses for driving, I eat my meals at the dinner table (except on a Friday – curry night in front of the TV – shhh don’t tell the kids!), my favourite colour is turquoise and I have red hair… I’m unique!
My 2-year-old children are beginning to notice differences, for example they may talk about boys or girls. However, what we need to remember is that the children themselves do not see difference as a threat or a bad thing, they just see it as, well, being different and that’s OK!
From the moment they can talk they will share their thoughts and ideas about the world and how things appear to them. They do not yet have the social pressures that would prevent them from saying loudly in the lift, “Mummy, why is that lady so fat?” just as they wouldn’t think twice about stating loudly, “Daddy that cat is black”. Why is it that it’s OK for a child to share some of their observations of the world but not others? Let’s talk about difference to children in positive ways so that it’s OK to share our observations of the world around us. It is very hard for young children to understand the subtleties of social etiquette and, quite frankly, why should they? So a gentle reply in the lift stating “We’re all different aren’t we, look my feet are bigger than yours!” should be enough to deal with the comment in the spirit in which it was stated.
Here are some more ideas of how to teach children about diversity and celebrate differences:
- Use circle time to talk about similarities and differences e.g. doll who has broken her arm and/or has new glasses
- Share books and pictures about other children ‘just like me’; include children from around the world, fiction and non-fiction
- Draw or paint self-portraits using correct colours for skin and eyes and compare with their friends
- Invite people with different occupations to visit you e.g. dentist, firefighters, shopkeeper
- Visit different areas in the community – fire station, community centre, church, mosque, local shops
- Create role play areas that represent different occupations and places of work e.g. doctors surgery, office, estate agents – include dressing up clothes and props to support the play – start with a firsthand experience of this whenever possible
- Choose stories and rhymes that show different ways of life in our country and around the world e.g. travellers, different houses and homes in other countries
- Explain carefully why some children may occasionally need extra help or support, or why other children feel upset by a particular thing
- Make a display with the children, showing all the people who make up the community around the setting
- Help children and parents to see the ways in which their cultures and beliefs are similar, sharing and discussing practices, resources, celebrations and experiences
- Provide ways of preserving memories of special events, e.g. making a book, collecting photographs, tape recording, drawing and writing
- Use modern photographs of parts of the world that are commonly stereotyped and misrepresented
- Help children to learn positive attitudes and challenge negative attitudes and stereotypes e.g. using puppets, persona dolls, stories and books showing black heroes or disabled kings or queens or families with same sex parents. Plan visits from a male midwife or female firefighter
- Talk to the children about feelings and emotions and ensure that you model using language associated with feelings to help build an emotionally literate environment.
So, which chocolate bar or sweet would you be and why? I’d be a whole box of chocolates because I’m so diverse and have several layers! Let’s teach diversity and difference by being diverse and different!
About the author
Tamsin Grimmer is an experienced early years consultant and trainer and parent who is passionate about young children’s learning and development. She believes that all children deserve practitioners who are inspiring, dynamic, reflective and committed to improving on their current best. Tamsin particularly enjoys planning and delivering training and supporting early years practitioners and teachers to improve outcomes for young children.