Culture plays a defining role in the families of many young children and helps to nurture their sense of identity and values. It can be defined as everything from cuisine, language and religion to music and arts of a particular group of people.
Practitioners can support children to learn more about different cultures and therefore help them foster a sense of respect and understanding for the beliefs of others. It’s important for children to realise that we live in a diverse and multicultural world, and that differences should be celebrated.
Although there have been many discussions amongst childcare practitioners around the term ‘British values’ since its introduction, settings have a statutory responsibility to promote the values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs.
So, how can settings do this? There are a great many religious and cultural festivals to celebrate throughout the year, but let’s take the example of Diwali. This is the Hindu festival of light which is celebrated this year on 19th October.
Diwali celebrates the triumph of good over evil, light over dark and new beginnings. During this time, homes are cleaned, gifts exchanged between families and friends, and new clothes are worn.
Here are some of the activities you can undertake within your setting to mark this five-day festival:
Communication and language
- Discuss the story of Diwali
- Write Diwali cards
- Learn songs and rhymes associated with the celebration
- Explore the language around the smell/taste of traditional food eaten during this time
- Observe light, dark and shadow
- Encourage the children to help make up stories about doing good things, helping others.
- Listen and dance to Indian music
- Introduce traditional musical instruments into the classroom
Personal, social and emotional development
- Make Indian sweets, such as coconut barfis, together
- Listen to the story of the victory of good over evil
- Discuss making new beginnings, encourage children to talk about a time when they made someone feel sad or when someone made them feel sad, and what could have been done differently.
- Make shapes and patterns
- Sequence the Diwali story
- Discuss time past, present and tomorrow
Understanding the world
- Arrange a visit to a local temple
- Ask a parent to come in and talk about Diwali and how it’s celebrated at home
- Dress up in authentic clothing, such as sareers or kurtas
Expressive arts and design
- Make Rangoli (bright patterns which Hindus use to encourage the goddess Lakshmi to enter homes)
- Make Mehndi patterns on hands
- Make divas (candle holders) from clay, playdough or salt dough
- Make paper chains and hanging garlands
Practitioners can use special occasions, like Diwali, to actively promote an understanding of culture. Nevertheless, books, resources and positive images such as posters and photographs should be available at all times as part of a setting’s continuous provision to promote tolerance, respect and understanding.
Settings should also try to involve parents as much as possible in organising and celebrating festivals. Consult with them to make sure you have the correct information; there may even be opportunities to borrow artefacts and special clothing. This being the case, it’s important to warn families that, although the utmost care will be taken with these artefacts, accidents do happen.
You could also look to invite parents or family members in to talk to your children about their cultures and beliefs. This is an excellent way to strengthen partnerships with parents.
When celebrating special occasions and festivals throughout the year, be mindful of your setting’s inclusion policy and The Prevent Duty if you have a family who has particularly strong objections to their child taking part.
Without a doubt, it’s vitally important for children to have the opportunity to explore cultures which differ from their own in order to help them understand that they live in a diverse, multicultural society. This will help children foster a sense of mutual respect and tolerance for all cultures, a fundamental part of British values.