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The Importance Of Children Feeling Represented - How great is it that we are gradually beginning to see more diversity on television and in books? From celebrating physical differences on Strictly Come Dancing and on CBeebies, to celebrating hidden differences such as the series Pablo about an autistic boy, the world is gradually opening up to the importance of representation of everyone, no matter what skin colour, physical or hidden disability they have. There is still a lot of work to be done though. 

Imagine being a child in an early years setting, and being very aware that you look quite different to your peers. Perhaps you have a different skin colour, very different hair, or you have a physical disability that stands out. Not only are you different to the other children that surround you, but when you look in books, at posters or play with dolls or small world toys, none of those people look like you either. This is just going to make you even more aware that you are different.  

Practical Strategies For Representing Children's Diversity

When a child feels they are different to everyone else, they are likely to feel insecure and become withdrawn. A lack of representation can lead to children feeling they are unimportant. No child should grow up feeling they are less valuable because of how they look. It takes a lot of careful work to give a child the confidence to want to celebrate their differences rather than shy away from them. The root of this inner confidence starts in the home, but it is very likely that a child’s uniqueness only stands out when they are surrounded by lots of children from different homes. For example, at home, a child may be surrounded by loved ones with the same skin colour as them, but when they get to your setting they are the only one with their skin colour.   

As early years leaders, you have the critically important job of making children feel represented from the earliest age before any chance of them feeling undervalued or becoming negatively aware of their differences sets in. This is an incredibly important role that can make a huge difference to a child’s self-esteem. Just think – you get the chance to alter a child’s view of themselves and to celebrate everything about them, from the earliest age. One way to do this is to make sure they are represented across all resources in your setting.  

Shaping Positive Perspectives On Differences In Children

Here are some opportunities that you have in an early years setting to make sure everyone is represented: 

  • Books – have both fiction books that represent a whole range of people, plus non-fiction books that address the fact that we are all different. For example, the "Kll Kinds Of People" range by Emma Damon.  
  • Posters involving people or faces - if you have a feelings chart in your setting, does it represent one particular skin colour? Is there a way around that? You can see our mixed skin colour chart here. 
  • Art opportunities – consider offering crayons, paints and colouring pencils in a range of skin colours so that children can represent anyone and everyone through their art.  
  • Dolls and small world toys – should represent a range of skin colours and people both with and without visible disabilities. 
  • Have books in different languages – this is especially important if you have someone in your setting who has English as an additional language. Take time to celebrate their first language by having books in that language and about their heritage. 
  • Use visual symbols that represent everyone. 

Another way you can celebrate differences is to make sure you talk positively about someone. Instead of saying "Poor Ben needs extra help’ you could change your language and say: "That’s right, Ben uses pictures to speak instead of words". That way, you are letting all the children know that different is OK.  

Working with children in the earliest stages of their life is both an honour and a big responsibility. As one of their role models, you get to shape the way they think about themselves and others. Take the time to consider how you represent everyone and you could be making a huge difference to a child’s self-esteem and future feelings of their own self-worth. 

Visit Gina Smith's website here

View other blogs about diversity here:

Diversity in Early Years

Equality diversity and inclusion – EDI 

Priya Kanabar

About the author:

Gina Smith is the founder of Create Visual Aids, a small business on a mission to make visual communication accessible to all. She is a Mum to two girls, plus a former teacher with experience teaching in both mainstream and special schools. She is also a school SEND link governor and a tutor for children and adults with learning difficulties.  Gina is passionate about enabling communication using visual symbols and has created a whole range of resources that help families, schools, and nurseries support their children in both understanding what is happening and expressing their wants and needs. 

Priya Kanabar

About the author:

Gina Smith is the founder of Create Visual Aids, a small business on a mission to make visual communication accessible to all. She is a Mum to two girls, plus a former teacher with experience teaching in both mainstream and special schools. She is also a school SEND link governor and a tutor for children and adults with learning difficulties.  Gina is passionate about enabling communication using visual symbols and has created a whole range of resources that help families, schools, and nurseries support their children in both understanding what is happening and expressing their wants and needs. 

Priya Kanabar

About the author:

Gina Smith is the founder of Create Visual Aids, a small business on a mission to make visual communication accessible to all. She is a Mum to two girls, plus a former teacher with experience teaching in both mainstream and special schools. She is also a school SEND link governor and a tutor for children and adults with learning difficulties.  Gina is passionate about enabling communication using visual symbols and has created a whole range of resources that help families, schools, and nurseries support their children in both understanding what is happening and expressing their wants and needs. 

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