One of the best ways to understand & support the inclusion of every child, is by stepping into their shoes and getting a perspective of how they feel and what they may be experiencing.
This helps us plan and work towards ensuring that we get inclusion right for every individual child and that no child experiences exclusion.
Through our work at Diversity Kids, we often hear from children themselves, grateful for their Bilingual Educator who helps them understand and be better understood. Or the children we observe through our intervention and inclusion support that are feeling happier and comforted knowing that their Educators are becoming better equipped to support their unique inclusion needs and that their peers are becoming more inclusive, accepting and understanding.
It all begins with the welcome. When the child walks through the door every morning, what are they telling you about how safe, included and welcome they feel? Do you see signs of confidence, connection & belonging? Does the child feel safe and happy enough to farewell family without issue and participate meaningfully during a positive and fulfilling day? One can usually pick up signals from the onset around barriers that need to be addressed in order for the child to experience a happier & more inclusive time in their education & care setting.
For every child to participate fully, it is important that their voices are heard & that they are understood by their fellow peers & Educators. For some children, this means, additional support to give them louder voices and also help them better understand what is expected of them throughout the day. We always need to be looking for ways to ensure that every voice is heard and that every child is given an opportunity to authentically and meaningfully engage and participate without any barriers. Keep an eye out throughout the program as to who is not contributing or constantly appear to be distracted or disruptive and ask yourself whether your intervention to address & remove any current barriers may help.
It is important that as Educators, we regularly reflect and check in to see that no child is struggling to participate in our programs. If they do, they do not have the capacity to ask for help – it is our responsibility as Educators to find solutions to help them overcome any obstacles (whether this means language support, accommodations & modifications to our programs or building our confidence, knowledge & capacity around inclusion and inclusive practices).
Every child feels better included and a greater sense of connection & belonging when they see themselves and can relate to the resources & programs we provide every day. Diversity Kids advocates for “mirror & window” programs & resources, to heighten a sense of inclusion and diversity for all children. When children look at books, toys, dolls embedded in your programs they should be able to see reflections of themselves – like looking at a mirror. These resources should also give children an opportunity to open doors and explore the diversity around them.
Inclusion for the child operates holistically with various factors and interactions coming into play – from our inclusive actions as Educators to finding ways to ensure that all families are given the opportunity to participate, contribute and belong. Nothing makes a child feel more included than a child who participates fully and can see that their family experiences the same.
A child might not be able to tell you whether they feel included or not or what they need to be included. As adults, we can reflect, put ourselves in their shoes and try to experience belonging through their eyes. We know that every child is being included, when every child thrives, participates meaningfully & fully and that their education & care setting feels safe and just like home.
Is it great to celebrate? Exploring the celebration debate!
The cultural, linguistic & religious diversity of Australia inevitably presents itself in our education and care settings. Consequently, we need to be developing & delivering culturally inclusive and authentic programs that reflect the diversity of our classrooms and are meaningful to our children & families.
Celebrations are a very important aspect of culture (being either religious, festive, historical or nationally based), however, quite often Educators view celebrations as challenging on various levels.
The common challenges we hear about include:
Diversity Kids believes that “it’s great to celebrate!”. Challenges and concerns can be unpacked and worked through. With reflection, consultation, collaboration, some guiding tips & strategies, the celebration journey can be a meaningful, authentic, inclusive, educational and fun learning experience for everyone involved.
Tips & ideas to consider when planning celebrations:
What happens when families do not want their children to participate in particular celebrations?
Quite often, families do not want their children to participate in particular celebrations, for various reasons (eg contradiction of moral or religious views). Policies should respects the right of families and children to not participate in celebrations and families who do not wish to be involved in celebrations should have options for ‘opting out’. Offer appropriate alternatives for children and families who chose not to participate in celebrations.
M. Casley, Celebrating With Children: A Cultural Perspective, Diversity in Child Care Queensland, STTAR Program, 2001.
M. Tsambouniaris, Festivals and Celebrations, Bankstown Early Integration and Networking Group, 2004
Extract from Putting Children First, the magazine of the National Childcare Accreditation Council (NCAC) Issue 33, March 2010 (pages 17-19), Genuine Celebrations: Including cultural experiences in the program.
Cultural Connections, Child Australia, 2017
What is Cultural Competence?
The Early Years Learning Framework describes Cultural Competence as “much more than an awareness of cultural differences. It is the ability to understand, communicate with and effectively interact with people across cultures”.
The team at Diversity Kids believe that Cultural Competence is also about recognising that all children are born belonging to a culture. These children often come to our education and care settings with strong cultural identities that may involve traditional practices, values that they are raised with, celebrations and knowledge.
Cultural Competence embodies Educators taking the time and making an effort to understand the unique sense of culture & belonging that each child experiences within their cultural community and as Educators, working towards creating a care environment that offers a similar sense of belonging (like an extension of the child’s home environment).
Cultural Competence has both a visible, tangible layer (including things like purchasing multicultural & Aboriginal resources and embedding these in every day practices, celebrating cultural festivals, inviting Aboriginal people to come and tell stories, translating information for families and so on).
There is also another layer to Cultural Competence that has more to do with our attitudes, knowledge, the relationships we make, the connections we build with our children & families, the way we extend on our knowledge base and our attitudes towards diversity. It includes the way we effectively communicate and interact with children, families & people across cultures.
One of the keys to cultivating Cultural Competence is our ability to view Cultural Competence as an ongoing, integral part of a continuous learning process, a life long journey, rather than a destination.
Cultural Competence and the experience of it varies from person to person and from situation to situation. It requires a growth mindset, a quest for knowledge around cultures & diversity, ongoing reflection that leads to identifying, learning from and implementing new opportunities and putting cross cultural practices into action. In essence, Cultural Competence is an opportunity for limitless learning, an exchange of information, connection and collaboration.
Developing and cultivating your Cultural Competence invites you to begin by looking into your own cultural background – the experiences, values and knowledge of your own culture, family and community history - and recognising that people from other cultures may not share them.
Cultural Competence is also looking at everything through a cultural lens and building that into your everyday practices, policies, programs and philosophies.
What are some tips, tools & skills to help Educators become culturally competent?
Diversity Kids has developed a Checklist that describes some of the characteristic attitudes, skills & knowedge required to be a Culturally Competent Educator. Below is an excerpt from that Checklist:
Culturally Competent Educators:
What does Cultural Competence mean? How do we do it? How do we become it?
Cultural Competence means different things to different people. Everyone’s Cultural Competence journey is unique. We are all at different stages of our journey but the most important thing is that we start this journey and take the small steps, even if at times we feel that our approach wavers on the tokenistic.
Over time, with ongoing reflection, opportunities, practice, perseverance and a commitment to continue the journey, one is able to cultivate their competence around culture. This eventually leads to an enriched journey of cultural confidence with tools & knowledge to better communicate, include and interact cross culturally with children, families and Educators that we work with and in our everyday personal interactions.
We recently received a query from a Diversity Kids follower that inspired us to write up a blog & develop a resource with tips & strategies.
When we talk about teaching children about cultural diversity and embedding it in our Services and programs to help create future ambassadors of Inclusion & Diversity, it is just as important to do this in education & care settings where there is no diversity represented and where classrooms are primarily monocultural.
Children all over the world are growing up in heterogenous and multicultural societies.
Regardless of whether they are experiencing diversity in their current circumstances or not, chances are they will in time be exposed to diversity in their wider community and future experiences. For this reason, it is important that children learn about similarities and differences and learn to respect and accept people, practices, beliefs, attitudes, cultures, abilities and experiences that are different to their own.
By teaching young children about diversity in early childhood, we are exposing them to different ways of life from an early age and encouraging them to see differences as positive, exciting and enriching opportunities and quite often as “just a different way of doing things.” This also helps build a strong sense of self, identity and self-esteem which will be carried through in later life.
As Early Childhood Teachers we are in a very influential position to embed cultural awareness, cultural competence, sensitivity to & respect for diversity, from a very early age through the programs and resources we chose to deliver and share in our education and care environments.
The ideal place to start is through enriching children’s experiences with meaningful multicultural perspectives as an integral part of all programs for young children. Even if there are only one or two cultures represented at your Service, these two are a great place to start. You may even find that once you start scratching the surface and finding opportunities to ask the right questions (for example through your enrolment forms), you may discover that families are from Culturally & Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds that you were not aware of.
Another great place to start sharing culture, is through the cultural competence journey of Educators at your Services. There is value in introducing & sharing our cultures as Educators to the children & families that we’re working with. It’s all relative to embedding culture meaningfully & authentically and an excellent way to introduce culture and diversity to children within their own community.
I always like to share the example of a team in a primarily monocultural rural setting, with children & families attending, primarily from English speaking backgrounds. The staff at this Service reflected on building on their cultural competence with an innovative initial project, that had some interesting, unforeseen spin off effects with staff, children & families around cultural competence. The team were invited to include & share something important from their own family or cultural life in their staff profiles (which were displayed in the foyer and in children’s resources). Staff were also encouraged to include any languages other than English that they spoke and flag(s) representing their cultural backgrounds.
Almost immediately staff recognised similarities and explored differences with each other.
It created opportunities for conversation – to listen, to learn and understand. In response, the families of the children voluntarily started sharing what was important to their families and cultures.
Through this activity, Educators were able to unpack missed cultural information about children & families that had not been previously made available. This is turn helped Educators start building on embedding cultural perspectives in their everyday programs that were meaningful.
If your Service is monolingual, another important step we recommend is to research the cultural demographics of the local community (including local Aboriginal communities and cultures) and start implementing & embedding multicultural activities as inbuilt to the whole Service functioning on an every day basis, reflecting the diverse cultures, backgrounds, languages & religions which are represented in the local community and beyond. Such programs respect & promote all cultures, so that children from as young as 5 years have good, positive feelings about themselves and others.
We recommend that cultural programs are sprinkled everywhere, every day, all the time, across all areas of the program and curriculum, rather than setting up cultural corners or having cultural months.
There are many examples of ways diverse cultures can be embedded in the every day practices of monocultural classrooms:
Even in our monocultural classrooms, we can find ways to introduce meaningful programs that embrace and embed cultures, diversity and community. By starting early we help pave the way for future societies that are inclusive and respectful of diversity.
of different groups in our community, in name calling, taunting or insults, or in actively and directly excluding or discriminating against people….”
(Dr Helen Szok, Race Discrimination Commissioner, Australian Human Rights Commission, 2012).
Research shows that children are not born racist or prejudiced, but may start demonstrating prejudice in their attitudes and behaviour as young as three years of age, as they start to navigate their social world and start noticing difference. Although they may start exhibiting some form of prejudice or racial bias as early as 3 years of age, it is debatable whether the bias is evolutionary, learnt behaviour from others (including adults, siblings, peers, media, books, resources), or a blend of both. But this concept is a topic in itself. At this age, it is believed that prejudice is primarily based on stereotypes, limited experiences and modelling.
What we are certain of though, is that the behaviour of adults impacts largely on children.
Adults need to be very careful about passing on their own biases and prejudices before children even understand the concept of racism. This is why it is so important that we model respectful and inclusive behaviour, particularly during these times, where children may be exposed to racism in our community. By starting early, we can help children stand up to and reduce prejudice and discrimination, even in the long-term. Climates such as the current one, will provide many opportunities for discrimination & prejudice to surface in children.
As Educators we can seize these opportunities as they arise, and use them to openly discuss, clarify, introduce & embed programs that promote and embrace culture, diversity, anti bias, kindness, respect, empathy, belonging, inclusion, community and social justice.
Doing this enables us to:
Stages of Awareness Of Difference: (adapted from Roots & Wings, York S, 1992)
3-4 year olds:
5-6 year olds:
What can we do as Educators?
As Educators, we can also engage in critical reflection and thoughtful conversations with staff to build a team approach to countering racism and bias.
Some critical questions that we can reflect on as individuals and as a team include:
Below are some examples of what we are hearing children say, and behaviours currently exhibited during the COVID – 19 pandemic:
In these instances, it is evident that children are acting out and projecting learned behaviour. They have seen, heard or learnt some things from various sources including adults, siblings, peers or what they are exposed to in the media.
This is why it is paramount for us as adults to be mindful of what children are exposed to, and the language that we use around race. We are in a position to be good, positive role models and to keep an eye on what information our children are exposed to and the conversations they are hearing and having around the pandemic.
Responding to and dealing with racist, prejudiced or discriminatory behaviour, talking about difference and diversity is quite often a sensitive, confronting subject for adults to deal with. However, it’s important to deal with these issues when they arise, especially in these instances where the discriminatory behaviour is a by product of something learnt, and has consequences for the children that are being targetted. We have an obligation to teach all children in our settings that any form of discrimination is not acceptable and unkind.
We must instill a respect for diversity and as Teachers/Educators we are in the best position to plant seeds of harmony from a very early age.
When children are exposed to embedded inclusive programs that facilitate and demonstrate respect for all forms of diversity, we help nurture kindness, empathy, compassion and inclusive practices from a very early age. We are helping create future global citizens.
We can do our bit to eradicate prejudice in young children by helping create environments and delivering programs that are inclusive of all and help foster a sense of belonging and safety for all children. But we cannot do this alone – there needs to be an extension of this between the home environment and care & education settings. So part of our strategy may also need to focus on getting the families involved and getting this important message out there. Sometimes conversations need to be had with families about children’s behaviour and potentially working in partnership to deal with issues that arise. This might take the form of an article in a Newsletter, Information Sessions or Workshops for families or translated information.
What should we do if we hear children making discriminatory comments or exhibiting racist behaviours?
The early years are a critical time, where children are forming their identity and learning about others and the world around them. This is our opportunity to role model cultural inclusive practices and ensure that diversity is embraced and celebrated.
Let’s use the pandemic, to work with our young to combat racism and embrace diversity from the early childhood years. As Teachers, Educators & Carers we are in a critical position to take steps, implement strategies and programs that ensure that no child is discriminated against, experiences prejudice in their learning environment and that all children live and learn harmoniously during this worldwide challenging time and beyond.. There is no room for racism, especially in our early childhood settings.
Look out for our associated resources released over the next few weeks. with more practical ideas.
The Australian Human Rights Commission 2016 has developed a toolkit for early childhood educators on cultural diversity and responding to prejudice. The toolkit provides resources, examples of responses to difficult questions and concerns and links to educational frameworks & standards.
Hello – Tony Flowers (2016)
I’m Australian Too – Mem Fox (2017)
The Barefoot Book of Children – Tessa Strickland, Kate de Palma, David Dean (2018)
We Are All Welcome – Alexandra Penfold, Suzanne Kaufman (2018)
Happy In Our Skin – Fran Manushkin, Lauren Tobia (2015)
Shades of People –Shelley Rotner, Sheila M Ketty (2009)
All Kinds of People – Shelley Rotner, Sheila M Ketty (2018)
Derman-Sparks, L (1992) . "The Anti Bias Curriculum. Tools for empowering young children." Washington DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Lady Gowrie Child Care Centre, Sydney (1997) "Playing Fair."
York, S (1992), “Roots & Wings”, Redleaf Press, USA
We hear many stories of cultural differences around child rearing practices that conflict between home environment and child care setting expectations. Some examples include feeding, toileting, sleeping arrangements, attitudes to play, school readiness and disability.
In these instances, communication and information is the key. When we build strong, positive partnerships with families, hold cultural conversations, provide translated literature, or invite professional guest speakers to speak on these topics, attitudes usually change and mindsets shift.
Work through cultural challenges with open, flexible minds, collaborating or compromising with families and coming up with solutions that work for all parties. Create a sense of welcome, acceptance and belonging, where every child and family is visible and valued. Enable experiences that are meaningful, authentic and extensions of home environment.
What would it feel like as an adult migrating to a new country and having to start a new job immediately?
Just imagine. You do not speak the language. You are not familiar with the new culture and practices. You are feeling overwhelmed, disconnected and anxious in this new country and work environment.
If we would struggle as adults, just imagine how a newly arrived child or a child with little or no English and no experience in the education & care setting would feel.
This is why inclusion is paramount and inclusive practices matter.
It is important that we, as early childhood professionals and teachers establish strong cultural connections with our CALD children and families. Doing so allows us to better tailor our programs, our support and inclusive practices around the unique needs of all our children.
There are many ways that we can ensure that our services are culturally inclusive and that we connect well with our CALD children & families, creating a sense of welcome and belonging for everyone.
Below are some practical tips & strategies to add to your Cultural Inclusive Toolkit:
All these strategies ensure that the voices of all the children at your service are heard, particularly those whose first language is not English.
They also help create a sense of ‘Belonging’ for your CALD children by providing and maintaining a safe, nurturing, familiar, predictable and culturally/linguistically relevant care environment, where they feel comfortable and safe in their experiences and identity.
DIVERSITY KIDS can provide support in all key areas suggested above!
As we highlight in our well known quotes:
“Before a child is able to Be, to Belong & to Become, they need to be included.”
"There is Belonging, Being & Becoming. But Inclusion comes first."