Early childhood is the ideal time to begin emphasizing the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion. Helping young students recognize the differences in genders, cultural backgrounds or physical abilities will help them become more considerate citizens and address injustice and discrimination as they grow.
Fostering a culture that promotes equity and inclusion requires an active approach by educators. Teachers should strive to create diverse learning environments that encourage positive discussions about diversity, equity and inclusion.
The Importance of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity in Early Childhood Education
There is a common misconception that that avoiding conversations about cultural or physical differences will prevent children from forming negative ideas about those differences. However, children as young as six months old begin subconsciously grouping individuals according to race and gender, but they have not yet begun to form opinions about those differences. However, by the age of five, most children will begin to articulate a preference for classmates of the same race.
Due to children's hyper-observant nature, teachers must acknowledge diversity in the classroom. An article published at The Infant Crier suggests that by "ignoring young children's attention to these differences, we as professionals unintentionally contribute to the prejudice and stereotypes that they gather from society." Rather than remain silent, teachers should encourage children to ask questions, or have discussions, about the different cultures, races, genders or ethnicities they encounter in the classroom.
Using the Reggio Emilia Approach to Incorporate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Goals
Teachers searching for an effective way to incorporate conversations on diversity, equity and inclusion into their classrooms can benefit greatly from the Reggio Emilia Approach. According to scholastic.com, this unique educational approach — a tenet of the MSEd. in Early Childhood Education online program at Northwest Missouri State University — "views young children as individuals who are curious about their world and have the powerful potential to learn from all that surrounds them."
By using the following four major principles of the Reggio Emilia Approach, teachers can organically introduce positive discussions about diversity:
- Emergent Curriculum: student interest dictates topics of discussion
- In-Depth Projects: students investigate and research their primary areas of interest
- Representational Development: educators present new concepts through varied and diverse mediums (art, music, print, etc.)
- Collaboration: teachers promote cognitive development through collaborations in which each child's voice or ideas carry equal weight within a group
Strategies Teachers Can Use to Promote Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Educational materials, the physical learning space and educators' attitudes play pivotal roles in promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in early childhood education spaces. These three aspects must function together to create an inclusive environment in which human differences are both recognized and valued. A Romper article offers some valuable suggestions to consider when incorporating cultural diversity into learning environments for young children.Physical or Material Environments
- Books, art and videos in the classroom should feature diverse representations of race, ethnicity, age, gender and physical abilities.
- Educators should display students' artwork, especially that which reflects their own cultural or ethnic background.
- Content should avoid depictions of harmful stereotypes.
- Dolls should represent all major cultures and ethnicities.
- Toys or dolls should represent gender diversity (including a various styles of clothes – pants, dresses, etc.).
- Crayons and other crafting materials should include a diverse array of skin tone colors.
- Snacks, holidays and celebrations should reflect the different racial or ethnic groups present in the classroom.
- Educators should respond to behaviors uniformly across all genders, races and ethnicities.
- Teachers should give unbiased answers to questions about gender, race, ethnicity and physical ability.
- Teachers should acknowledge, not ignore, cultural diversity.
- School staff should appreciate the differences and similarities between students of different races, ethnicities, genders and physical abilities.
- Teachers should regularly challenge their own beliefs and opinions regarding diversity, inclusion and equity.
Avoiding the perpetuation of stereotypes and misconceptions in the classroom is no easy feat, as every individual has unconscious biases and preconceived notions. Yet, employers and school districts can help educators build inclusive environments through sensitivity training and unconscious bias seminars and workshops.
Fostering an appreciation for diversity, equity and inclusion should be a primary goal for early childhood educators. Should teachers not embrace this responsibility, students may never learn to value individuals who are different from themselves. However, an advanced degree in early childhood education, can help teachers become leaders in the fight for greater diversity and inclusion.
Learn more about the Northwest Missouri State University MSEd. in Early Childhood Education online program.
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