One of the easiest ways to teach diversity to children is to have them experience it. Interacting with people who have different cultural backgrounds, different physical and social abilities, and a variety of appearances helps to teach tolerance, respect, and acceptance. How can parent and educators do this, however, when the child’s classroom and programs are so similar to their home? Here’s some tips to teach diversity in a homogenous setting.
1. Understanding Diversity
The first step to teaching diversity is to understand it. Diversity is more than just a unit on world cultures or celebrating cultural holidays like Cinco de Mayo. Singling out diversity education as an individual topic only reinforces the separateness of different cultures. Instead, to understand the differences among people children must learn about themselves and how they fit into their own communities and then learn about those who are different from them and how those individuals fit into different communities. Only then can they visualize how we all fit together in the global community.
2. Real Experience
Reading books and discussing other cultures is only the first step towards understanding people who are different. To truly appreciate a different culture, especially for children, direct experience is necessary. It is essential that the classroom contain a variety of materials that show more than just one culture and that the art, toys, and pictures used throughout the school represent many backgrounds.
Children also need direct interaction with people who are different from them. Inside the classroom this can be done by taking field trips, inviting guests to speak to the children, or by pairing up pen pals outside the community. Outside the classroom, kids can visit their parents’ workplaces, cultural museums, or simply explore the neighborhood around them seeking out differences.
3. Challenge Stereotypes
Even in fairly homogenous situations, there is room to challenge the stereotypes within the small group. For example, if a child expresses the idea that all men wear pants or that girls can’t be scientists, it is the perfect time to have a conversation about possibilities. Talk about the ideas that girls can hold important jobs and that boys can raise children. Challenge stereotypes about sports and race, income levels and intelligence, and other common falsehoods.
4. Differences as Assets
The persistent thread through all of these ideas should be to show the differences among people as assets rather than deficits. For example, a young child that speaks English at school and another language in the home will have a tremendous advantage throughout life and shouldn’t be seen as someone who is “less than.” Children should understand that world is made up of countless cultures and the more of these cultures that we can understand, the more tools we will have to find success throughout life.
Consistency is Key
Adding a multicultural unit to the school curriculum isn’t enough to truly help children become comfortable and curious about diversity. In order to successfully do this, these ideas must be present in everyday activities at school and in everyday conversations in the home. Understanding differences among people should be a continuous process, one where the children become excited and inspired by contrasting cultures and seek out new cultural concepts to find out what they can learn.