So, you want to show Ofsted that you are “doing diversity” in your childminding setting. You’ve bought a black doll, and printed out a calendar of festivals for your wall. Australia Day is coming up. That sounds easy enough! You find a picture of a kangaroo for the children to colour and… phew, you have now done diversity.
Unfortunately, unless you or one of the children you look after happens to actually be Australian then Australia Day is, for the most part, completely irrelevant to most under fives. What is an “Australia” anyway, and does it have sharp teeth?
The reason childminders celebrate it is because it is safe. There is no fear that we can get Australia Day wrong and accidentally offend anybody. It is a token gesture that makes us look like we are celebrating diversity when in fact, by doing so, we are neatly avoiding the real issues.
I’m scared I’ll get it wrong
As childminders we often avoid many of the real diversity issues primarily because we don’t know what ‘message’ to tell the children. Subjects such as physical disabilities, Islam, skin colour, older people and different family types can be so difficult to address that rather than risk getting them wrong, we avoid talking about them entirely and pretend the differences aren’t there.
I believe that you can and should talk about real diversity issues with young children. Children ask questions all the time about the differences they see. If adults avoid children’s questions about race, gender, religion and disability then children will notice. They may come up with their own conclusions, even if those conclusions are wrong. Adults should talk honestly and openly with children about the differences that children see and ask about.
If you would like to explore diversity with childminded children then here are three practical places to begin:
- Who am I?
Children first need to learn about their own identity – who they are and how they fit into their own families and communities – before they can begin to imagine their place in the big wide world. So your starting point with teaching small children about diversity is to help them to learn about themselves.
“All about me” sheets and self-portraits are ideal ways to get children to think about who they are. Are you a little boy or a little girl? It is not until they are about three that many children will know the answer to that question. Sit the children down in front of a mirror and help them to add eyes and hair in the right colour. A pack of skin tone crayons is a good investment.
In doing so children learn that some things about them are the same as other children, but some things are different. Encouraging children to point out, notice and accept their different types and colours of hair and skin is the starting point for learning that others may be different… and that “different-from-me” is beautiful too.
- What communities am I a part of?
Every child’s first and most basic community is his own family. In order to understand other people’s families and how these may be different from their own, children first need to think about their place in their own family. Today there are many types of families including traditional families, single parent families, same-sex parent families, adoptive and foster care families. Ask the children questions and record what they say about their families. Talking about the similarities and differences helps children understand how each family is unique and special.
Your childminding setting is also its own special little community. The changing friendships, the new children who come and go, all help the children to build into their identities the idea of belonging to ‘your home’.
It sounds obvious but displaying photographs of the children who come to your house will help the children to feel a sense of belonging there. Putting up displays that promote kindness and inclusion not only give a positive impression but can help to make your home community feel like a friendly and accepting place to be.
- Displaying the right impression
Even though most children this age are too young to understand ‘Britain’ let alone ‘the world’, it is still ok to introduce the idea of ‘the world’ and that everyone is a part of it. It also gives a positive impression to the parents. Displaying welcome posters in many languages is a classic example but if possible try to make the languages relevant to the people who attend your setting, or to the people who live in your local community.
Playing music from a variety of cultures is great, including music with words in different languages. The more varied types of music that children are exposed to when they are small, the more they will enjoy music when they are older. Sampling food from different cultures is also fun for everyone.
It is also good to display photos that show racial diversity but it can be very hard to choose appropriate photos to display. It is not appropriate to show photos of children that reinforce stereotypes – for example, hungry children in Africa. It is also not appropriate to display pictures that show children wearing their ‘cultural’ rather than their ‘everyday’ dress. Children in Scotland certainly don’t wear kilts everyday any more than African children wear their ‘tribal’ clothing to go to school in. It can be very confusing to young children to see images that give the wrong impression.
These pictures of British children are all appropriate to display at your home, to discuss with the children, and give the right impression of a racially inclusive setting. To receive your FREE A4 poster by email, sign up for my free quarterly newsletter using the orange box on my website and type ‘poster’ into the message.
Teaching children about diversity helps them to understand that people can be different and the same all over the world. It also helps them to build character that will last for their whole lives. As childminders, if we talk openly with pre-schoolers about the importance of diversity then children are provided with a model of openness that they will learn to imitate.
For more information on teaching diversity awareness to childminded children and for a Diversity Awareness Pack filled with practical activities you can do to promote difficult diversity topics in your setting visit http://kidstogo.co.uk/childminders/Diversity.html .
About Kay Woods and Kids To Go
Kay Woods has been writing and selling childminding resources through her company Kids To Go since 2008. Her products include the Ultimate Childminding Checklist, the Learning Journey Plus for planning, observation and assessment and best practice resources promoting diversity and childminding in the great outdoors (Forest Childcare). She is the author of the Start Learning book set published by Tarquin and she writes the free quarterly Childminding Best Practice Newsletter.
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