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‘Has my guinea pig gone to heaven’?
Let me be clear that this article makes absolutely no attempt to advise you how to answer that question from the children that you look after. It sounds so simple at first. But when you really think about it, philosophers, religious leaders, and each member of the human race has battled with this question since the dawn of time! According to the child’s family’s beliefs, the guinea pig may very well have ‘gone to heaven’, but perhaps he has already been ‘reincarnated’ as some other animal, or maybe he is simply ‘dead’? In most cases, the answers to the real questions raised and answered by the world’s great religions are the realm of the parents. You are treading on very delicate grounds if you attempt to answer them yourself.
Children of this age are far too young to understand the differences between the teachings of different religions. Most are not ready to understand the key messages of their own religions, let alone someone else’s. But they are not too young to observe that there is something called ‘religion’, that most people seem to have one, and that religions cause people to behave differently to one another. For example, they may notice that Jasvin never eats meat and is a ‘vegetarian’. They need to learn that this is because of her religion – she’s a Hindu. And they may ask why Alia, who does music time at the library, wears a scarf on her head? It’s called a hijab, and is a sign that she is a Muslim.
Your role as a childcare provider is to introduce children to the concept of different religions, to give them the vocabulary they need to describe the differences they observe, and to encourage them to ask questions.
There are so many religions – which should we ‘do’?
Have you ever looked at one of those religious festival calendars they publish at the council and thought ‘oh my! I didn’t even know that there was such a religion!’ Then you are certainly not alone. So how do you decide which religions you should do with the children? And how do you do them?
Talking about different religions can be difficult, especially if it’s somebody else’s religion, and even more so if you’re not religious yourself. You don’t want to give children the wrong information. You want to give real, simple information that they can understand, but at the same time you don’t want to offend anyone by generalising too much and assuming that all members of a faith hold identical views or practice in the same way.
As with the guinea pig example, it is generally best to steer clear of the messages that religions give other than basic, positive moral codes that tend to be common to most religions (such as the Golden Rule). Instead, focus on religious festivals. Festivals are the most accessible time to learn about any religion.
Start with what you know best. In other words, do your own religion, or the one you know best first. If you’re a Christian, start with Christmas and Easter.
Next, think about the children you look after – if you look after a little boy who is a Sikh, then it may make sense to celebrate a festival that is relevant to him. Get the parents involved and let them steer you in the right direction.
Still not sure where to begin? Then start with introducing Britain’s three biggest religions which are Christianity, then Islam, then Hinduism. In practical terms your goal is to find simple ways to celebrate: Easter, Christmas, Eid and Diwali.
Easter and Christmas: the two biggest Christian festivals
Easter and Christmas don’t just have to be about bunnies, eggs and Santa – it is ok for small children to learn the basic Christian meaning of these holidays. If you live in this country, whatever your beliefs, you do need a basic, working knowledge of ‘Jesus story’ because Christianity is part of our heritage and our culture. There is nothing wrong with making a nativity scene with the children at Christmas, for example or to teach them some Christmas carols.
A completely free day trip is a visit to your local parish church. Whatever their religious background, many pre-school children will have never actually been inside a church. Many churches have open hours when visitors can walk around and admire the art, stained glass windows, unique smells and ancient architecture that make up these beautiful buildings. When I took the children to our local church I made a simple scavenger hunt. The children had to find candles, stain glass windows, the altar, the pews, the organ and the flowers. This gave a nice focus to our visit and helped to teach them some new words.
Eid and Diwali
When I first started researching about Eid and Diwali, I did what most people would do: I went to the library to get out some books. The photographs showed busy street scenes in far off countries, with people who looked as foreign to many British Muslims and Hindus as they did to me. If you look after a Muslim child or a Hindu child, these types of images give completely the wrong impression as they make their religion look like something ‘foreign’ that is celebrated by ‘other people somewhere else’ when in fact, here in the UK, things are often done very differently. How children celebrate Eid and Diwali is not a million miles away from how Christian families celebrate Easter and Christmas, and tend to include a family gathering, presents as well as a trip to the mosque or temple.
British Muslims celebrate Eid, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, with huge festivities and they often give cards to each other with the greeting ‘Eid Mubarak’ which means ‘may you enjoy a blessed festival’. So a good way to celebrate Eid is to get the children to make an Eid card and give it to ‘Alia at the library’.
Diwali is one of the most important Hindu festivals of the year. It is known as the ‘festival of lights’ and the lights refer to the little clay lamps called ‘diya’ which are lit in temples and houses. Many people set off fireworks, and because Diwali is celebrated in late October/ early November, these displays often coincide with Bonfire Night displays. A good way to celebrate Diwali is to make firework collages with the children, or little paper diya lamps. It’s also a great time to try some Indian food.
If you are able to get an opportunity to actually visit a mosque or a temple it is a wonderful and enlightening experience for both yourself and the children.
Like all aspects of diversity, it is crucial that children be encouraged to notice the differences they see and to ask questions about them.
Religion is just one way that people can appear ‘different’ to one another. Encourage children’s questions, keep an open mind, and you can feel confident that you are doing the right thing.
Displaying the right 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.
Lots of places offer help to childminders. I provide solutions.
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.
About Kay Woods and Kids To Go
Lots of places offer help to childminders. I provide solutions.
Is your childminding planning system simple and structured? Do you feel your plans are actually useful to your setting, or just another Ofsted chore? Keep the following in mind when you write your childminding plans:
If you feel you are wasting time with planning, then you probably are.
GOOD planning is not a waste of time. It shows parents that you are a childcare professional – not ‘just a babysitter’. Good planning helps you to stay organised, ensures that you are providing a balanced and varied experience for the children you look after, and that you have the resources you need to offer the experiences you have planned.
Don’t overcomplicate things or you won’t be able to use your system.
Whatever system you are using for your planning needs to be usable by you every single week. The more complicated you make it, then the less likely you will be to use your own system. If the system you are using currently feels too complicated for you to maintain, then it may be time to try a new system.
Involve the children and the parents in writing plans for your setting.
Ofsted loves it when children are involved in the planning for your setting. It’s great to ask older children to help think of activities for younger ones. It’s also nice to ask parents what activities or themes they might like you to explore with their children. Getting parents involved in celebrating festivals that are relevant to the children in your care (like planning to celebrate Diwali if you look after a Hindu child) allows you to tick off the ‘diversity’ and ‘parent communication’ boxes in one seriously-Ofsted-impressing-activity that everyone will enjoy!
Plan to do something NEW this year.
Planning new things is a great way to keep yourself fresh and to keep things interesting for the children too. You might want to celebrate a festival like Diwali or Easter or Eid that you’ve never celebrated before? My free 2019 Diversity Calendar could inspire you? Or teach the children about stranger danger, or mini beasts using ideas from the Be Safe Be Healthy Pack. Whatever theme you are planning to do will require a little preparation on your part, so if you put it into your written planning then it is more likely to happen.
Your planning system needs to work for your whole setting AND for each individual child.
If the system you use works for your setting, but does not take into account the needs of different children in your setting, then your system needs a rethink. A planning system must work for your whole setting AND take into account the needs and interests of each individual child.
Learning and development observations must link into your planning.
Writing observations and next steps into your learning journeys is pointless if you don’t have a method to put those ideas into your planning. All of the ‘next steps’ you record in your learning journeys MUST link into whatever planning system you are using.
Get the right mix of planned activities and unstructured free-play time.
Children need daily opportunities for free play indoors and outdoors so that they can engage uninterrupted in activities that interest them. They also need you to organise learning activities and outings for them that address the different learning and development areas and characteristics of effective learning. Making monthly and weekly plans will help you to get the balance right.
What are your plans for improvements to your setting, and improvements to yourself this year?
Part of creating a year plan is to think about what new equipment, training and other resources you may want to buy for your setting this year. A formal list of this kind, made once a year, is a great way to make sure you think about your setting as a whole.
It’s also a great time of year to make plans for your own Continual Professional Development (CPD).
You might think about more training you would like to receive? You might think about getting training for special needs children or becoming a Forest Childcare Provider? All of these things directly benefit all of the children who attend your setting.
Your long term planning is a little like a performance review. It is a chance for you to take a step back and ask yourself what you do well in your setting and what could be improved. What could you buy or do differently that would help you to improve what you could offer? If you want to become a Forest Childcare Provider, for example, how would you work in weekly trips to your schedule? How would you make time? What special equipment (outdoor gear, reflective jackets, off-road buggy etc.) might you need?
Do you want help with planning for your setting?
Is the planning system you are currently using is too complicated? You may want to simplify things to make it easier for yourself? My Learning Journey Plus workbook takes you step by step through creating a workable, flexible and ongoing planning system for your setting. Use it to create a complete planning system from scratch or to fill in gaps and improve any system you are already using.
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About Kay Woods and Kids To Go
Lots of places offer help to childminders. I provide solutions.