The Holidays are Quickly Approaching … Don’t Wait for the Holidays… Celebrate Diversity in Your Early Childhood Classroom Every Day!
With the increasing amount of diversity in early childhood programs, it is important to consider the needs of each child and respect both their background and the diversity of the family they come from. Children’s families come in all shapes and sizes that include two-parent families, single-parent families, stepfamilies, blended families, biracial families, gay families, and straight families. Children may have been born into a family or become part of it by other means, such as foster care, adoptions, or kinship networks. Some children even live in more than one home and are members of more than one family.
Early childhood programs should consistently validate the awareness and respect of children and their families. Programs should not wait until the holidays to learn about the cultures and traditions of their families, but embrace these traditions from day one. Reading stories, hanging posters, creating crafts, eating snacks, having props, dolls, and multiethnic dolls available year round is the best way to make families feel welcomed and part of the community. Teachers must remember that diversity is part of the daily environment and not only as a theme in the month of December.
Talking to Families
When partnerships with families are formed, teachers should be able to respectfully ask a parent to share a tradition. As an early childhood educator with twenty-seven years of experience, I have never run across a family that was not willing to share traditions, customs, or family rituals. When parents know that we want to provide their child with a developmentally and culturally appropriate environment for their child, they feel more comfortable to share. As early childhood educators, we need to meet the needs of the whole child and must make conscious decisions on how to include diversity into our curriculum. Throughout the year, parents should be invited to share stories in their native language, music, games, and traditions.
Weaving Diversity into the Curriculum
At my own center, Just For Kids, diversity is weaved directly into the curriculum. Just For Kids celebrates the winter holidays but doesn’t stop there. Dramatic play centers have food from many ethnicities, as well as multiethnic dolls, wall hangings, and materials in class, along with music that represents different cultures. Within the center’s December themes are a celebration of the giving, sharing, and loving aspects of the holidays. Teachers discuss families, friends, and gatherings. In addition, teachers and students read stories, sing songs, and play games that represent the winter holidays of the children enrolled at the center.
Often early childhood educators with good intentions attempt at celebrating holidays with young children and, as a result, arts and crafts are part of the plan. If this is the case, teachers must keep in mind the developmental appropriateness of the activity. It is important that developmentally appropriate practices stay in place even during the month of December. Thus, it is suggested that crafts be kept to a minimum and remain open-ended. It is important that concepts be age appropriate, open-ended, relevant and respectful to each child and family if they are to remain a part of the curriculum.
Tips for Celebrating the Holidays
· Talk to parents or send out surveys ask them what holiday traditions they share. Ask them if they would like to share their tradition with the class.
· Refrain from the tourist approach. Remember not to stereotype, we all celebrate differently. Make it personal; ask the children to share what and how they celebrate.
· If you have children that do not celebrate any holidays, speak with their families. Perhaps they have special traditions that they share that are not attached and could share those traditions with the class.
· Make sure you share traditions from each and every child; focus on the similarities and differences.
· Once you start, do not stop—share traditions and celebrations and celebrate diversity each and every day.
The holidays are a great time for children to learn more about themselves, their families, and their community, but let’s remember to celebrate diversity throughout the year. Celebrating only in the month of December is what many refer to as the tourist approach. If holidays—with their traditions, foods, and activities—are the only things we teach children about other cultures, we are not really communicating a true picture of that culture. Rather, we should incorporate aspects of those other cultures throughout the year into the curriculum.
This guest post was written by Nancy Moretti Ed.D. (ABD). Nancy is the Department Chair of Early Childhood and General Education at Penn Foster and is the Owner/Administrator of Just For Kids in Smithfield, RI. To attend virtual presentations similar to this post, please visit the Penn Foster Virtual Webinar Page.Photo is courtesy of Keoni Cabral, under Creative Commons licensing.