I recently observed in a family child care program and had an interesting discussion with the provider about diversity. When asked about any activities that help children understand diversity, the provider stated that diversity is hard for her, because she just doesn’t “see color.”
I appreciate her response, as she was honest, and I commend her for her commitment to seeing children as children, not a certain race or ethnicity. However, as much as I can appreciate her commitment, the phrase, “I don’t see color,” is not exactly true. We do see physical characteristics-we notice if someone has blue eyes or brown, we take note when someone is tall or wears glasses, and we notice if someone is using a cane to get around or if their hair is brown, grey, white, or pink.
Noticing these differences does not make us racist or insensitive, it makes us human. Our goal with children is not to teach them to not see differences, but to teach them to respect and appreciate differences. We don’t have to repeatedly point out a child’s skin tone or ethnicity, but it’s certainly ok to acknowledge differences in children and celebrate those differences.
Generally, when I ask about activities that promote diversity, teachers and providers respond by stating they have dolls, books, and play food representing different races/cultures/ethnicities/abilities. That’s great, but dolls alone just don’t provide the type of activity that really helps children understand and respect diversity.
Diversity isn’t just skin tone, either. What about culture? We all have different cultures, even within our individual families. For example, Susie might celebrate her birthday with dinner at a nice restaurant with her parents and siblings. Henry might celebrate with a large party at his house, including extended family, friends, and neighbors. Susie and Henry both celebrate birthdays, but in different ways-differences in their family culture. Discussing birthday or other celebrations, and having children draw what their family does, or making a chart tallying what is the same and different about their celebrations is an example of an activity that helps children understand diversity.
I often hear providers and teachers say that they struggle to discuss diversity with infants and toddlers. It’s true, a lot of activities that are out there don’t work for that age group. I like to encourage people to incorporate diversity into their language with children. We want providers/teachers to use many different descriptive words throughout the day to build children’s vocabulary and language skills, so why not dedicate some of that language to diversity? “Molly you have such big, brown eyes! And Kevin, you have bright, blue eyes! Our eyes help us see. Where are your eyes? Can you blink?” or “Shawn’s mommy brought him to school today. Claire, your daddy brought you. Isn’t it nice to spend time with mommy’s and daddy’s? Let’s look at our family pictures. Shawn, your mom has brown hair. Claire, your dad has no hair. Where is your hair?”
What are some ways you encourage providers and teachers to incorporate diversity? Do you find it difficult or are most people eager to help children understand diversity?