In today's society, one must be prepared to work and live with a very diverse population of people. This means not only tolerating but respecting and even celebrating both the differences and the similarities between us and our neighbors. During the preschool years, children form many of the ideas about the world that will stay with them for their entire lives, which is why it is so very important to teach from a multicultural perspective. Teaching diversity means helping children to understand that people come in all shapes, sizes, looks, colors and abilities, and it is not as difficult a task as one might think. The following are simple ideas for incorporating diversity into the preschool curriculum and the home.
Teaching Preschoolers about Diversity
Set a good example. Diversity includes people of all genders, ethnicities and abilities. Never make a derogatory comment about a person based upon an outward characteristic, and show respect to everyone in the classroom (or public). Be careful not to fall into the too-common adult trap of assuming that certain children will like certain toys or activities better based on their sex, and support children's choices and personal preferences.
Encourage children to include everyone in play. Set up activities in which children are paired with those that they may not ordinarily choose to partner with. Insist that all of the students treat others with respect and encourage problem solving by helping children to work through disagreements with others.
Point out the similarities between all people. For example, if reading a book about a child who is in a wheelchair, the teacher or parent can stress that while that child may not be able to walk in the same way, he or she enjoys many of the same things. Using the book as a starting point, ask questions that lead the child to think about things that she may have in common with the character. For example, "What game did he like playing? Do you like to play that game too?"
Present examples of diversity through learning materials. When choosing toys and books, consider whether they present a variety of types of people or if everyone looks the same. Purchase dolls or action figures with different skin tones, abilities or disabilities. Choose books and videos that have people of different sexes, ages and ethnicities.
Incorporate cultural education into the curriculum. If possible, celebrate or at least discuss different cultural holidays and what these traditions mean. Teach children simple songs or how to count to 10 in another language. If there are children in the class who speak another language, have them teach the class a game or a song in their language.
Making "multicultural" or "diversity" separate from the rest of the curriculum enforces the notion that it is an unimportant concept. Instead, use opportunities during all subjects to give examples of same and different and incorporate multicultural materials into teaching.