Written by Natascha Crandall, PhD. - Educational Curriculum Consultant
From an early age, children begin to recognize their friends’ unique characteristics and talents. As adults, it is up to us to encourage young children to embrace and appreciate these differences, regardless of background, viewpoint or ability.
By teaching young children to value and respect diversity, they will see that people are individuals who share commonalities with them, yet also differ. Playtime, foods, books and holidays are all ways to illustrate what makes each of us unique and how and why this is something to be celebrated. Learning to appreciate our differences at an early age will help to set the stage for better relationships with others that will last a lifetime.
Instilling a respect for all people is best woven into a child’s daily routine. A dogmatic approach, in which children are ‘taught’ specific facts about different cultures and groups, is not as effective as a holistic approach, in which children are encouraged to look at the ‘whole person.’ Ideally, this way of looking at the world becomes a part of everything children experience. Caregivers should be mindful of, and look for, teachable moments throughout the day.
Children can be encouraged to talk about their own families in a group setting so that they can hear their classmates and friends talk about similarities and differences. Learning about others helps children get out of their comfort zone as they develop empathy and discover a sense of wonder about the wider world around them.
Adults need to be conscious that they are role models and that their children are observing and modeling the behaviors and attitudes they see. Caregivers are in a unique position to help young children understand the world in all its shadings, differences and unique attributes.