It is important that parents and early childhood educators are aware of how multicultural education–or lack of it–can impact a student’s social emotional development. Early childhood educators have many responsibilities throughout the school day and beyond to ensure the success of their students. These responsibilities include morning meeting, assessments, and curriculum planning, development, and changes. Another responsibility that teachers have is to provide students with a multicultural education and ensure that there is a representation of diverse cultures and ethnicities in the classroom.
As teachers, one of our goals is to create a classroom environment in which all students feel welcome and valued. Studies show that students are able to learn in school once their emotional well-being and physiological needs (food and shelter) are met. In the article Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Its Relation to Learning and Achievement, Burleson and Thoron (2013) explain how a learner’s behaviors are centered on meeting his emotional and physiological needs and will take precedence over learning and achievement. What does this mean at the preschool level? According to this research study, learning will not take place if the emotional needs (esteem, belonging, and “self-actualization”) and physiological needs are not being met. One way early childhood educators can help their students develop social-emotionally is by bringing diversity and multiculturalism into the classroom environment. The goal is to bring elements into the classroom that give students a sense of belonging. Their perceptions of themselves, their culture and ethnicity will impact the way they make decisions now and in the future. It can even impact the path their lives take such as which major to choose in college or even which career path to take.
Reflecting on my own childhood, my classroom and school had little or no representation of people of diverse cultures and backgrounds. My reality was not represented through the curriculum, posters on the wall, stories that were read, nor through the pictures depicted on the book covers. This underrepresentation continued at home through television programming. People of different cultures and ethnicities have either been underrepresented or misrepresented through different modes of advertisements and media and it is only recently that this has started to change. It is important that our classrooms catch up! Here are some simple ways to make every early childhood classroom represent diverse races, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds:
Dramatic Play Center:
Ethnic representation can be included in the dramatic play area by including multicultural dolls for students to play with. Children love doting on babies during dramatic play, so why not include babies of different ethnic appearances? There are some affordable dolls available on amazon.com or for the more hands-on shopper, I encourage you to visit the local Dollar Tree as they sometimes have baby dolls of different races available!
The two one on the ends are my Dollar Tree dolls. (my poor little dolls are looking a little worse for wear so I definitely need to stop by the Dollar Tree!)
A dramatic play area with a play kitchen offers another great way to show diverse representation since food and culture go hand in hand! Try to stock the play fridge with multicultural foods and even different cooking tools, such as a small Japanese wok and a mortero. If you can find them at a local restaurant, you can include a few sets of chopsticks in the utensils basket for children to practice using.
Speaking of food… a great way to encourage students to embrace other cultures is by holding a Multicultural Feast! A Multicultural feast occurs once a year in my classroom and students are encouraged to wear traditional clothing on that day. No matter how young, students are often happy to show off their heritage! And I just love trying all the different foods that the families bring in for this event. It’s a win-win!
Click on Pictures Below to Shop Multicultural Toys for the Dramatic Play Center:
Fine Motor Center
Another way teachers can show diversity in the classroom is through images in puzzles. Children can develop problem solving skills through puzzles as they try different solutions until all the pieces fit. What better way to expose them to other cultures through puzzles! Here are some of my favorite puzzles that represent diversity:
Click on Pictures Below to Shop Multicultural Puzzles for the Fine Motors Center
It is also important to provide a multicultural experience in the Library where students can select from a wide range of books to read. Books are a great multicultural resource because they are rich in words from different cultures in a format that is digestible for a young learner. One of my favorites to read to my preschoolers is “Tikki Tikki Tembo” by Arlene Mosel. This story is actually a folktale from Asia. The main character’s name is very long so reading it can be quite a tongue twister! My preschoolers enjoy it and they’re usually surprised at how different names and traditions are in other cultures. Another classic book for teaching young children to appreciate each other’s differences is “The Colors of Us” by Karen Katz. This book is great at building self-confidence in young children as they learn to appreciate themselves and others.
Click on Pictures Below to Shop Multicultural Books for the Literacy Center:
Constructive Play Area
The constructive play area takes up the largest space in my classroom. This space includes blocks and many block play accessories. My students frequently use the people figures so I’ve made sure to include people of all different backgrounds and ages.
Click on Pictures Below to Shop Multicultural Items for the Constructive Play Center:
The classroom environment reflects the type of approach the teacher is using in the classroom. I encourage teachers to think about the students within the classroom and implement different strategies to be multiculturally inclusive. I hope these simple ideas help early childhood educators to incorporate a multicultural education into the classroom.