The concept of inclusion in a day home is one that seems quite obvious in theory, yet perhaps is a little less so in terms of practice. We live in a culturally diverse city (and country) and the importance of knowing how to support children of different backgrounds and cultures is not only an appropriate and respectful baseline, but critical to proper development. In fact, research shows that success in later life; including in school and at work, is linked to children’s early years. This means the time spent in day homes is much more than basic childcare, but has a lasting and important impact on the children’s lives.
Though this might seem a little intimidating, we encourage you to view your role as a Program Educator (Day Home Provider) as being a unique and wonderful position to positively influence the children who are so fortunate to have you. You don’t have to know everything about all the different cultures of the families you may find in your care. By knowing how to encourage their self-identities, build their confidence, and showing genuine interest in their culture, (ie language) you’ll be laying positive groundwork for their future success. Here is a list of tips and ideas to help you get started.
Set up your environment to be culturally inclusive
It is important for children to be exposed to the differences, as well as the similarities, in the cultures represented in their environment. Think about how your space shows an array of different cultures, different countries, and skin colors. Ensure that books you provide have diverse characters and stories so children of different ethnicities see themselves visually represented. Provide toys and art materials that allow for free expression and don’t hesitate to ask a child what he or she is creating. Play different types of music from some of the cultures of the families in your care.
By setting up your space in such a way, you open the door for children to become aware of other beliefs and customs, and send the message that differences are a part of life and ought to be celebrated.
Use positive language
When talking with children, use supportive language that builds them up without using comparisons to others (for example, complimenting a drawing they did or their outfit). This helps them feel good about who they are without it being about anyone else. Early childhood educators suggest emphasizing similarities before highlighting differences. This helps build a foundation of human equity, while also celebrating individual differences.
Acknowledge certain challenges and roadblocks (such as discrimination)
As a program educator you may come across situations with the children where bullying occurs. In the particular case of discriminatory bullying, such as a child being excluded because of their skin color, it’s important that you don’t brush it under the rug (so to speak). Speaking directly to children about discrimination will help them understand that it’s something that happens and gives you an opportunity to provide constructive ways of dealing with it.
Understanding that racism and other forms of discrimination exist, even amongst children, puts you in a position to help squash those behaviors. The article Helping Children Respect and Appreciate Diversity provides examples of types of dialogue you can use when situations arise, such as asking children to imagine how they might feel if they were left out because of how they looked?
It’s human nature to want to avoid discomfort, but having open conversations about discrimination is the only way to continue fighting against it. Knowing how to watch for problems, and acting preventatively when possible, will also help ensure your day home remains a safe space for everyone.
Involve the parents and families
Finding ways to encourage cultural differences in your day home also includes getting parents and families involved. Involvement can range from simply asking parents a question about a cultural practice to having families provide a traditional snack or meal, or having a guest speaker come to the facility for an educational presentation. Ensuring families know they are welcome has a trickledown effect; meaning, kids whose families feel safe and welcome will also feel safe and welcome. For example, if you have an Aboriginal child in your care, perhaps you could invite an Elder to visit and share traditional knowledge or practices.
Finally, though you don’t have to know all the ins and outs of all the different cultures you’ll come across in your day home, it is infinitely beneficial that you open yourself up to learning as much as possible. Doing so will allow you to be empathetic, understanding, and caring in a meaningful way. You’ll get new and inspired ideas of activities you can bring into your day home and foster an incredibly positive and inclusive environment. Your enthusiasm for inclusion will radiate and that all by itself will have a powerful effect on the children in your care, giving everyone a stunning start to their lives as active, thinking, and loving little people.