Books are arguably the most useful resource in early childhood. Books can invite children into any story and share with them ideas of fantasy, creativity, and imagination. They can also help them make sense of the world around them, teach them new concepts, and expose them to different possibilities. This makes them an excellent tool to promote inclusion.
What is inclusion?
Inclusion essentially means to involve, combine, accommodate, embrace, or incorporate. In the context of early childhood education, inclusion means to involve and embrace children and families of different backgrounds, abilities, personalities.
Inclusion is important in childcare as it helps foster a sense of acceptance and belonging for the children and families in the childcare setting – no matter what their circumstances. It also helps children learn things like empathy, understanding, and acceptance of differences. These are important interpersonal skills that will help set them up for future success!
Inclusion and the power of books
Reading is a powerful tool that helps children and adults alike to make sense of their world and their relationships. Reading “stimulates empathy [and gives children] the chance to expand their perspectives by talking about the thoughts and feelings of characters in books” the chance to expand their perspectives by talking about the thoughts and feelings of characters in books.
When children can see themselves in a story, they can begin to imagine their role in the world. If the books in a childcare setting share stories that promote strong relationships and a variety of people, families, and cultures, the children hearing those stories can learn to feel comfortable with the characters and the real life people they represent.
Why is diversity in books important for promoting inclusion?
Children need to see themselves in a role to help them believe they can fit that role. If we always show them books with a Mommy and Daddy, they may struggle to see themselves in a family with two Mommies, two Daddies, or a completely different family structure. Children need to see themselves in roles they can then dream to be in when they grow up – rather than learning limiting stereotypes and preconceptions.
More and more we are seeing a change in all media and advertising. We see ads with families of all makes and sizes, ads with people of colors and sizes, we see more diversity in terms of skin color, culture, ethnicity and we see more inclusion (more people with neurodiverse needs are represented). More tv shows have same sex couples, more characters with sign language, more languages, more skin colors, etc.
Children need to see all these things too – and books are a great way to bring it into a childcare environment. Having books that represent the different families and backgrounds of the children in care helps the children to feel a sense of belonging. Having books showing more diversity and inclusion helps expose children to ideas and scenarios they might not see in their everyday lives and to accept and understand differences.
“If we only see characters and experiences that reflect our own, we’re more likely to believe that our own experience is more important or valid than those that are unfamiliar.”
Inclusion beyond books
Books are just a part of inclusion – often the beginning. Stories help to spark imagination and books encourage questions. When children start to ask questions about the books we are reading to them, or the books they find in the play room, we are given the opportunity to help extend their play and encourage them to understand more about the world around them.
A story might lead to a whole new way to play! For example, a kitchen center might get a make-over to include chopsticks, new cookbooks (perhaps a cookbook with braille), new (pretend) foods are added like seaweed or dumplings, etc. Likewise, make-believe and other imaginative games may start to include more new and unconventional roles and scenarios.