Cultural Diversity in Childcare

Cultural Diversity in Childcare

In this age of increasing cultural diversity, the need for children to learn and appreciate differences is imperative. Integrating cultural diversity in childcare is now an essential component of the modern childcare curriculum. But what does cultural diversity even mean and how does cultural diversity in childcare centres work in the real world?

Cultural Diversity Meaning

Cultural diversity allows different cultures, races and ethnicity to be celebrated in an inclusive and healthy way.  Having respect for diversity in childcare enables educators to celebrate differences and encourage families to participate in cultural programs and events. These simple acts not only empower the child to build their own self-esteem but they also model and promote a culture of inclusive practice.

The Need for Cultural Diversity in Childcare Centres

a white female teacher stands for a photo with four of her multicultural students

Early childcare centres provide a unique opportunity to instill the values of respect and acceptance. By promoting the principles of cultural safety in childcare we can give children the opportunity to interact with children from different races and cultures in a safe and secure environment and in an acceptable manner.

The young child is naturally curious about their environment and the people that they are interacting with on a daily basis. This curiosity and perfectly natural act of comparing themselves to others helps to build their own sense of identity.  This curiosity will naturally lead to questions that are not intended to be offensive or to harm.  The child care centre provides the perfect opportunity to encourage these questions in a safe environment and to nurture understanding and acceptance for all parties.

It is therefore important that the education centre encourages and supports a culture of inclusion. Establishing this culture will go a long way towards creating an environment that:

  • Allows children to recognise and accept diversity as normal and to appreciate other children’s families and cultures.
  • Create a culture of fair and equitable decision-making that allows all children to participate with confidence.
  • Ensures that every child knows that his or her experience is valued.

Cultural diversity in child care centres should not only teach the noble virtue of tolerance but it should foster a climate of  enrichment.  The opportunities to grow and develop a greater understanding of the world amongst a diverse group of children.

The key to success in this area is the behaviour modelled by both educators and parents. Children learn what is an acceptable behaviour principally from the behaviour of the adults that influence them. Engendering a climate where the opportunity for adults to model good behaviour is paramount. This  ensures that children learn how to interact with other children of all races, faiths and genders.

It is important to acknowledge and talk about differences openly so that children can learn that diversity can enrich our lives. Celebration of differences helps to break down barriers and provide  a non-discriminatory environment where everyone  is accepted for who they are.

When addressing questions about difference the educator should:

  • Acknowledge that there is a difference.
  • Explain why that difference exists.
  • And place that difference in some type of context so that it can be understood.

Main Principles of Cultural Safety

One of the drivers of managing cultural diversity in childcare are the principles of cultural safety in early childhood education.  These principles were initially developed by Maori nurses in New Zealand and have since been adopted by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. The principles of cultural safety have filtered into the early childhood system. Australian national principles of cultural safety emphasise that particular attention needs to be given to the needs of children with diverse backgrounds and circumstances. Some examples of principles include:

  • The requirement that families and communities to not only be kept informed but encouraged to be involved in the promotion of child safety and well-being. An organisation could display their commitment to this principle by engaging with and supporting local communities to build cultural safety. Further commitment could be displayed by demonstrating a willingness to be responsive to the needs of all families.
  • The requirement that diverse needs are respected in the decision making process and that the fundamental right of equality is upheld. A facility could display a commitment to ensuring that children and their families have access to information and support in culturally sensitive ways.
  • The requirement that all staff and volunteers are suitably educated to ensure that children are kept culturally safe. Commitment to this principle can be displayed by providing suitable education and training to all centre staff.

Respect for Diversity in Childcare Examples

a black child laughing as she enjoys the story being read to her by her teacher

Respect can be displayed in a number of ways ranging from the everyday occurrence through to the unusual. Here are a few everyday examples of respect for diversity in childcare being on display.

  1. A simple way to demonstrate respect for diversity is to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land. In the city of Sydney the traditional owners are acknowledged as the Gadigal people of the Eora nation while, in Melbourne the Wurundjeri people are acknowledged as the traditional owners. A statement at the beginning of the day acknowledging the traditional owners and the elders of the particular nation past and present helps to engender respect for an ancient culture.
  2. Another simple exercise is to acknowledge the diversity of the children within the room by creating a map showing where all the children have come from. This map can be enhanced by placing photos of them on the map where their country of origin is.
  3. A way more difficult situation arises when a newcomer arrives at the education centre with a noticeable accent or different skin colour. This represents an opportunity for the educator to embrace the moment and explore and celebrate the newcomer’s differences. Opportunities exist to discuss why people have accents, why some people’s skin colour is darker or lighter, why some cultures don’t speak English, and even how some cultures differ from our own.
  4. Educators can choose to select a culture to celebrate throughout the year.  They can spend time teaching about such things as cuisine, music and even festivals.  Some child care centre’s even learn nursery rhymes in other languages.
  5.  Displaying the various flags of nations or cultures is also a good way to promote discussion and acceptance.
  6. At times, educators will be confronted with challenging questions from children about cultural differences and behaviours. These situations represent an opportunity to promote discussion and learning. They should not be swept under the rug but embraced openly, addressed and explained.
  7. A weekly showcasing of a particular culture can also foster cultural diversity. Parents can be invited along to talk about their culture and language and to share their experiences.
  8. Culturally diverse calendar events can be celebrated throughout the year. The Chinese New Year  is one such example.

Wrapping Up

Cultural diversity in childcare is something to be celebrated. The early childhood educator is uniquely placed to have a positive lasting impact upon the way the young child sees themselves and the world around them. We take great pride in living in a multicultural society and that pride should be openly displayed and celebrated with our children.

While being inclusive is a goal that we all should aspire to, it has to be acknowledged that creating a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment for all can be quite challenging. It is important, therefore, that educators develop strategic plans that will work towards building a truly diverse culture within the environment.

We take cultural diversity very seriously and work  towards providing a safe, secure environment for all children of all backgrounds on a daily basis.