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Teaching Diversity

Dear Debi,
I take care of one 4-year-old who’s constantly asking why people look different. What troubles me the most is how to explain differences to her. I want to teach her to embrace diversity by exposing her to all of the wonderful cultures in our world. How can I do this successfully?
Amanda, Reseda, CA
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Include multicultural materials in everyday activities
  • Plan first-hand experiences
  • Model appropriate attitudes and behavior
  • Focus on similarities as well as differences
  • Answer kids’ questions directly
Expert Advice
Sabra Smith, Ed.D.
Sabra Smith, Ed.D.
Education and Curriculum Specialist
It is important to teach children about diversity, even if it is only one child, because the world is made up of various people. No matter where you are, you’ll be around all kinds of people and other cultures. Diversity isn’t just culture, it includes gender, ethnicity, race, ability age, sexual orientation, and even family configuration.

Child Care providers should focus on similarities as well as differences when teaching diversity because it goes back to the basic childhood concept of opposites. If we introduce similarities, we have to introduce differences, too. Kids need to know they probably have more similarities than differences.

Child Care providers should provide multicultural activities on a daily basis. There are lots of books that address various races and cultures. Even taking kids to the park or the grocery store, can be beneficial. If you live in a place with one culture, look for children’s books that show different cultures. Visit the library where the assignment is, “Let’s learn about this culture.” Have pictures on your walls of people from different backgrounds. Have dramatic play equipment that represents various cultures.

Kids’ questions about people who are different should be answered with honesty. As adults, sometimes we ignore it. A kid is being a kid and they’re naturally exploring. As adults we tend to personalize it. Just give the child a simple explanation to their response. A simple question like, “Why is he in a wheelchair” should have a simple response like, “Because his legs aren’t able to move like yours. The wheelchair helps him move in another way.”

As adults we have to monitor our own prejudices by reflecting on what we say. We can’t be judgmental. Remember, kids aren’t born with prejudices – they’re learned. Adults need to be mindful of using negative terms, such as “You’re acting like a retard.”

To encourage parents to help teach diversity, you should provide a list of books for parents to read with their kids. Encourage them to bring in cultural recipes. Also celebrate different cultures. No matter what your racial background, you should still celebrate various holidays like Cinco De Mayo or Chinese New Year so that when kids are in contact with different cultures it won’t be a shock. If you don’t teach them diversity, they won’t be accepting of differences.
Child Care provider Comments
Alma Martinez
Alma Martinez
Child care provider for 10 years
If I cared for just one child, I wouldn’t keep the child in the house all the time. I would take her to the library and do things in the community. I we go to the park, I would explain that different people make up the world. I would expose her to different people and cultures so she could see the diversity that is out there. We are all different, but we are all people who should be accepted for who we are.
Carol (Woods)
Carol (Woods)
Child care provider for 13 years
My grandson has these action heroes that he loves. It’s great because they all look different, but have different skills. It gives us a chance to talk about differences with people, too.
Provider for 10 years
The key to understanding issues that confuse us is to talk about it. The children I care for are Caucasian and I’m Black. I would tell a provider whether you are the same or different ethnicity to discuss your similarities and your differences. Have books and other materials that feature other cultures and people who are physically challenged.

Appreciating Diversity Featured Activity:
Appreciating Diversity
Diversity for One Child Featured Video:
Diversity for One Child
Topic: Social & Emotional Development
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Related Episodes
Family Differences
Mr. Rogers on Likenesses and Differences
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
PBS Teacher Source
Teacher QuickSource
Downloads (Get Reader)
Tips on Dealing with Diversity: A Self-Assessment pdf
Tips on Providing an Environment that Supports All Children pdf
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