How Can I Incorporate Diversity Into Early Childhood? Essay

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¶ … Diversity into Early Childhood

"Despite numerous efforts in the schools, support from many school administrators, and changes in teacher education, the majority of classroom teachers still do not believe that they are well-quipped to meet the needs of students and families from diverse backgrounds" (Sleeter, 2001) (Wang, et al., 2007, p. 258).

This paper reviews pertinent contemporary research regarding the importance of introducing cultural and ethnic diversity themes into childhood education curricula. The greatest share of scholarly, peer-reviewed research used in This paper was obtained from the EBSCO and Gale General OneFile databases online. It is clear from the literature that scholars and educators are fully aware of the need to introduce diversity into the curricula of young children, to open the door to their greater understanding of the world they are about to grow up in. A number of interesting and worthwhile aspects of diversity were referenced so that varied approached within the childhood educational milieu are presented.

Questions: How can an early education instructor incorporate diversity into his or her educational setting? And further, how can an early education teacher respond in a culturally appropriate way to a non-mainstream child in a classroom environment?

Respect for Diversity: Aleksandra Vuckovic explains that a child's image of ethnicity does not always link with reality. And to bridge that gap, a teacher must provide the child with "opportunities to explore" a number of different social contexts. But delivering an education to children that is culturally responsive is difficult work, and requires a high level of awareness vis-a-vis the teacher's own culture as well as deep knowledge and understanding of children and families, according to Vuckovic. Knowing that diversity can being "dissonance" is part of being prepared as a competent and flexible teacher for the difficult tasks ahead.

How much diversity are teachers dealing with today in early educational settings? The answer is, teaching early childhood classes require an understanding of and sensitivity to cultural and ethnic diversity. Over the last thirty years the number of foreign-born people in the U.S. has tripled, according to Saracho and Spodek in their 2010 book on cultural diversity in early childhood education. By 2030, about "40% of children will be new immigrants to the United States" and for the majority of them English will be their second language (Saracho, et al., 2010, p. 1). Moreover, over the past fifteen years the number of five-year-olds from culturally and linguistically diverse families has increased from 26% to 45%, Saracho explains, using data from the U.S. Census.

Gillian Potter writes in the journal Childhood Education that diversity and cultural differences are "not the exception in Australia," nor are cultural differences the exception in New Zealand, Europe or the U.S. (Potter, 2007, p. 64). Hence, when early childhood education teachers speak, behave, interact and use language exclusively in accordance with their own values, there is a potential for a "clash with the discourses and discursive practices" that some children from non-mainstream homes see and hear in their residences, Potter continues (p. 65).

Because those children from non-mainstream environments do not have the opportunity to "acquire dominant secondary discourses" (e.g., words and stories printed in English) in their homes, due to their parents' lack of access to those discourses, those children certainly can't rehearse what they are not exposed to. As a result, the aforementioned children can feel powerless because they are immersed in a learning environment they are not connected to, Potter explains (p. 65). If teachers view their profession as an art, instead of a technical skill, and conduct teaching from culturally relevant positions, they will build bridges for learning, Potter explains, rather than expecting all students to "demonstrate prior knowledge and skills" (p. 67). Moreover, mainstream children in a class where non-mainstream children are present can, with the leadership of a culturally alert teacher, gain knowledge of cultures different from their own.

Teaching diversity -- where to begin: Since being discriminated against is hurtful and leaves scars, teaching fairness and anti-bias should begin very early in a child's life, even before kindergarten, according to an article in Early Childhood Today (Gonzalez-Mena, 1999, p. 1). Of course that is the purview of parenting, but once a child is in school, and begins to notice that his or her appearance is different from others in class -- and their practices are different as well -- that child may "express concerns" about the fact that they are not the same as others, Gonzalez-Mena explains on page 2). At some point in a young child's development, he or she should be taught to think critically about prejudice and discrimination, the authors assert. And teachers need to respond quickly and positively to questions from children about cultural differences "even if you're not sure what to say," Gonzalez-Mena asserts. Why the quick response, even if the teacher hasn't thought out what precisely to say? That is because children interpret silence to mean it's not all right to discuss differences.

Meanwhile Gonzalez-Mena suggests that the very first objective of a professional is to "find out how a family's practices relate to their goals for their children" (p. 2). In fact at this stage in a teacher's relationship with a child the teacher becomes "a learner rather than an expert," Gonzalez-Mena asserts. By working in a partnership arrangement with parents, the teacher may perceive just how child rearing is conducted by the parents. This is an example of cultural sensitivity.

Teaching children to value cultural diversity is clearly a goal that should be approached; but more than that, teachers should model the attitudes and behaviors they want children to witness and develop. Gonazlez-Mena stresses that a teacher should never let racist or culturally bias remarks go by "without intervening." Name calling or racially insensitive remarks are never acceptable and by challenging any child who makes those remarks, the teacher is thus informing the entire class of the values that are acceptable and those that are not.

"Family" can mean different things to different children: Maritza Macdonald writes that what one child defines as "family" can be different from what another child believes is family. For some children from an immigrant background, "family" may mean a household where "three generations" live in the same building; for other children, family could mean staying at dad's house every other week and the weeks in between it's mom's house. "Knowing and recognizing the diversity of family experiences," Macdonald writes, should have an affect on the way in which teachers make decisions vis-a-vis planning appropriate curricula and programs (Macdonald, 2003, p. 1). Hence, there is a correct time and an incorrect time to speak to children about their particular families -- and the teacher must know which household is the right one to sent the school notice to. Furthermore, a teacher has to know which language will be spoken when communicating with the child's family and also the teacher must be sensitive as to how families describe themselves to their children.

Due to the culturally diverse habits and practices of children in a given classroom, Macdonald suggests that teachers pay very close attention to every child in the classroom. For example, the teacher should know: a) which children engage first with other children and prefer to collaborate with another child; b) which children would rather consult with the teacher first and then join in with others; c) which children first approach their materials, then other students; and d) teachers should quickly learn which children learn quickest from hearing music and which students are mesmerized by airplanes.

"Your sensitivity to the different circumstances and needs," Macdonald continues, can make all the difference as to whether the child is successful or not. The teacher can benefit from a thorough review and understanding of the cultural differences within his or her classroom, the author concludes. Also, the teacher should be "vigilant" about the style he or she uses to model behaviors, attitudes and should share views and insights with other teachers, when possible.

Diversity in early childhood education materials: Finding the most appropriate materials to use while teaching early childhood educational is the focus of the scholarly article, "Honoring Diversity in Early Childhood Education Materials" (Corso, et al., 2002, p. 30). And while this article pertains to the selection of appropriate materials for children whose cultural background is non-mainstream, the strategy for selecting the classroom materials is worthy of attention for teachers. "No one material can be totally responsive to families from the full range of values and beliefs that exist across cultures," Corso explains on page 33. Hence, one of the keys to selecting appropriate materials for early childhood classes involves not just carefully reviewing the content, but considering what ways to adapt, or edit the material.

Corso suggests establishing "community teams" to perform research into appropriate materials; these "teams" provide cultural guidance as to the selection of the educational materials and they also decide which parts of the material to adapt and which sections to delete. The materials that… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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