Help Children, Kids Learn About Racial and Cultural Diversity
Help your children learn about diversity
Respect for and appreciation of racial and cultural diversity is and has always been extremely important to me. I am bi-racial and was lucky enough to have been brought up and went to a school in a multi-cultural environment. At present, I live in rural Japan, where racial diversity is virtually non-existent. I have a 3-year-old daughter whom I hope to instill in her an awareness and appreciation for diversity..
I wasn't sure when to start "educating" my daughter on this topic until just recently when I was reading a Little Einstein book to her and she told me that she likes Leo, June and Annie. I know that she prefers girls to boys, so I was a bit surprised that she included Leo in the list of the characters she likes. She left out Quincy, the brown-skinned African-American boy, and so I asked her, "how about Quincy?" She answered, "I don't like him." I tried to look unconcerned and asked, "why?" assuming that she would point out his dark skin as the undesirable trait. Instead, she said, "His eyes are scary." To be honest, I wasn't really sure what to make of that. I got a little curious, went online and found an article on the PBS website about this topic. The article mentioned, "By age four, children begin to prefer one race." This made me realize that I should probably introduce her to the vast differences in physical traits, cultures and customs among the peoples of the world very soon.
But where do I start? To begin with, my daughter doesn't have the leverage I had when I was a little girl. My father was a white American, so I knew from the start that my dad and myself are different from the other Thais and the kids in the neighborhood. Fortunately for me, being half-white was considered "cool" because there's the belief that mixed people are attractive, so I was never bullied or ostracized. On the other hand, I look very Asian, so I am not sure that my daughter is aware that I am actually not Japanese, though she knows I speak a different language because I use English with her (and at this point, my daughter is fully bilingual, although Japanese is more dominant). We DO have some contact with other foreigners with children living in the same area, but our interaction is very limited and infrequent.
For people who live in a more or less homogenous society (or for any parent who shares my concern, really) and would like to introduce the concept of racial and cultural diversity to their preschoolers, I have some ideas (some of which I have already implemented) that might help foster understanding:
Teach diversity with these products
More ideas for diversity activities
1) Use dolls - Buy dolls representing different races - Buy (or consider making one if you are crafty) dolls with different skin tones and hair color and texture. All the dolls available in the local stores here in Japan are either blond or brunette, but many dolls in western countries like Barbie or American Girls offer dolls representing different races. Your preschooler will learn to appreciate that people, like the dolls, can look different, but they can all be beautiful.
2) Use books and DVDs - Read books and watch shows that feature characters from different ethnic and racial backgrounds and be ready to discuss any related issues with your preschoolers. Shows and books like Little Einsteins and Strawberry Shortcake have wonderful characters, each of whom is unique and special in their own way.
3) Make crafts - Make crafts and play games from other cultures or those with a multicultural theme. Make music with an African drum, fold Japanese paper cranes for good luck, or celebrate St. Patrick's Day by decorating your house with a Pot 'O Gold windsock. If you're looking for something more active or something for a group of kids, there are many children's games to play. Variations of duck, duck, goose, for example, are played all around the world. Kids have great fun as well as learn something about a different culture.
4) Use food - Cook and eat food from other cultures. Easy menus to make with kids include, for example, tacos, the Greek gyro, or yakisoba. Preschoolers love to "help out" in the kitchen, so I'm sure they will have fun preparing these new dishes with you. Take this opportunity to name and teach about some of the more unusual ingredients and enjoy eating it together!
5) Use music - Play and listen to music from other cultures. Most children enjoy all sorts of music and love to sing and dance. Use this opportunity to introduce them to different kinds of music sung in different languages. As human beings, we don't really need to understand the lyrics to appreciate and enjoy the melody! However, it might be wise to download some music samples online and listen to them before you decide to invest and buy the songs or CDs.
Cook international foods with kids
Play multicultural games
Multicultural crafts and activities