In a world of people from diverse backgrounds, it’s important to teach children from an early age about respecting and uplifting different cultures. Figuring out where and how to start that conversation may be challenging. In this article, we will offer four tips for building cultural awareness and teaching your child about diversity and inclusion.
“From a very early age, children recognize differences and it’s important that parents, teachers, and educational leaders are mindful of that and play a role in celebrating those differences,” says Louie Rodriguez, Ed.D., associate professor of education, society, and culture at the University of California, Riverside. “The earlier we can do that in our homes, schools, and communities, the better we’ll be at continuing those conversations as children go from child care and preschool to K-12 and higher education.”
Before you get started, first develop a goal or desired outcome. Also be prepared for difficult questions your child may have. Understand that you may not know the answer to a question that arises and that’s ok. Here are five simple tips to get the discussion started.
Read Books About Diversity
Books are a great way to introduce children to cultures and people they may not interact with in their daily lives. Younger children may need your help understanding the words or images on a page, while older kids may want to read the book by themselves. In both circumstances, it’s important to review the content of the book and ask questions about what the story meant to them. Challenge their initial impressions and encourage critical thinking. Here are some books to prompt these discussions:
- We’ve Got the Whole World in Our Hands — Award-winning illustrator Rafael López celebrates young people throughout the world with this stunning, rhythmic read-along that lifts up unity and friendship.
- Why Am I Me? — In this poetic tale, two very different characters unknowingly ask the same question: “Why I am I me?” Your child will become absorbed in gorgeous illustrations that emphasize the many different qualities human beings share.
- Hidden Figures — Inspiration abounds in this awe-worthy true tale about the four brilliant black female mathematicians who helped NASA launch men into space.
- She Dared: Malala Yousafzai — Children and adults around the world have been inspired by the incredible story of Malala, a Pakistani girl who was attacked for advocating for girls’ rights and education. Still, she persevered, and eventually became the youngest-ever Nobel Prize winner.
- American Girl: A Girl Named Helen — When Helen Keller lost her sight and hearing at a very young age, her parents hired a teacher to help her understand the world around her. This book tells children the remarkable story of how Helen defied expectations and became a legendary activist for Americans with disabilities.
- This Is Just a Test — David Da-Wei Horowitz gets caught in the middle of cultures, friends, and his Chinese-Jewish-American family in this hilarious, heartwarming tale about a multicultural preteen living during the height of the Cold War.
Middle School & High School
- The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano — Evelyn is 14 years old and living in Spanish Harlem in 1969, a fiery time when young Puerto Rican activists protest in the streets. Meanwhile, her sassy Abuela has moved from Puerto Rico to live with her family. Tempers flare and loyalties are tested as Evelyn learns important truths about her Latino heritage, and the young people who shaped a nation.
- And She Was — Dara had always lived a sheltered life with her single mom, until she digs up her birth certificate. She’s shocked by what she learns: Her mother is transgender, and transitioned when Dara was a baby. As a result, Dara embarks on a life-changing, revealing journey to learn about her extended family—and about understanding and acceptance.
- Pinned — In this tale of self-discovery and friendship, Autumn and Adonis couldn’t be more different, except for one thing: They are both dealing with a disability. Outgoing Autumn has a learning disability that makes reading a painful struggle, while shy, book-loving Adonis uses to a wheelchair. Told in alternating voices, this story explores how aspects of ourselves that some consider weaknesses are actually assets that forever change us and those we love.
Asking questions can lead to a deeper level of understanding about people who are different from them. To help children understand a respectful way to inquire about differences in culture, encourage them to be open-minded when they learn something that is unexpected or unusual to them. Keep an open dialogue and be honest that you may not know exactly how someone with a different experience may respond.
Emphasize Similarities Rather Than Differences
Teach children that even though someone may be different from them in some ways, it’s likely they share much more in common. While our differences make us unique, there are many ways in which we are alike. Ask them about the similar interests, shared experiences and common beliefs they may have with a classmate or friend who may seem different.
Talk About The World and Current Affairs
There are people and places around the world that your child may not have encountered. Enlightening them to what is going on in other countries is one way to help bring attention to the different life experiences of people in other parts of the world. Keep in mind that not all news is suitable for younger children and that world events must be put in context. Share the importance of being engaged in what’s happening outside your neighborhood and why awareness of global events is a key element of diversity.
Here are some additional resources: