“As children begin to work out who they are (their self-identity) they also try to work out who they are similar to and different from in some ways.” (Smidt, 2013, pp. 85). How adults react to the children’s natural awareness of differences will have a critical affect on how children will react to these differences in the future. “What adults do, teaches just as much as what they say.” (Derman-Sparks & Edwards, 2010) Self-reflection of our own biases and how they influence the children we work with is an important daily task in effective anti-bias work.
As a parent and a teacher I can recall times I have reprimanded or silenced a child after he or she pointed out someone they saw as different. Before this anti-bias work, I had believed it was inconsiderate to point out others difference. I had believed by not pointing out differences and treating all children equally I was teaching acceptance. One day a little girl in my class called another little girl a baby and told the other child she could not play with them. I told her it was not nice to call her a baby, and encourage her to apologize to the other child. Reflecting on this situation, I have to wonder what messages I sent to these two children. Did I teach them it is not ok to notice difference? Did I teach them it is not ok to talk about difference? Did I teach them anything? I do not believe I sent the message I intended to send with my response. This type of personal reflection has motivated my cycle of liberation (Harro, 2010).
I have had similar situations as in this example recently; I have learned to not react verbally or nonverbally, instead to ask questions (Derman-Sparks & Edwards, 2010). Now I would try to remember to pause and to ask the child why she thinks the other child is a baby. Recently a child responded, “Because she talks like a baby.” In the past, I would have been uncomfortable discussing this child’s ability difference. Today I would very factually acknowledge that different people do speak different, and that is ok. I would explain that we all communicate in different ways and it does not change her ability to play. I would point out the differences in how I speak from how the other teachers in our class speak. I would be careful I did not make the child feel they were wrong be noticing the difference, I want to change the reaction to differences not the awareness of the differences.
Through the Start Seeing Diversity Video’s on physical ability, characteristics, race, and ethnicity I have learned many new strategies to support students understanding of diversity (Laureate, n.d.). In above example the underlying issue is a misunderstanding of communication differences. I can address this by incorporating a variety of different types of communication styles into our daily classroom practice. I could incorporate music and other audio materials of people with variety types of communication types and abilities. I can use personal doll to act out a similar situation encouraging the students to participate in the discussion (Laureate, n.d.). By incorporating diversity into every part of students day in natural and authentic ways I will be able to model and awareness of diversity and an appreciation for diversity.
Children are dynamic not static and will continue to be shaped by biological factors, culture, environmental cues, experiences, and by their choices (Deaux, 2001). We as early childhood educators have a responsibility to support children’s continuous development of diversity. I have learned a lot about my own biases and the many biases within my classroom, literature, and the curriculum, I know I still have a lot more to learn. It will take time to truly incorporate this new way of seeing my teaching practice and myself. In the words of Nadiyah Taylor, “The path to diversity, equity and social justice is a journey, and it takes time (Laureate, 2011).”
Deaux, K. (2001). Social identity. In J. Worell (Ed.), Encyclopedia
of women and gender (Vols. 1–2, pp. 1–9). Maryland Heights, MO:
Derman-Sparks, L., & Edwards, J. O. (2010). Anti-bias education for young children
and ourselves. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young
Harro, B. (2010). The cycle of Liberation. In M. Adams, W. Blumenfeld, C. Castaneda,
Laureate Education (Producer). (2011). Diversity and equity work: Lessons learned
Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). Start seeing diversity: Physical ability and
characteristics [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.ed.
Smidt, S. (2006). The developing child in the 21st century: A global perspective on child
development. New York, NY: Routledge.