Does your setting represent every family and every child?
by Leon Wenham on January 13
An early years setting is one of the most important environments for young children to be in.
Not only does it teach them to thrive, it also teaches them to learn fundamental tools that will help shape who they become later on in life.
For many children, this is where they first gain a basic understanding of social interaction, learning, empathy and managing their emotions; it is also where self-esteem is learnt and cultivated.
We should never take for granted that all of the above will be done at home. For a large percentage of children, nursery or primary school is their safe place and the only place where they interact with other adults or children.
In most EYs settings, the demographic of children is generally diverse. But how diverse are these settings – in their resourcing, the language they use, their ethos and provision as a whole?
It is vital to understand and acknowledge that every child/family are totally different and in this day and age we cannot afford to assume or be complacent, especially around diversity.
All children’s racial, family, cultural and religious backgrounds need to be valued, celebrated and normalised in the same way that Eurocentricity is valued and prioritised.
It might be insightful for early years practitioners to look at their current setting and ask themselves the following questions as a starting point on how to make some small changes:
- Does your setting “speak” to all children?
- Can your children see themselves in books/learning materials toys/pictures on the walls?
- How much emphasis is placed on normalising diversity from a young age?
- What do you/your setting currently include within your learning materials/play focussed learning?
- What types of language is being used to normalise diversity and to include ALL children and their families/carers?
- How culturally compatible are your policies, practices and guidelines?
- Are you using the correct language and terminology?
- Do you fully understand what unconscious bias and microaggressions are/mean?
All children and families need to feel a real sense of inclusion and familiarity. There needs to be more focus and conversations around the awareness of different families.
A lot of children come from “non-conventional” families and can often struggle to fit in with societal norms from as early as 4 years old.
The “conventional family” narrative is pushed consciously and unconsciously within books, schools, cartoons, children’s films and is even encouraged during play.
Because every family is unique, each child has a different understanding and experience of what family means to them.
It’s essential to understand how triggering it can be for some children to prepare cards for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day when they may actually be living in Foster Care, be adopted, or live within same-sex families.
Uniqueness and difference not only need to be celebrated, they need to be normalised from a young age.
Children are innocent and pure, none of us are born with unconscious bias or a sense of privilege or prejudice, this is all learnt behaviour.
I think all parents, early years practitioners and extended family have an obligation to our children “to do the work” in order to educate and teach them empathy and understanding.
So what can you do next? Here are some suggestions and resources.
Small things, like being aware of the inclusion calendar are so important. You’d be surprised how many important days are celebrated in the U.K. other than the obvious ones we tend to focus on. How lovely would it be for a Muslim girl in school for her whole class to celebrate world hijab day for example (which is on February 1st).
One of my favourite places that I direct all my parent friends to for inclusive children’s books is a platform called Inclusive Story Time. They have a fantastic presence on Instagram where they review diverse books. You can also purchase their books online. They have such a wide range of options covering everything related to diversity from hair, religion, food, same sex parents and explaining racism.
Another firm favourite and a great place to purchase books is Round Table Books store in Brixton. If you can, it’s a great place to take children too, in order for them to see the multitude of diverse books on offer.
2020 saw the birth of Cocoa Girl and Cocoa Boy, the Uk’s first black girls/boys magazines. It’s so empowering for children to see themselves and see material that caters to them. Both magazines are jam packed with history, hairstyles, culturally compatible games and lots of fun competitions. They are also the perfect fun way to educate all children on Black history and Black culture. A few schools have already signed up for annual subscriptions.
A great platform for teachers, EYs practitioners and parents is Everyday Racism on Instagram. It’s super informative and gives some insightful and important information on anti-racism. It really does give you food for thought by highlighting things that often go unnoticed for many people.
They also have a fantastic link to a letter/document that parents can send to their school in order to understand what they are actively doing around being anti-racist and any training supporting this.
Little Omo is a beautiful brand which sells culturally compatible flash cards. Again, children need to see themselves and people who look like them.
The Black Nursery Manager – Liz’s cult following on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter is like a go-to platform for anyone within education and early years mainly, but also for anyone who is really serious about making a change and “doing the work”. It’s a really essential point of reference for parents, carers, teachers, organisations and basically everyone.