When children feel that they belong, the effect is powerful.
Children who feel valued and included develop confidence and a strong sense of self. In turn, they’re better equipped to show kindness and compassion to others, including others who are different from themselves.
That’s why Primrose schools put “belongingness” at the center of all our teaching, including lessons about diversity and inclusion.
“We want children to feel: I am important and valuable and I belong, and other children who are different from me in many ways are equally important and equally belong,” says Dr. Maria Shaheen, senior director of early childhood education for Primrose Schools®.
Each September, Primrose schools kick off the academic year with a monthlong Alike and Different unit. The Balanced Learning® curriculum continues this emphasis on celebrating differences and building character throughout the year.
Alike and Different
While previous generations may have been told to ignore differences in race, body type or ability, today’s childhood development experts generally agree that noting differences is healthy — it’s assigning negativity to those differences that leads to prejudice.
That’s why Primrose focuses on “alike and different,” teaching children that we are all people; people come in various shapes, sizes, colors and personalities; and we’re all special for who we are.
Of course, that’s a big idea for little ones, so the curriculum makes it accessible. To start, students are encouraged to use the scientific process of observation to note what makes them different and the same. That might sound like this:
Alicia has black hair and Quinn has red hair, but they both love ponytails!
Tommy has peach skin and freckles, and Arjun has brown skin and no freckles, but they both get goose bumps when they feel a cool breeze.
Olivia’s family celebrates Chinese New Year, and Kevin’s family celebrates Jewish New Year. Those are both about new beginnings!
“Children do see differences between people, such as skin tone,” Shaheen says. “We don’t want children to think they can’t talk about it.”
Around age 3, children become more aware that not everyone experiences the world the way they do, Shaheen adds. That makes this a crucial time to lay the groundwork for respectful curiosity, openness and empathy.
In the first five years of life, children are forming their self-identity, which makes it important that they see themselves reflected in the world around them, Shaheen says.
“It’s important young children see physical representations of themselves in the classroom, with multicultural characters in books, multicultural dolls and other materials showing different skin colors and body types,” Shaheen says. “This helps children derive a sense of self-concept, feel personal pride, and also begin to conceive of a global community.”
Primrose teachers read stories that celebrate multiculturalism, such as “We Are Alike, We Are Different”, by Janice Behrens, which compares faces, clothes, food and words from around the world, and “Mixed Me!”, by Taye Diggs, about being a biracial child. The Harmony & Heart® music program includes songs from many cultures, including “Usagi Usagi” (Japan), “Dipidu” (Uganda) and “Aiken Drum” (Scotland).
Educated by Our Families
Of course, Primrose students don’t need to rely on books and songs to experience different cultures; the classroom provides an array of different family traditions and backgrounds. Primrose schools use this innate diversity as a resource to educate the children; throughout the school year, children and families are invited to share something from their culture or family with the class.
In this context, “culture” can have broad meaning. It could be a child from a family of Puerto Rican descent showing off the country’s flag, or a child whose ancestors emigrated from Germany wearing traditional lederhosen. Or, a child who recently moved from New York might dress up as the Statue of Liberty; a child whose extended family loves to camp every summer could wear outdoor clothes and explain what it’s like to sleep in the woods.
The important part is that children get to share what is meaningful to them and their families, Shaheen says.
This sharing creates a sense of belonging that “helps the child feel emotionally and socially safe,” she says. “At Primrose, they are loved, valued and appreciated — not just the child, but the child’s entire family.”
After all, when you belong, you can welcome others, too.
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