The celebrations of Harmony Week in April this year highlights the rich cultural diversity of Australia, from our First Nations’ peoples to the many and varied nationalities who make up our communities. Since 1945, over 7 million people have migrated to Australia, with more than a quarter of today’s population born overseas (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2022).
What is culture?
When we think of culture, it is usually the traditional festivals and foods of major national groups that come to mind. However, culture is much more than that. It includes the diverse lived practices, beliefs and values of individuals, families and groups.
These inform the customs and ways of being, acting, and communicating that we each take for granted in our daily lives (De Gioia, 2012; Ang, 2010).
Kaiser and Sklar Rasminsky (2020) offer this further insight,
Everything we think, say and do is processed through our own cultural backgrounds. But because culture is absorbed and passed down from generation to generation rather than explicitly taught, we’re seldom aware of it. Culture shapes not only our values and beliefs, but also our gender roles, family structures, languages, dress, food, etiquette, approaches to disabilities, child-rearing practices, and even our expectations for children’s behaviour. In this way, culture creates diversity.
Are children “cultureblind”?
Long-held societal beliefs often assume that children are “colourblind” or “cultureblind” and will automatically form positive views about cultural diversity if we just don’t speak about differences; or that pointing out differences may even promote prejudice (Chanel Miller, 2019; Kaiser and Sklar Rasminksy, 2020).
However, research has shown that the opposite is true.
Children as young as 6 months are able to categorise people by both gender and race, and by 2 years, they use their recognition of race to reason about people’s behaviours. By 3 years of age, children become aware of and begin to take in socially prevailing ideas, feelings and stereotypes about people and themselves.
As such, silence about diversity doesn’t prevent children from noticing it; but rather inhibits them from asking questions and having conversations about it. Worse still, silence about diversity may even lead to children manifesting unintentional bias or disrespect towards those who are seen to be different from themselves (Chanel Miller, 2019; University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2023; Kaiser and Skar Rasminsky, 2020).
Diversity, kindergarten & quality education
Valuing every child’s culture in early learning education
To understand and develop respect for cultural diversity, children first need a strong sense of their own identity – a sense that their culture is valued.
Harmony’s image of each child as strong, capable individuals, supports children to see themselves and others in this way too. Teachers, Educators and Centre Directors connect with and reflect deeply on the children, families and communities, and on how their own culture may influence their perceptions and practice.
Each centre develops a statement of their image of the child, which underpins their philosophy and guides all teaching, learning and interactions with children and families.
Understanding comes through relationships
Within Harmony studios, Educators partner with families to understand aspects of their home life, culture and values, and spend time with children, observing, recognising, respecting and validating their unique strengths and abilities.
They build strong relationships with each child and foster a trusting environment in which children are supported to grow and learn. These relationships, together with their knowledge of each child, enable teachers to support positive self-identity and respect for cultural diversity among children in their early learning education journey.
Celebrating diversity in our kindergarten curriculum
Educators recognise that children’s engagement in active conversations about diversity can guard against the development of stereotypes and biased behaviour (Chanel Miller, 2019). As such, they plan curriculum that provides many opportunities for children to engage, explore, discuss, question and respond to cultural diversity, such as morning meetings, dramatic play, role play and shared stories.
Teachers are thoughtful in their responses to children’s ideas, actions and interactions in ways that support their emerging understanding of respect, rights and bias. They use intentional teaching strategies such as challenging, collaborating, identifying, listening, modelling, negotiating, questioning and reflecting with children, to support and extend learning.
The benefits go beyond early learning education
Most importantly, Harmony Educators value their role in upholding children’s strong and unique cultures, and supporting their developing awareness and respect for the cultural diversity of others.
They know that these dispositions increase the likelihood of children experiencing successful transitions to school, wellbeing and belonging in the school environment, perception of themselves as capable and life-long learners, and resilience in the face of diverse ways of being, knowing and doing.
Until next time,
Head of Curriculum and Pedagogy
Harmony Early Learning Journey
Ang, L. (2010). Critical perspectives on cultural diversity in early childhood: Building an inclusive curriculum and provision. Early Years, 30 (1).
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2022). Cultural diversity of Australia, https://www.abs.gov.au/articles/cultural-diversity-australia
Chanel Miller, B. (2019). The Importance of Promoting Diversity in Early Childhood Programs, The Infant Crier, Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health, https://infantcrier.mi-aimh.org/the-importance-of-promoting-diversity-in-early-childhood-programs/
Kaiser, B. and Sklar Rasminsky, J. (2020). Valuing Diversity: Developing a Deeper Understanding of All Young Children’s Behavior, Teaching Young Children, December 2019/January 2020, Vol. 13, No. 2 https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/tyc/dec2019/valuing-diversity-developing-understanding-behavior
De Gioia, K. (2013). Cultural negotiation: Moving beyond a cycle of misunderstanding in early childhood settings. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 11 (2) 108–122. University of Nebraska-Lincoln (2023). Early Childhood Development https://child.unl.edu/cultural-diversity