We know from research that even very young children begin to notice the ways that people are different from one another, and to make judgments about those differences. Our hope is that kids will learn that it’s a fine thing to wonder and talk about all sorts of diversity — age, gender, ability, race, culture, religion, and family structure. And we also hope to engender respect for those differences, and to empower children to demand that respect for themselves and for each other.
We actively seek diversity in admissions, because the differences represented within our own community provide the most powerful opportunities for diversity learning. We further enrich diversity through our group of Friend Dolls, storytelling dolls who have distinct and diverse identities that both reflect and extend the diversity in the group. And we enhance diversity through everyday materials like books, baby dolls, and puzzles.
We explore and celebrate the many differences that exist in our group. This may mean exploring differences in the way our families worship and celebrate, which is why we encourage families to come and share their traditions with the group. It may mean helping kids to represent what is unique about themselves, like mixing paints to match our skin colors. When kids are preoccupied with who is “little” and who is “big,” we go more deeply into the issue, and measure the height of everyone in the community (parents, too!) and relate that array of results to people’s ages.
We also protect children’s right to choose the way they want to play and to create their own identities. Boys can use “girl stuff” — Aion loves his baby dolls and Ayo does all the cooking when he’s the Daddy — and girls can use “boy stuff” — it’s not just guys playing basketball and building light sabers from brio mechs. Likewise, older kids can play with younger kids, and girls can be good friends with boys. When a Children First Mom brings our attention to how often we refer to each other as “guys” whether or not we are boys, the kids and teachers brainstorm alternatives and write a new agreement.
And finally, when we learn about Dr. Martin Luther King and act out the Montgomery Bus Boycott; when we read books about characters facing bias; and when we hear and discuss stories about how our Friend Dolls speak up about what they believe – we learn important lessons about what to do when something happens that isn’t fair – about advocating for inclusion and speaking up in the face of bias. Here’s Seth, age 5, in passionate conversation about Martin Luther King: “Hate leaves. Hate is dead. Hate does not rule. Love rules. Happiness rules. So we should even though if there is a law that black people still can’t, those laws should be changed even if Martin Luther King is not around. Love will rule, happiness rules, hateness loses, goodness is the rule. Hateness is the losest… just like I said two times, hate loses, love wins, happiness wins, peace wins.”
Children are aware very young that color, language, gender and physical ability differences are connected with privilege and power. They learn by observing the differences and similarities among people and by absorbing the spoken and unspoken messages about those differences.