teaching children to understand and embrace differences blog header

Help children begin to understand and embrace differences

In a recent webinar, we welcomed Dr. Donna Housman and Emily Stone from Housman Institute! Dr. Housman and Emily led us through an engaging and interactive conversation on the impact of educator training and focused classroom practice in early childhood curriculum. From first-hand experience, Emily shed light on how the strategies from her years in Dr.Housman’s training increased students’, educators’, and families’ understanding of others in the classroom. In this webinar, we gained valuable insight on how to foster important conversations around empathy in the classroom and encourage young children to develop a deeper understanding of differences and the world around them. 

Make sure to watch the webinar that inspired this blog post here

Helping children understand and celebrate differences starts at birth. As educators, we play a critical role in taking down walls and building bridges of awareness and understanding. We can start by showing children what differences are and how children are all unique in so many different ways. 

Helping children to develop a strong sense of self, the ability to manage stress and emotions, and have empathy for and understanding of each other’s differences, are vital to building a strong future for us all.

Dr. Donna Housman 

For example, with infants, we can start with differences in colors of clothing, hair, skin, etc. We can also help children be able to see that they can share similar feelings and emotions as each other even though they may look different. With toddlers, we can explain the differences between things this age group is aware of (e.g. cats, dogs, and birds and how many different kinds there are of each animal). Everyone and everything is different and these differences should be celebrated. Children need to be exposed to different cultures, experiences, and traditions through classroom materials, foods, and books that are inclusive. 

5 tips for helping children understand and embrace differences: 

  1. Model behaviors and attitudes and discuss differences openly. Providing examples of how to be inclusive when interacting with others, and talking about your own differences is very helpful. You can explain differences in your family’s culture, physical features, personality, and experiences and relate them to how wonderful it is to be unique! 
  2. Listen and respond appropriately to children’s questions in a way that models open communication and acceptance. Children learn from your responses to their questions.
  3. Expose children to different cultures, experiences, and traditions with classroom materials and books that are inclusive.
  4. Read books that celebrate diversity and introduce cultures. This helps expose children to individuals that look, think and live differently than they do. 
  5. Redirect unaccepting language and behavior. Help correct biases that children may have by asking questions, answering questions, and providing opportunities for children to share their thinking as a way of reshaping it to one of acceptance. Ask questions such as, “What was it about that person that made you feel that way?” Then, follow up with a discussion to provide explanations and reasons to correct unjust assumptions about differences. All of this needs to happen within an environment where children feel safe and secure, through the experience of being understood, known, and accepted in a safe place where they can express themselves and be who they are. 

Empathetic educators have an impact in shaping learning environments for a more inclusive community and safe space for all children. Helping children develop self-awareness as well as empathy for others from a young age is vital to building a strong future for us all! 

Make sure to watch the webinar that inspired this blog post here

Want to learn more about important topics in early education like loose parts play? Sign up for the next webinar below, it is FREE! Even if you can’t join live, you will be emailed the recording and slides just for registering!

Dr. Donna Housman

Dr. Donna Housman, Ed.D has over thirty-five years’ experience as a psychologist in the field of child development and early childhood education. She founded Housman Institute and its lab school, Beginnings Child Development Center, based on emotional foundations of learning and cognition.

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