3 Ways to Teach Young Children About Diversity

by Charise Rohm Nulsen

Welcome to the July 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Learning About Diversity

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how they teach their children to embrace and respect the variety of people and cultures that surround us. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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I prioritize teaching my children to embrace diversity, uniqueness, and difference. I recognize our place of privilege being a Caucasian, college-educated family living in a nice suburb of Boston. When my husband and I moved out of our little condo in the city to provide our soon-to-be family with things like space and a backyard, we were very fearful of a future where our children would think everyone looked like them and lived like them. At the time, I was teaching in Boston Public Schools. It had been my passion to work with inner city children over the years leading up to that point, and spending my days in a so-called dangerous section of the city with children who looked as different from me as possible was my norm. I loved my students like they were my own, and those kids loved the baby growing inside of me as if he were their own.

Although, as I already said, I recognize our place of privilege, I often think it would have been more of a privilege to have my children growing up knowing my “other children”. I don’t know how we all would have ever fit in that tiny condo, and I am so thankful for everything we have in our suburban life, but we deeply miss the beautiful diversity of our city life. The city of Cambridge was so rich with every kind of diversity – color, ethnicity, religion, education, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, political beliefs, origin, etc. There seemed to be no end to the beauty of difference and varying perspectives in that portion of our lives.

Although I think there is no true replacement for having diversity be the norm in children’s lives as a way to teach true open-mindedness, there are things that we do as a family that certainly help. Here are three of those things:

1. We read. A lot.
I wholeheartedly believe that books are our every day passports to awareness, inspiration, and knowledge. Reading is like breathing for me; it is necessary to my existence. I’ve worked very hard to instill this same love of reading in my children. They are so young still (36 months and 13 months), but I do believe the foundation is there for a love of books and learning – as much as it could possibly exist at this point in their lives. No matter where we live, books will be there to provide my children with windows into other worlds, and although of course everything we read is not about diversity, I believe that if my children love to read and love to learn, and if we nurture their curiosity about life, they will seek out other worlds in books on their own. One book that we have now that is specifically about diversity is The Great Big Book of Families (affiliate link). I highly recommend it for little ones of all ages!

2. We travel.
Whether it’s an afternoon in the city, a hike in the neighboring woods, or a plane trip across the country, the important thing is to show children what a big, beautiful world we live in, and how small our tiny corner of it is. Every place outside of your norm offers opportunities to explore the beauty of difference.

3. We focus on our differences.
We all have differences, whether it relates to our likes and dislikes, appearances, or habits. These are all learning opportunities. How we respond as parents to our children’s preferences and needs – especially when they differ from our own – is especially important. Responding sensitively and recognizing the validity of different choices that our children make will all play into how they respond to the differences of others in the future.

How do you teach your children about diversity?

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon July 9 with all the carnival links.)

  • A gift for my daugther — Amanda, a special education teacher for students with multiple exceptionalities, discusses at My Life in a Nutshell how she will enrich her daughter’s life by educating her the amazing gifts her students will bring to the world.
  • The Beauty in Our Differences — Meegs at A New Day writes about her discussions with her daughter about how accepting ourselves and those around us, with all our beautiful differences and similarities, makes the world a better place.
  • Accepting Acceptance and Tolerating Tolerance — Destany at They Are All of Me examines the origins of and reasons behind present day social conformity.
  • Differencessustainablemum discusses what she feels to be the important skills for embracing diversity in her family home.
  • Turning Japanese — Erin Yuki at And Now, for Something Completely Different shares how she teaches her kiddos about Japanese culture, and offers ideas about “semi immersion” language learning.
  • Celebrating Diversity at the International House Cottages — Mommy at Playing for Peace discovers the cultures of the world with her family at local cultural festivals
  • Learning About Diversity by Honoring Your Child’s Multiple Heritages — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama looks at the importance of truly knowing your roots and heritage and how to help children honor their multiple heritages.
  • People. PEOPLE! — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is trying to teach her children to use language that reflects respect for others, even when their language doesn’t seem to them to be disrespectful.
  • Call Me Clarice, I Don’t Care – A True Message in Diversity — Lisa at The Squishable Baby knows that learning to understand others produces empathetic children and empathetic families.
  • Diversity of Families — Family can be much more then a blood relation. Jana at Jananas on why friends are so important for her little family of three.
  • Diverse Thoughts Tamed by Mutual Respect — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work thinks that diversity is indispensable to our vitality, but that all of our many differences require a different sort of perspective, one led by compassion and mutual respect.
  • Just Shut Up! — At Old New Legacy, Becky gives a few poignant examples in her life when listening, communication and friendship have helped her become more accepting of diversity.
  • The World is our Oyster — Mercedes at Project Procrastinot is thankful for the experiences that an expat lifestyle will provide for herself as well as for her children.
  • Children’s black & white views (no pun intended … kind of) — Lauren at Hobo Mama wonders how to guide her kids past a childish me vs. them view of the world without shutting down useful conversation.
  • Raising White Kids in a Multicultural World — Leanna at All Done Monkey offers her two cents on how to raise white children to be self-confident, contributing members of a colorful world. Unity in diversity, anyone?
  • Ramadan Star and Moon Craft — Celebrate Ramadan with this star and moon craft from Stephanie at InCultureParent, made out of recycled materials, including your kid’s art!
  • Race Matters: Discussing History, Discrimination, and Prejudice with Children — At Living Peacefully with Children, Mandy discusses how her family deals with the discrimination against others and how she and her husband are raising children who are making a difference.
  • The Difference is Me – Living as the Rainbow Generation — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle, guest posting at Natural Parents Network, is used to being the odd-one-out, but walking an alternative path with children means digging deeper, answering lots of questions and opening to more love.
  • My daughter will only know same-sex marriage as normal — Doña at Nurtured Mama realizes that the recent Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage will change the way she talks to her daughter about her own past.
  • Montessori-Inspired Respect for Diversity — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells about her multicultural family and shares Montessori-inspired ideas for encouraging respect for diversity.
  • EveryDay Diversity — Ana at Panda & Ananaso makes diversity a part of everyday living, focusing on raising of compassionate and respectful child.
  • Diversity as Part of Life — Even though Laura at Authentic Parenting thought she had diversity covered, she found out that some things are hard to control.
  • Inequity and Privilege — Jona is unpacking questions raised by a summit addressing inequity in breastfeeding support at Life, Intertwined.
  • 3 Ways to Teach Young Children About Diversity — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama recognizes her family’s place of privilege and shares how she is teaching her little ones about diversity in their suburban community.
  • Teaching diversity: tales from public school — A former public high school teacher and current public school parent, Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama values living in a diverse community.
  • 30 Ideas to Encourage Learning about Diversity While Traveling — Traveling with kids can bring any subject alive. Dionna at Code Name: Mama has come up with a variety of ways you can incorporate diversity education into your family travels (regardless of whether you homeschool). From couch surfing to transformative reading, celebrate diversity on your next trip!
  • Diversity, huh? — Jorje of Momma Jorje doesn’t do anything BIG to teach about diversity; it’s more about the little things.
  • Chosen and Loved — From Laura at Pug in the Kitchen: Color doesn’t matter. Ethnicity doesn’t matter. Love matters.
  • The One With The Bright Skin — Stefanie at Very Very Fine tries to recover from a graceless response to her son’s apparent prejudice.

This post is linked up at the Tender Moments with Toddlers & Preschoolers Blog Hop and at the Honest Voices Link Up.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 jana July 9, 2013 at 7:09 am

What good tips. We do the first two already (read a lot and travel), but I hadn’t thought about using sensitivity to notice and talk about differences in the world around us. Thank you!
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2 Lauren @ Hobo Mama July 9, 2013 at 8:31 am

There are so many variables that go into choosing where to live — I know that balance well, and always wondering if you’ve made the right or wrong decision! I like your point #3 a lot — we do that, because even if you don’t have the “big” differences right in front of you all the time, there are plenty of little ones. Like, I point out how my husband’s (white) skin and my (white) skin are two different colors.
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3 Jessica @ Crunchy-Chewy Mama July 9, 2013 at 8:48 am

Thank you for sharing. I’m curious if you expect to go back to teaching at any point? I don’t think I could; it was too stressful to take on all those kids’ dramas, and yet I think a lot about the babies my students had who are older than my son and wonder how their experiences compare to his. Part of why I have him in public school is to keep those experiences from being too divergent, but we are fortunate to have a great public option in our district that I think gives the best of both worlds — cultivating a true sense of community and also providing outdoor and experiential opportunities.
Jessica @ Crunchy-Chewy Mama recently posted..Teaching diversity: tales from public schoolMy Profile

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4 Norine of Science Of Parenthood July 9, 2013 at 10:57 am

We try to teach about diversity every day. We’re an atheistic Jewish/Episcopalian family and for two years we shared a nanny with a Palestinian family. My son’s been friends with this little boy since before they were 2. They call each other brother. How cool is that? We’re also very fortunate in that our son goes to a multi-culti Montessori school where he has friends of every ethnic background in his class and diversity teaching is interwoven into the Montessori program. Loved this post! Found you through the Tuesday Baby Linkup.
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5 Dionna @ Code Name: Mama July 9, 2013 at 11:00 am

For reading, there is a wonderful database that I linked to in my carnival post – it’s all award winning children’s literature, and one of the search parameters you can use is “multicutural” – what a great tool!
Dionna @ Code Name: Mama recently posted..30 Ideas to Encourage Learning about Diversity While TravelingMy Profile

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6 LuAnn Braley July 9, 2013 at 1:46 pm

Voted for you at the Top 100 Green Sites.

Last Friday, my daughter and I went to the baptism of a little friend of hers at our church. The maternal grandparents of the boy spoke about as much English as I speak Spanish. But I asked the boy’s mother how I could express my thanks to her parents for the words with which they blessed the occasion, and my “Gracias por su oracion” (totally guessing on the spelling there) was well received. T-girl looked at me when the first grandparent started speaking, with a quizzical look on her face, like “What are they saying?” I squeezed her hand and said that I understood some of the words, but God understood all of them.

Granted, there are not a lot of diversity teaching moments available in rural Kentucky, but they are there. We just open ourselves to whatever the day brings, and that seems to provide exactly what we need when we need it.
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7 ana z. July 9, 2013 at 3:10 pm

These are all great : ) I agree that books are an excellent gateway into learning about diversity, and, likewise, at 35 months, we’re not doing too much heavy reading, but I, too, am hoping that fostering a desire to be read to and to read will help foster an appreciation for diversity.
ana z. recently posted..EveryDay DiversityMy Profile

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8 Jona @ Life, Intertwined July 10, 2013 at 4:41 am

Thank you for sharing! We recently moved (relocation for work, but also moving from a more diverse city to a more homogenous suburb) and I find myself really struggling with many of these same issues. I am trying to approach questions of diversity with the same kind of straightforward, age-appropriate explanations I (try to) use for any other “deep” questions my kids have (sex, death, etc.).
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9 Jennifer Hoffman July 15, 2013 at 10:01 pm

Such wisdom here, Charise. I’m going to be more intentional about incorporating number 3!

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10 Charise Rohm Nulsen July 16, 2013 at 8:39 pm

Thank you, Jennifer!

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11 Roshni July 16, 2013 at 7:25 pm

This is probably one of the reasons why we love living in California….so much rich diversity and culture that our kids can learn from!
I loved all your tips and your outlook!
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12 Charise Rohm Nulsen July 16, 2013 at 8:39 pm

Thanks, Roshni!

I lived in San Francisco for 5 1/2 years, and the richness of diversity was INCREDIBLE! It’s one of the many reasons why part of my heart will always be in CA.

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13 Deb @ Urban Moo Cow July 16, 2013 at 7:35 pm

This post really resonates for me. Currently we are in Brooklyn with the same worries. I grew up in and work in the NYC suburbs, and it’s depressing to think about going from the mosaic I now live in to the white wash of the wealthy suburbs, where, frankly, I don’t seem to see ANYONE when I’m driving about, let alone a person of a different color.

This is definitely being pinned to my “great blog posts” board for future reference!
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14 Charise Rohm Nulsen July 16, 2013 at 8:37 pm

We’re in the same boat then. :-(

Thanks so much for pinning!

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15 Jennifer Marohn August 2, 2013 at 7:04 am

Being from the south, this has been very hard for us to do with our daughter. My husband and I are very accepting of everyone, and as Christians we feel we should be, however, family members are not so open and freaked out when they found out that I let my daughter play with a child of a different skin color. I had to explain to them and then my daughter that there is nothing wrong with having different skin, and that Jesus loves everyone.
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16 Charise Rohm Nulsen August 2, 2013 at 8:24 am

Good for you, Jennifer. I’m sure it must be very difficult to have such different opinions than family members.

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17 Angela August 5, 2013 at 12:39 pm

These are 3 great tips! I hope to travel further from our state in the upcoming year and am very excited for the opportunity :)
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