Supporting Diversity

Question: "What are some ways to support diversity both at home and in child care settings?"

Supporting diversity, like most learning, is nurtured over a period of time under the umbrella of an individual’s nature and experiences. Being inclusive and accepting of others relies initially on being accepting and loving of yourself. Answering questions like, “Who Am I?” or “Where Do I Belong?” begins in the womb. At birth each of us comes into contact with adults who imprint on our self-worth by their care and handling of us as infants. As we mature, we develop the ability to judge more freely through our experiences with others and with our environment. How diverse and accepting these judgments depends greatly on how diverse and accepting the experiences. As a result, both home and child care settings with a desire to promote diversity should begin at birth with a prepared primary caregiver, a supportive and respectful community, and an enriched environment. A prepared parent or caregiver recognizes that diversity means understanding that each individual is unique and respecting our individual differences. Magda Gerber in The RIE® Manual describes this adult as: honest, as one who sees and accepts me for what I really am, who objectively responds without being critical, whose authenticity and values I respect and who respects mine, who is available when needed, who listens and hears, who looks and sees me, who shares herself - who cares. A child who is cared for in this manner will in the future give care similarly, having absorbed the attributes inherent in a culture supporting diversity. Some ways parent and caregiver can support diversity by preparing themselves include: ● provide 10 minute breaks to solely watch, learn, and record the child’s activities ● take time for self-care and reflection- define your values ● Share a meal at an ethnic restaurant that you’ve never tried before ● Invest weekly in learning about child development and discuss with others ● step out of your comfort zone in reading, attending a festival, or walking a new neighborhood An adult with a diverse group of relationships and experiences will naturally expose the child to a diverse group of relationships and experiences. Dr. Maria Montessori observed that children under three years have an absorbent mind, literally absorbing the world around them “not with his mind, but with his life.” The people around us matter- if you want to support diversity at home or at the center you want to surround yourselves with people who want to do the same thing. It’s not enough to have people in our lives from diverse cultures to create diversity. We must come to know, trust, and want to become involved in each other’s lives. Some ways to cultivate a supportive and respectful community may include: ● Take a close at the written policies and procedures of the organizations you attend. If they could be more inclusive, speak up. ● Get to know the people who interact with your child the doctor, the neighbor and especially the caregivers at the center. ● Celebrate our differences- if someone in your life speaks a different language, learn a few popular words. If they celebrate a special holiday, acknowledge the dates and ask about their experiences. ● Actively listen- often times the real question lies behind the question being asked. If someone has a different view, find out what led to the belief. There is much learning in another’s journey. ● Food unites us all- eat family style at the center or share a meal with others at home It takes a village to raise a child. These days, that village does not always include extended family, but strangers. That doesn’t mean we can’t come to care for and respect those with whom we come in daily contact. In fact, when it comes to supporting diversity, we must- for only the young child has the aptitude for undoing pre-existing unfair perceptions of others. The environment, as the third teacher, also holds within it an opportunity to contribute a diverse set of experiences for the child. Whether a parent or provider, we’ve all taken a look at our environments and wondered, “do I have a diverse group of books available?”, “what color skin do my dolls have?”, or “where should I place the menorah, Christmas tree, lantern…” However, these items are only meaningful when they are introduced within meaningful contexts. Oftentimes we find the meaning within our home and center rituals and routines. Rituals and routines that support diversity may include: ● Take photos of your adventures together, frame and place within the home environment. Caregivers can and should include family photos displayed within the environment that the child can access. ● Develop a ritual of song- maybe around daily transitions- that change seasonally and reflect diverse cultures. ● Have free access to outdoors- what we wear, what we grow and eat,the color of our skin relies much on our geographic location. Come to understand the world we live in. ● Enrich fantasy play spaces with culturally diverse materials to explore, dress, and feel ● Explore the world’s cuisine from fruits to comfort foods and drinks- what are our preferences and how are they formed? Cultivating diversity at home or at the center means cultivating acceptance and respect of ourselves and of others. In order to appreciate the differences and cultures of others, we must first come to appreciate and understand our own culture and value system. No one value is better than another. They are different. In cultivating diversity we cultivate the spice of life.

“To care is to put love in action. The way we care for our babies is then how they experience our love.”

~Magda Gerber

RIE® Associate Bio: Nicole Vigliotti (Charleston, South Carolina) began her Early Childhood profession as an Infant Caregiver after completing her RIE® Professional Development training with Magda Gerber and Carol Pinto in 1998. She went on to receive her Early Childhood Montessori 3-6 credentials and became a RIE® Associate in 2011. Nicole currently serves as Program Director for Little Learners Lodge and has served previously on both the RIE® and Pikler®USA Boards. She recently completed the 3-hour video curriculum guide Being with Infants with Beverly Kovach and consults with centers interested in putting the theories of Dr. Emmi Pikler and the work of Magda Gerber into daily center base practice. •

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