Encouraging young children to celebrate other cultures.
New Zealand’s population has become increasingly multicultural over the past few decades, and this level of diversity is reflected across the Kidsfirst network. More than fifty-five first languages are spoken by Kidsfirst whānau, and with the many celebrations throughout the year, there are always opportunities to learn about and engage with the customs of different cultures.
We are fortunate that our whānau are so generous with their time, helping to bring alive the traditions, celebrations and ideas behind cultural events with food, music, and story-telling at our kindergartens. Children learn that society is made up of people from a variety of backgrounds, and come to understand the importance of respecting the world’s many different belief systems.
Kidsfirst Lincoln Teacher, Cam Dudley, says having such a diverse network offers a positive learning environment, not just for tamariki, but for kaiako and whānau too.
“There are huge benefits for everyone having such a wide range of backgrounds across our network. Bringing ideas to life like this is the optimal way to learn and teach about the world, other people around us, and the wider Kidsfirst community. There’s always been a real passion and commitment to getting to know people, we don’t just carry out an event or celebration for the sake of it – it goes much deeper than that.”
Cam says that while celebrations can be a fun way for tamariki to learn and have new experiences, they also play a significant role in helping families feel a sense of connection and belonging.
“More often than not, those who have come from overseas come to Aotearoa to live in a space where they are free to be who they are, and worship or pray for whoever they want. The lifestyle we try to provide in New Zealand, for children to be able to be who they are is very meaningful. Celebrating diversity can help people feel included and accepted.”
Kidsfirst Sunbeam Head Teacher, Neroli Gardner, agrees,
“It allows all whānau to know that kindergarten is as much their place as it is their child’s. It supports them to feel part of the kindergarten community, and therefore a part of the wider community they live in. They can feel more at home when they know their culture is acknowledged and celebrated. Often, when they feel that way, they are more likely to participate in their child’s education and keep in touch with kaiako. I’ve seen so many faces light up when whānau see their culture proudly on display at kindergarten, as we acknowledge the world and their place in it.”
Learning about other cultures can help tamariki develop a better sense of their own identity, too.
“By acknowledging other cultures, in particular: language, music, and significant events – tamariki learn about the world, inclusivity, and creative thinking. They also come to understand themselves and their own heritage – who they are, where they are from and and their place in it.”
Diversity is a big idea for little people – so, it can help to break it down into familiar language and relatable concepts.
“We teach tamariki that we are all different in many ways. How we look, for example, and the things we like to do. It’s important to role model a positive attitude and help young children develop social skills like fairness, empathy and accommodating the ideas of others.”
Kidsfirst Ilam Teacher, Christine Putt, says getting in early teaches habits that can last a lifetime.
“It makes it more natural down the line. At kindergarten, tamariki are constantly celebrating everyone and everything – which demonstrates the importance of acknowledging others. If we start at the most fundamental places, children learn to be more open. In turn, there can often be a chain reaction effect amongst whānau and friends.”
The open, unfiltered way tamariki talk about their world can help when it comes to topics like diversity and inclusion.
“Tamariki are very straightforward when they ask questions. That makes it easy to have frank, candid conversations from the beginning, when they are accepting and open to everything.”
Christine says for those looking to broaden their tamariki’s horizons, it’s not hard to find moments during each day to encourage acceptance and respect for peoples’ differences.
“Acknowledging each family’s culture through greetings, language and music – and the exploration of different food, rituals, religions and festivals, are all a good way to do that, and offer new opportunities.”
She adds that resources and activities provide a fun way for young children to learn about differences and similarities among people.
“We read a lot of books that show that everyone is different. A lot of the conversations we have will be low-key, but they do direct the children to notice differences and encourage them to understand that concept.”
Cam Dudley says it’s just as important for tamariki to see the ideas being lived by adults around them, as it is to have conversations about the wider world.
“It has always mattered a great deal to me to instil the importance of accepting everyone who comes into our lives. Kindness, patience and total acceptance of who they are, and where they’re from is a value we strive to uphold across our whānau network. We want tamariki to not only accept others’ differences, but to genuinely want to learn about other cultures. That was what was modelled to me all through my life. Now, it’s an embedded practice.”
Setting an example for tamariki at a young age helps create habits for life. If family and friends act as positive role models, embodying values of acceptance and understanding – tamariki will see this, and mirror similar behaviours.
“We focus on being welcoming and making sure everyone who walks in the gate feels comfortable from their first steps inside,” says Cam Dudley. “We want an environment rich in manaakitanga, where respect is shown, and culture is acknowledged in multiple ways, incorporating resources and activities that reflect the nature of our community.”
Looking to encourage a more inclusive attitude in your under five? Little things can make a difference every day:
- Remember, you and the other adults in your child’s life set the tone. They learn from watching the way you interact with, and talk about others.
- Start early – New Zealand is becoming increasingly multicultural, and the world our tamariki grow up in will continue to grow in its diversity. Acceptance and inclusivity are skills they will need for life.
- Recognise and acknowledge the cultural values of your own family or community and seek out opportunities to learn about and celebrate other cultures.
- Take the opportunity to talk about how we are all the same but different. Answer straightforward questions in a straightforward way.