Teaching Diversity to Toddlers and Preschoolers

The definition of diversity is the condition of having or being comprised of different elements. Few things describe our world better than this simple definition. Diversity fills our planet. There is so much diversity that no person could experience it all in a lifetime. When we hear the term diversity, we often think of cultural or racial diversity, essential distinctions.

But diversity also relates to lifestyle, religion, traditions, abilities, socio-economic status, age, clothing, music, food, etc. Teaching diversity to toddlers and preschoolers at an age-appropriate level, especially for children lacking access to a naturally diverse environment, is essential to their social-emotional development.

There are numerous benefits developmentally to teaching diversity to young children. Chief among the benefits of teaching diversity is the development of empathy. When children can relate to those who may appear, sound, behave, or live differently, they can empathize and relate with them.

Additionally, learning about diversity improves a child’s cognitive skills. For example, children exposed to foreign languages at a young age, especially those who become fluent in two or more languages, perform better academically, have stronger cognitive and problem-solving skills, and advanced language and communication skills.

Teaching diversity to young children may sound complicated, but it’s pretty easy! Parents and early childhood providers can include diversity in their children’s play and daily activities in many simple ways. Here are five simple ways to add more diversity to your child’s playtime!

Listen and Dance to Music

Music is one of the best ways to teach toddlers and preschoolers about diversity. Even within one culture or country, there are many different styles of music. Music exposes children to different types of cultures and even different languages. I cannot sing enough praises about the children’s music company Putumayo! Their albums were a staple in my classroom and home when my children were little. They have everything from African beats to Parisian jazz and relaxing folk to funky reggae!

Free A Young Girl Singing while Looking at Laptop Stock Photo

Children can explore not only other cultures through music but also their own emotions. Dance and music are excellent forms of self-expression. Children regularly exposed to music have improved memory and cognitive function and may perform better at mathematics. Music is stress relieving, and listening to music promotes positive emotions and feelings.

Read Books

Books, like music, invite children into other worlds from the comfort of their own homes. Books are easy to access for free from your public library, or if you have an Amazon Prime account, many free e-books are available. Parents can also sign their kids up for an Amazon Kids+ Account for only $4.99 monthly. A Kids+ Account gives your child access to countless books, educational TV shows, movies, and music!

boy reading book on bed

Parents can use book subscription plans like Bookroo or Literarti to customize books to their child’s likes and skill level. Reading to children daily develops empathy, increases language and communication skills, and furthers cognitive development.

Add Multicultural Dress Up & Play Items

Another simple way of teaching diversity is to add multicultural items to their dress-up and dramatic play items. Items like multicultural figures or play food from other countries are fun interactive additions you can make to your child’s toys. Large pieces of fabric with prints from different cultures that children can use in various ways are also fun pieces to add.

When adding multicultural pieces, avoid stereotypical costumes or pictures that promote inaccurate details of people from other cultures. For example, men in Germany don’t walk around wearing lederhosen every day. It is also critical to show people in various roles. For example, books and pictures that feature females as doctors, mechanics, and pilots and show male nurses, stay-at-home dads, and dancers are just a few ideas!

Look at Art

Art is a fantastic tool for teaching diversity. Art allows children to travel through time and space and to see how other people and cultures express themselves. Different cultures use different mediums to create art, and exposure to art encourages children to be creative and expressive. Trips to art museums are great but not always realistic for young kids.

There are many excellent books on art for kids, or you can look up famous art online and scroll together! When you view artworks with your child, ask them what they think the art is about; what’s the message? If your child enjoys creating art, make a gallery or album of their artwork. You can take pictures of sculptures or other 3-D art created that you might not be able to keep or place in an album and add to their art album.

Expose Them to a Foreign Language

A foreign language is ideal for exposing children to culture and diversity. The younger a child is, the easier it is for them to learn a second language. Don’t worry if you don’t speak a second language; there are videos, songs, and apps that help children learn a foreign language. When children learn about another language, they, in turn, will learn about another culture.

Free Child reading book with mother in garden Stock Photo

Label items around the house in both English and the second language of your home using index cards or sticky notes. Read books that use words in a foreign language and watch foreign language videos designed for kids on YouTube.

Additional Ways of Teaching Diversity

  • Travel
  • Cooking
  • Volunteer
  • Play with maps and globes
  • Get a PenPal
  • Visit Museums
  • Attend live music and theatrical productions

August 20th, 2023, by L. Elizabeth Forry

written by

L. Elizabeth Forry 

L. Elizabeth Forry is an Early Childhood Educator with fifteen years of classroom teaching experience. She earned a Master of Science in Early Childhood Education from The University of North Dakota and has a Bachelor of Arts in English and one in Music from Lebanon Valley College. She has taught children in Japan, Washington D.C., Chicago, and suburban Maryland. She is trained as a reading therapist, has a TEFL certification, and has done extensive work with children regarding mental health, social-emotional development, gender development. She has written curriculum for children and educators and has led training sessions for parents and educators on various topics on early childhood development. She is the mother of two boys and resides outside of Annapolis, Maryland.

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