“That’s weird!” I heard from one of my students in the lunchroom. As if I were a rabbit, my ears immediately sprung up and I walked over to see what our young learner was referring to.
Turns out, it was a particular type of food another student had in their lunchbox.
As a child, I also experienced this many times. I would often get picked on for my chicken tikka pita wraps or for using Punjabi words for food items I didn’t yet know the English term for. It’s easy for adults to shrug their shoulders and say “they didn’t mean it”, but when it came to this particular scenario, emphasizing that there is no ‘normal’ or ‘weird’ was my main priority.
“Why don’t we try that again, hey? Can we say: that’s not something I’ve seen before, can you tell me about it?” Gently correcting children and providing a better phrase alternative will help them understand and set them up for treating their future peers with respect.
The children went on to have a conversation. Not only was the original student learning about new cultures and different foods, but the other student also got to take pride in sharing more about their differences and what makes them unique.
Here are 5 additional ways you can raise inclusive kids, both in the classroom and at home!
1. BE A ROLE MODEL
Celebrate and acknowledge differences.
Be respectful when talking about people from different backgrounds–whether that’s race, gender, abilities, or anything else in between. If you treat all people with kindness and respect, your child will too.
There is always going to be friendly competition among children when it comes to differences, but where do you draw the line? Our aim at Wymbin is to create a safe space for every child to feel welcome and have a sense of belonging. When children start to develop a sense of what makes them different, we encourage these differences to be embraced rather than singled out. You may often hear “girls only!” or “these toys are only for boys!” While this may seem like “a bit of fun” it’s setting the foundation for children to exclude others in their future. We encourage our young learners to invite each other to play, communicate and learn from one another no matter their gender, race, ability, or other differences.
Children learn best from observing the role models around them. They’re always watching, listening, and learning!
2. EMPHASIZE SIMILARITIES.
Recognize when children notice differences between people and guide the discussion.
For example if a child says that a peers wheelchair makes him look like a robot, you can say, "some people use wheelchairs to get around, some people use their feet. Both are able to go where they want to go! But people in wheelchairs are people just like you.”
It’s not our backgrounds, appearances or income that define us. The way we treat others and the choices we make are far more important.
3. TAKE PART IN INCLUSIVE ACTIVITIES.
Let your child help an elderly person or offer to help a non-native English speaker learn the language.
Attend museums, cultural festivals/events and introduce/try new foods. Read books that celebrate inclusivity.
Here are some of our top book picks from team Wymbin:
I was completely surprised when I found out a majority of our families and students hadn’t heard of Diwali–the Hindu Festival of Light. Growing up as a British Indian in the UK, Diwali is a huge celebration (comparable to New Years) with flamboyant firework displays and community events. As soon as I realized, I knew I wanted to incorporate this into our teachings here at Wymbin!
We had an incredible week of learning and celebrating. We created traditional rangoli crafts and “diya” lanterns, and learnt the story behind Diwali through a short educational video. You can view this here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pp59n0So-XE. We learnt and spoke about the 5 different ways to celebrate through virtual storybook, Dipal’s Diwali: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9aSkESrxXs4, and compared them to their very own celebrations at home. I also brought in my very own diyas for the children to hold, look at and explore.
4. BUILD EMPATHY + SELF ESTEEM.
Empathy is the ability to notice the feelings of others and imagine how it feels to be in their position. It’s a cognitive skill that can be taught and developed in children.
Something we often practice with our young learners is social-emotional learning. “How do you think Alex feels when you say you don’t want to sit next to him?” “Do you think Jenny feels happy when you say you don’t want to play with her? “Is pushing Becky showing kindness to your friends?”.
Children with high self-esteem are more likely to be accepting of others. Rather than following the crowd, they’ll stand up for what they believe is right. An example of this is when a child becomes frustrated with an activity they can’t do. Instead of saying “you can”, acknowledge that you know it’s difficult. By doing this you validate their feelings and help them feel understood. Encourage them to practice and try again, and let them know you’re there to help if they need it. Give your child opportunities to feel capable and competent.
5. ANSWER CHILDREN’S QUESTIONS.
Children are naturally curious. Don’t avoid questions–doing so indicates that it’s not okay to talk about diversity, which may suggest there is something uncomfortable or bad about being different.
Be honest and open when talking about differences. Ask them why they’d like to know or what made them think of that question. If you don’t know the answer, don’t be afraid to say so–say you don’t know, and then explore it together!
Once you get the conversation started, you’ll find that children are very open to accepting and celebrating differences. All you have to do is plant the seed.
- Naina Rishiraj
Naina Rishiraj is a Wymbin educator, born and raised in London, UK. She has visited over 25 countries and moved to Canada in 2018. As a former news anchor/journalist, Naina is passionate about igniting community, connection, diversity & inclusivity within our future generations ahead.
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