It’s never too early to talk about race.
Studies have shown that at birth, babies look equally at faces of all races, but by just 3 months old, they are starting to look more at faces that match the race of their main caregiver (Kelly et al, 2005). By the age of 2, children start to use race to reason about people’s behaviours (Hirschfekd, 2008), and to choose playmates (Katz & Kolkin, 1997), with expressions of racial prejudice often peaking between the ages of 4 and 5 years old (Aboud, 2008).
Within the nursery environment, we have a responsibility to promote an understanding and acceptance of ALL cultures and actively seek to embrace diversity across all elements of the care and education we provide. We seek to actively challenge gender, cultural and racial stereotyping and to help children gain an understanding of communities beyond their own immediate experiences.
The Fundamental British Values in the Early Years Foundation Stage are about actively promoting mutual respect and tolerance of all people. It is important that we accurately reflect our culturally diverse society to foster this respect for other cultures and to ensure that children from Black and Minority Ethnic groups relate to their environment and take pride in their ethnicity. The ways in which we do this need to be age appropriate, purposeful and meaningful. Here are just some of the ways we embrace diversity:
- Reflecting all skin tones in our resources, books and displays
- Learning and including the different languages that children within our setting speak
- Introducing every day resources that bring awareness of different cultures into our continuous provision – such as traditional decorations and materials, home corner resources and musical instruments from around the world
- Celebrating religious and cultural festivals in a simple and practical way
- Actively challenging behaviour that stereotypes and lacks tolerance
If we fail to talk to our youngest children about racial inequity in our society, we are contributing to the early development of racial biases that research has already shown is in place (Winkler, 2017). However, we CAN and SHOULD be seeking to challenge this. Explicit conversations with children aged 5 – 7 years olds about interracial friendship can dramatically improve their racial attitudes in as little as a single week (Bronson & Merryman, 2009).
If you are at all worried about how to discuss race and racism with your children, here are some top tips from CBeebies and BBC Womens’ Hour about where to start:
- First and foremost, educate yourself first
- Talk about diversity and use diverse books with your children
- Avoid using skin colour as a way to identify others
- Don’t claim to ‘not see colour’
- Showcase diverse role models, rituals and history
- Highlight those who are creating positive change