Because of the changing demographics of the United States, families are more diverse than ever before in terms of children’s abilities and cultural backgrounds. Culture includes more than just a child’s race or ethnicity. Culture may also provide a lens for seeing the world and includes a family’s beliefs, values, customs, and traditions. These cultural aspects can include child rearing beliefs, food preferences, clothing styles, and other artifacts, such as religious symbols.
Classrooms have also become more inclusive and welcoming of children with unique abilities, special needs, and physical or cognitive disabilities. Therefore, when planning classroom activities, it is important to acknowledge and appreciate the diversity of the families present in the community and actively seek to recognize the cultures present in an effort to help all children feel welcome and supported. Below are some helpful strategies to acknowledge the diverse cultures present in the classroom and to support children who speak multiple languages.
- Feature a cultural word of the day. This could include learning how to say hello and goodbye in multiple languages. Religious language can also be shared with accompanying visual aids, such as a crucifix or rosary.
- Encourage children to bring in pictures of their families or to draw a family portrait. To learn more about children’s unique abilities and family structures, invite each child to share some details with the group about themselves and to describe their picture or portrait. Create a family wall afterward to showcase children’s work. Through this exercise, a teacher may discover the key figures in a child’s family, including biological relatives and close family friends who serve important roles for the child such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, and godparents. In many cultures, the extended family plays a prominent role in a child’s daily life.
- Rotate classroom decorations based on seasonal themes. Include secular holidays like Thanksgiving and religious holidays like Christmas and Easter. Invite children to share special holiday traditions, such as the foods that they eat for their holiday celebrations.
- Promote family engagement by asking parents to share a favorite family recipe that reflects their cultural heritage. If possible, invite parents to come to the classroom to make the recipe with the children and to share it together afterward. Another option is to develop a family recipe book with a contribution from each child in the class. Take pictures of children enjoying the food to include in the final product.
- Encourage children to talk with their parents about their favorite books. Send a letter home with the children asking parents to discuss some of their favorite books that they read while growing up, especially any unique cultural stories.
- Invite parents to come to the classroom as guest speakers to share their cultural traditions, including special clothing and artifacts.
- Support communication and collaboration among families by sponsoring community events such as a potluck or day of service. The children could work together to collect items for a local food pantry or to clean up the church grounds in the spring for a spruce-up day.
- Highlight the diverse countries or regions that may be represented in your class by featuring a patron saint of the week. Explore Marian devotions from around the world and saints associated with different cultures or abilities. Bring in a picture of the saint of the week, and read a story about that saint’s life.
Recognizing and appreciating cultural diversity is beneficial for children’s cognitive, social, and moral development. Activities such as the ideas provided above promote a sense of unity and acknowledge the beauty of the individual differences that are present in the classroom. Learning about different beliefs and cultural traditions broadens children’s cognitive perspectives and ultimately aids in combatting negative stereotypes about people of varying abilities and cultural backgrounds.