Building Belonging: A toolkit for early childhood educators on cultural diversity and responding to racial prejudice

Megan Mitchell, Australia’s first National Children’s Commissioner, talks to We Hear You about the launch of a new comprehensive toolkit by the Australian Human Rights Commission to help encourage respect for cultural diversity and tackle racial prejudice in early childhood settings.

blog1

“I don’t play with black kids cos my dad told me so.”

“I don’t want my colour skin because no-one likes it and it’s yucky.”

Do these sound like things children in your service have said to you?

These are examples of comments from children that early childhood educators provided to the Australian Human Rights Commission, in a survey on the challenges to educating about cultural diversity and addressing prejudice.

Last year, the Australian Human Rights Commission conducted a survey with over 400 early childhood educators across Australia to capture their views and experiences of cultural diversity and racial prejudice in their early childhood services.

Many educators reported hearing comments like those above. What’s more, educators told us that they commonly encountered prejudicial attitudes or behaviours from parents and other educators, as well as from children.

43% of educators said they had heard a child say something negative about another person’s racial, cultural or ethnic background and 49% told us they had heard a parent say something negative on the same grounds.

“[A parent said] ‘I’m not racist, but how can someone from another country teach my children and we cannot understand what they are saying’.” (Survey respondent)

 “A parent was disgusted that we had to show respect to Aboriginal culture, even though we celebrate other cultures in the centre.” (Survey respondent)

Many educators indicated they felt unsure how to effectively respond to these challenges.

“I think the main difficulty is that many people feel uncomfortable addressing prejudice. So if a child makes a comment, educators aren’t confident in talking about the issue and instead give an answer about how it’s not nice to say those things or we’re all friends in preschool.” (Survey respondent)

In response to this, the Australian Human Rights Commission, with the support of a reference group made up of early childhood educators and other specialists, has developed its very first early childhood resource.

Building Belonging’ is a comprehensive toolkit which includes an eBook, song with actions, educator guide, posters and lesson plans. The resources aim to provide educators with simple and practical ideas on how to handle challenging or confronting questions about racial differences, while also offering children stimulating activities and games to engage them with ideas around cultural diversity.

It is important that children in Australia today grow up with an appreciation and respect for the diversity of cultures, races and ethnicities that surround them.

As National Children’s Commissioner, I seek to promote and advocate for the rights of all children and young people in Australia. This includes making sure children and young people know about their rights and how to claim them.

Children are never too young to start learning about their rights and responsibilities. Children who grow up knowing that they, and everyone around them, have rights will carry the messages of respect and dignity that accompany this knowledge into adulthood.

Through engaging with these resources, educators have an opportunity to shape positive practices and provide all children with an early sense of their value, agency and belonging.

I hope you find these resources useful in assisting children in your services to develop empathy and respect for others. I’d love to hear what you and the children in your services think of the resources. You can get in touch with me via email or social media:

Email: kids@humanrights.gov.au

Facebook: MeganM4Kids

Twitter: @MeganM4Kids

Information about the ‘Building Belonging’ toolkit and links to the free resources are available on the Australian Human Rights Commission website.

blog2

Embracing natural spaces and communicating with families

This week on We Hear You, Natalie Cowley from KU Lance Children’s Centre at Millers Point in inner city Sydney tells us about how her service has made plans for continuous quality improvement after its assessment. Natalie has been working at KU Lance for a year and a half and has been teaching in early childhood for almost eight years.

At Lance we have achieved a beautiful, calm and natural environment, using only natural materials and no plastic materials in any of the spaces. Our reasoning behind this is we believe children deserve to have beautiful things to engage with and to develop a respect for the world around them.

When I first started at Lance with Donna, the centre was very different. This was not the focus, as Donna and I had previously worked together at another centre where we incorporated the ELYF and used natural materials. Knowing what kind of positive effect this has on children and their development, we focused our time and energy on changing the focus of Lance.

Within a year, we had changed the environment to be more nature focused, plastic free and over all a beautiful place to be. Interactions with children and the quality of care & education greatly improved and become the focus. Many of the staff did struggle with this change, most being able to learn from it and finding a new philosophy. Our practices improved with these changes, which allowed for strength in particular NQF quality areas (1, 2, 3 and 5).

Our assessment visit was early to mid last year and we received a rating of exceeding standards overall. There were a few areas that we were recommended to further improve in as we received a meeting standard in two areas as opposed to an exceeding. From this we further developed our natural spaces, both indoor and outdoor. Focusing on children and family involvement in the program and room set up, ie asking for suggestions or parents to help bring things in or get involved in classroom experiences such as cooking etc.

An area we needed to spend more time on was parent and community involvement. A lot of the families in the centre are quite busy and work long hours and often do not have time to come and contribute to the program, be involved in centre happenings or have time to read the program, journals and documentation. I thought of ways in which I could improve this and get more parent and community involvement. Donna (our director) suggested that we email families the daily diary. We began doing this a couple of months after the assessment and the response was overwhelming. Families loved receiving the daily diary while at work and would respond via email or mention at pick up how great it was to get an insight into their day while they were at work. From this great response, I came up with the idea to start a centre blog. Updating every 2nd day with learning stories, photos and centre happenings. This has also had a great response, with the parents looking at it often and commenting on posts with ideas/suggestions or positive feedback. The quality of our family interactions improved greatly from these changes, being able to communicate through social media has allowed for a lot more family involvement and from families that may not of shown much interest (due to time restraints) previously.

Natalie Cowley
Natalie Cowley

I have been working for KU Lance for a year and a half now and have been teaching all up for almost 8 years. Our director Donna has been at Lance for over two years and teaching for over 20 years. Since our quality assessment, we feel our service has come far in providing an exceeding standard of care for all the children and families attending our service.

Images of KU Lance Children’s Centre’s natural spaces:

KU Lance outdoor space

KU Lance indoor space KU Children's Centre