Education Talks: Diversity and inclusion in early childhood education and care

Small children are often curious and therefore it is important to talk with them about differences and similarities between people. Find out in the interview with Pauline Slot from the university of Utrecht more ways to address and support diversity in early years classrooms.

“Hello, my name is Pauline Slot and I work as an Assistant Professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. My work, my research and also my teaching is mainly focused on early childhood education, the quality of early childhood education and specifically also related to issues of diversity and promoting inclusiveness.

So we see increasing diversity in early childhood classrooms and this diversity actually reflects different aspects. So this can reflect a diversity in terms of the cultural background of children or families, the ethnic background, and maybe the language that they speak at home but also the family composition; so having one-parent families versus two-parent families, for instance having same-sex parents.

And, of course, the diversity also reflects the diversity of needs that children can have; in terms of what they need to thrive and to develop but maybe also in terms of physical needs or health needs.

So considering this great diversity in classrooms, it means that teachers or caregivers have to address all these differing needs in the classrooms and this can be challenging sometimes. It can be challenging maybe to identify what it is that children or families actually need, or it can be challenging because you have so many different needs within the classroom.

That’s why it’s important to have a good understanding of the child and how the child is developing but also the family background and the kind of family context the child is growing up in. 
Given the different languages and cultures that children may have in the classroom, I think two things are important. On the one hand, it’s important to enhance children’s understanding about how people may differ and how aspects of the family environment may differ, but I think more importantly we should also talk about similarities between people.

It’s important to acknowledge that children, especially in a young age, are really very much focused on identifying characteristics in people and maybe also categorising, so it’s also important to address what the similarities between people are. So maybe addressing similarities in terms of children’s interests: what they like to do or what kind of toys they like to play with. 

I think we should keep in mind that we should be very open as adults in talking with children without judgment, because some of the issues that children may bring across or some of the questions that they may ask are very legitimate questions and questions that come from curiosity.
The classroom should be a very safe space and an inclusive space for every child and every family. So that means thinking about the furnishing and thinking about the equipment, and also the materials and the toys you have in a classroom. 

It’s important that children can recognize themselves or can recognize elements of their home environment, for instance, or the cultural background that they have, but also the languages they speak. So try to have books in different languages, for instance, to make sure that parents also find the books in their own language that they can read to children or for instance having books without any letters in them, without any print.

What we learnt from a study with young children is that for them it’s very important that they find a safe space for themselves, but also a space for their family. So for instance, having pictures of the family  in the classroom is a good way of displaying the families and the different backgrounds  that children are coming from.

I think that the final issue that is important to work on  is to really try and establish this collective group identity. For instance, classrooms usually have specific names and you can come up with some very specific routines that you do in your classroom and that is very typical. This can really help all the children to bond, to feel connected to each other and to be part of the classroom. In that sense it can really help in building this collective group identity.”