When developing a curriculum that supports cultural diversity, key considerations should be recognized. Developmental accomplishments may be linked to the cultural environment in which a child lives. Children of varying cultures may have different social and cognitive responses. A child who does not respond customarily to a story about skiing may have no concept of snow. A child may not understand a story about a forest if he/she has never been in a forest. Before concluding that a child is developmentally delayed, teachers should attempt several different approaches to find a developmentally equivalent response.
Developmental milestones should be valued equally. Children are very perceptive about how they are viewed by others. A regional dialect or ethnic vernacular is not an indication of slow development. A child who feels as if he/she is rejected by peers or teachers because of speech patterns may withdraw from classroom activities. It is important to determine the reason for a child’s withdrawal.
Bridging the Cultural Gap
Early childhood instruction needs to begin with content that is familiar to the children. While learning the native language of each child is not realistic, it is easy to learn key words or phrases. For example, it would be helpful to learn to say book, please, and thank you in several languages.
It is important that parents/guardians understand curriculum goals and the process for reaching those goals. Explain the curriculum to parents/guardians so that the expectations at school can be reinforced at home.
Teachers must be able to bridge the cultural gap between how materials are being presented and how it is being received by the student. It is important to understand why a child asks a question. Teachers may ask themselves: Did the student misunderstand what was said, the way it was said, the words used, or the concept of the subject?
With patience, teachers and students can come to a shared understanding that will promote learning. Formal assessments should be delayed until communication styles are understood by both teachers and students. Communication styles include speech, gestures, actions, and body language.
Prejudice, bias, and hate are learned behaviors that center on people’s differences. It is not logical to teach a child that these behaviors do not exist. It is, however, possible to teach a child that all people deserve to be acknowledged and respected. Social attitudes are developed around 6 years of age. Children begin stereotyping at around age 5. A sense of ethnic differences develops around age 4. Race and color awareness begins around age 2. Involuntary reactions to racial differences can begin as early as 6 months of age.
Ethnic prejudice and bias develops in three stages: awareness, orientation, and attitude.
Awareness stage: During the awareness stage, a child begins to notice similarities and differences in physical traits and begins to categorize people based on traits.
Orientation phase: Stereotypes are reinforced in the orientation phase by exposure to media, racial slurs, and racially biased behaviors. Without successful intervention, attitudes become set and prejudice becomes ingrained.
Attitude: By the age of 5, a child may avoid playing with African-American children, hate Caucasian children, mistrust Hispanic children, or fear Middle Eastern children because of learned ethnic prejudice and bias.
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