Teachers and Home Visitors huddle around tables in a conference room to learn about a program family’s subculture of “Southern Coastal/Beach” during a professional development day this month. Down the hall, more early childhood professionals settle on bean bag chairs and large foam blocks to absorb the cultural traditions of how one family celebrates Carnabal and how another family celebrates Dia de los Muertos. Across the campus, still more education and family service staff gather in a conference room to understand the cultural heritage of one family’s Hawaiian culture. This interdisciplinary discussion and collaboration is taking place in preparation for Clayton Early Learning’s annual Culture Night celebration, a chance for families and staff to share their own and learn about others’ cultural heritages, beliefs, and traditions. These three cultures were chosen by our families to be featured in this year’s festivities, although all families and staff will have opportunities through classroom experiences to explore and share their own cultures in the months and weeks preceding Culture Night.
This celebration that occurs in December every year is one of the ways Clayton Early Learning puts into practice Principle 5 from the guiding document, Multicultural Principles for Head Start Programs Serving Children Ages Birth to Five: Every individual has the right to maintain his or her own identity while acquiring the skills required to function in our diverse society. This document highlights research that shows the strength that family culture brings to a growing child’s forming identity; self-esteem, healthy social-emotional development, and school achievement are all associated with one’s connection to cultural roots. Therefore, it is the work of the day for early childhood programs to foster a sense of cultural pride for families and children, while helping one another grow skills to function successfully in the diverse world in which we live.
From our experiences, this charge is easier said than done as we sometimes risk stereotyping the cultures we seek to honor and approaching cultural beliefs and practices that are outside the dominant culture’s “norm” in a touristy way. Having individual families showcase the concrete ways in which they live out their cultures, along with investigating each child’s and family’s culture during classroom experiences, monthly parent meetings and home links, we hope to provide families and young children with an experience that will go beyond the one night of our school’s celebration, heeding the advice of Louise Derman Sparks in Anti-Bias Curriculum: Tools for Empowering Young Children: “Have cultural diversity permeate the daily life of the classroom through frequent, concrete, hands-on experiences related to young children’s interests, …explore the similarities among people through their differences, [and] …begin with the cultural diversity among the children and staff in your classroom” (p. 58).
How do you grow a sense of cultural pride and identity among the children and families in your school? How are families invited to share their cultures with children, families, or program staff? How does culture show up in the classroom to honor every individual?
Revisiting and Updating The Multicultural Principles for Head Start Programs Serving Children Ages Birth to Five (2010). HHS/ACF/OHS.
Sparks, L. D. (1989). Anti-bias Curriculum: Tools for Empowering Young Children. Washington, D.C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children. (NAEYC Publication #242).