From the time they start walking, toddlers exhibit autonomy as they learn to verbalise and experience their relationship to the world. Toddlers are ready for exposure to differences between themselves and others. According to PBS.org's "Precious Children" pages, by age two children see and are interested in physical differences. This is the time to introduce children to cultural differences with age-appropriate activities, such as teaching toddlers how to identify skin colour. (See References.) Engage children at this age as they ask about differences in hair texture and skin colour.
I Am Different
Toddlers are active and fascinated by finger play. Take advantage of toddlers' innate curiosity and activity level with an activity using only the children's fingers, suggested by the website Gayle's Preschool Rainbow (see References). Play a game called "I am Different" to teach about diversity. Gather children in a circle and recite "I am different" phrases as you point your finger correspondingly. Say, for example, "I am different from my head to my toes" and "I am different from my eyes to my nose" as you point to each body part. Ask toddlers to copy your actions and recite after you. Use the complete poem to communicate how different people are from all around the world and how much love each person has inside them. (See References.)
As the year passes and different cultural holidays like Easter, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa come around, invite friends, family and preschool staff to share about their holidays. Ask guests to bring items or foods related to the holiday and explain, in simple terms, what an item means or why they eat a particular food. Invite guests to return so the children can share and celebrate holidays from their family traditions. Treat each holiday with respect and as a normal event, just like holidays with which children are familiar. (See References.)
A globe of the world, spinning with bright colours, can captivate a toddler's attention for lessons in cultures. Give children a chance to spin the globe and randomly select a country by colour. Keep a book of pictures of the countries of the world and the people who live in them. Travel the world, introducing children to a world of differences among people and their cultural values. Spend time on a regular basis talking about the people of the world and cultural contributions, like food, holidays and regard for family.
Rain Rhythm Sticks
Common household items, such as paper towel tubes, lids from milk bottles and dried beans provide opportunities for toddlers to experience cultural differences. Gayle's Preschool Rainbow suggests making rain sticks common to African, Chilean and Indian cultures. (See Reference.) As children fill tubes with beans or rice and decorate the tubes with bright colours, show them India, Chile and Africa on a map of the world. Join with the children as they shake their rain sticks and listen to what sounds like the rhythm of falling rain. Tell the kids how important rain is for cultures because they rely on rain to grow crops for food.
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