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10 ways in which children develop diversity awareness (that you might never have even thought about)

Diversity is a ‘hot topic’ at the moment. Here we examine some of the ways in which young children (3 – 7s) develop their own awareness of diversity.

We are living in an ever-increasing world of polarisation, where differing opinions are often no longer tolerated or respected. There’s definitely an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality about the ways in which much of the media – social or otherwise – frame their reporting of events.

There’s no doubt that most of us want to create a fairer world. One where our youngsters are treated equitably and respectfully, and one where they are all given the same, or similar, opportunities to develop, grow and progress.

In order to do this, we need to start at the very beginning. Not just at the beginning of their lives, but also at the beginning of our ‘diversity awareness journey’. As adults, we need to understand just how diversity awareness develops so that we can offer the very best opportunities for positive diversity awareness to become established.

Children develop diversity awareness through the ways that they;

1) …create their own sets of values

Our values are important, whether or not we think about them consciously. They shape the ways in which we live our lives.

If you spend any time at all with a 3 – 7 year old, you will soon come to realise that certain people, objects, interests and activities connect and engage this child more than others.

These interests, together with the early important influences around them of family and friends that they have had since birth, help the children start to make sense of the world. They begin to adopt a set of values that guide the ways that they behave and interact with others, even though they may not realise this is what is happening. Initially their values are likely to be based upon the binary of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ (for example, ‘I can do this’ or ‘I shouldn’t do that’), but they soon develop other values too, such as “I like to share my toys” or “I love running around outside”.

What are some of your values?

2) …develop their own sense of identity

As adults, we all recognise that we are similar to, and different from, each other in a variety of ways. We also have a strong sense of ‘who we are’ and to some extent, believe that ‘it’s OK to be me!’.

This recognition takes some time to develop through childhood; as infants become toddlers and toddlers become young children, they develop an increasing awareness of the people in the world around them. They begin to notice their own similarities and differences and start to measure themselves against others. They also start to separate themselves from those around them and realise they have their own individual identity.

3) …might experience prejudice and bias

Are there times when you know others have been talking about you? Perhaps about the way you look or behave? Maybe they are talking positively, or maybe negatively. Who knows…

In addition to our language and actions, we often adopt certain gestures, signals or body language that tells another individual something about the way we feel about them. These are often very subtle movements or expressions. Children can easily pick up on these cues at an emotional level so that even though they can’t put those feelings into words yet, they recognise when they feel comfortable and secure, or anxious and uncertain, and this affects the ways in which they behave towards others.

4) …might experience insensitive language

It’s so easy to make a seemingly innocent statement, such as ‘they are always so noisy’ or ‘the sky is always blue’, without realising what impact such a generic comment may have on the developing child.

The ways in which children think about things is heavily influenced by the language they hear around them. For example, young children tend to categorise and then generalise people, events etc. through the language they hear. If the comment ‘they are always so noisy’ is directed at a group of children who are dressed in yellow, then young children start to categorise all young children dressed in yellow as being noisy children.

Likewise, if ‘the sky is always blue’ and they happen to look up and see that what they thought is the sky is actually grey today, they experience confusion and uncertainty in their definition of ‘sky’.

5) …view others

Even by the age of three, children are beginning to appreciate that other children may have different likes and dislikes. They start to realise that cooperation is important and that people form opinions. This is the stage at which they may start to absorb the opinions of the adults around them and make those ideas their own. This opinionated way of thinking goes on to create a rather binary-understanding in the child of, for example, ‘us’ and ‘them’. A consequence of this way of thinking is that the child then starts to stereotype others.

6) …develop their own creativity

Children develop a rich imaginative life throughout this 3 – 7 developmental stage. They rehearse, explore, experiment, manipulate and examine a wide range of materials, actions and behaviours, in order to make sense of their world. Therefore, the more diverse experiences they have, the broader their thinking and more sophisticated their problem-solving skills become.

7) …see themselves represented

Embracing and welcoming Diversity into the lives of our children gives them the opportunity to access, and identify with, a greater choice of role models in wider society. Each role model they see may potentially embody at least one element of the child’s unique self-identity. Or, alternatively, some role models might challenge their perspectives and understanding of the world around them. Either way, their thought-processes are engaged and developed!

8) …experience and develop empathy

Play is such an important element in our 3 – 7s lives, because when they create their own imaginary worlds – playing with dolls or animating their other toys – they are learning communication skills. They start by verbalising (speaking their thoughts out loud) and then they begin to internalise those messages that they are forming about others’ thoughts, emotions and feelings. This type of play supports the children’s social and emotional processing which in turn builds empathy.

9) …are supported to reflect on their experiences

Reflecting on their experiences is not something that comes naturally to young children – they live very much ‘in the present’. However, with appropriate support, reflective thinking can develop over the course of this 3 – 7 stage.

Reflection takes practise, but the benefits are enormous! Just as with empathy, children can develop their reflective capacity firstly through play – by noting and verbalising what, when, how and why they (or their playthings) are behaving and acting in certain ways, and then by considering the possible feelings and emotions attached to those scenarios.

10) …are encouraged to become mindful

Reflection and mindfulness come hand-in-hand. If the children develop some self-awareness and empathy, there is often a natural progression into mindfulness and being thoughtful about the self and others. This is important to the development of diversity awareness as it encourages the children to interact with one another in respectful and thoughtful ways.

As you can see, there are very many ways in which our 3 – 7s develop an understanding of diversity – not just in the world around them, but within themselves too. They pick up on the social nuances and behaviours they see, and develop their own interpretations of how it affects their own journey through life.

If we can provide our children with a solid understanding of the positivity associated with living in a diverse world – one where we respect others and can share an equitable chance of learning and growing – so all our lives will inevitably become much richer.

That’s why we are offering our course to all professionals, parents and carers of this age range. Let’s change the world one little step at a time by ‘Doing Diversity Differently!’

Discover more about our Simple Steps to Diversity Awareness and sign up to our waiting list so that you are one of the first to know when we reopen our course registration!

a group of diverse children holding hands and dancing and singing in a circle

There’s no doubt that most of us want to create a fairer world. One where our youngsters are treated equitably and respectfully, and one where they are all given the same, or similar, opportunities to develop, grow and progress.

Dr Clare Seymour
Clare has spent much of her professional career (over 30 years) in international settings. Part of her Doctoral research involved exploring the often hidden aspects of institutional racism. As a result she has a longstanding interest in, and passion for, promoting positive Diversity.

In addition to school music-teaching, Clare also has over 10 years’ experience working as an international music examiner – an understanding and respect for Diversity is so crucially important in every aspect of her practice.