Celebrating Diversity in Schools without Making Minority Students Feel different

Diversity themes in the classroom are actually geared toward celebrating our differences. The Primary grades are the best time to teach children that we are all different, and yet in many ways we are all the same.

Introducing diversity into the learning environment should be done with care.
Take small steps towards introducing the ‘honoring’ of children’s differences, while embracing their “sameness” as well.

Each day you can “celebrate” children in small ways.
Ideas for this include telling your class one of the following:
(or use a similar idea)

-Today we are celebrating everyone who is wearing something blue.
-Today we are celebrating everyone who is wearing tennis shoes.
-Today we are celebrating everyone who is 8 years old.
-Today we are celebrating everyone who is a boy.
-Today we are celebrating everyone who has brown eyes.
-Today we are celebrating everyone who has glasses.

Bring children who are a part of the “group” being celebrated to the front of the class. Let everyone “celebrate” these special people.
Tell children you will celebrate by clapping, cheering, jumping up and down, and otherwise making lots of noise exactly for 20 seconds.
Do this activity each day with your students, gradually introducing new, more challenging ideas of diversity.

Introduce the ideas of same and different with a game.
Try playing this game with younger children, to help them learn how some things about people are different from us and other things about them are the same:

Move to “this or that” side of the room:

In this game the teacher will call out things that many of the children have in common, but that some may not have in common. Children will decide which side of the room they should move to. Call out many different “labels” and watch children change from one group to the other. This game will open a realm of discussion ideas, during the game, and after the children have finished playing.

-Everyone who likes baseball go to this side of the room.
-Everyone who is wearing pink go to this side of the room.
-Everyone who is a boy go to this side of the room.
-Everyone who has brown hair go to this side of the room.
-Everyone who hates broccoli go to this side of the room.

While children are playing:
-Notice the different groups that form and make comments about the children’s sameness, or differences.
-Two students who may have thought they had nothing at all in common, may both end up in the group of broccoli haters. When you notice this, it is helpful to say “Jan and Michael both hate broccoli, wow.”
When two students who seemed to have everything in common display a difference, you can point this out as well. “Michael loves Sponge Bob Square Pants, but Brian doesn’t.”
-Notice when 2 students who were in one group together, are in a different group the next time. Point this out. “Carrie and Jenny have some things in common, and some differences too.”

After children are done playing:
-Talk about how it would be to only be friends with people who wear tennis shoes, or who hate broccoli.
-Ask how it might feel to be in groups like those all the time.
-Talk about the word “labels” ask children to share some of the labels they have heard. How do they feel about those “labels?”
-Talk about having differences from others, and also having things that are the same. Ask children to name others who had something in common with them.

Culture is a word that children will need to learn and understand.
Have every child in your classroom research their cultural background.
They can ask their parents, or relatives, or they can do research at the library or on-line.
Ask each child to talk to the the class about their cultural background.

Talk about religion. Ask children if their family goes to church or not, and if their family has a special religion that they believe in.
Talk about how children’s beliefs are different or the same as other children’s.
Impart the idea that it is interesting to learn about what others believe.

Promote understanding in your classroom.
Allow children to explore their differences, and also help them find the things that they have in common with others.

When children are comfortable with these concepts, you can begin introducing concepts of culture in the classroom, and celebrating diversity on a new level.

As you celebrated children earlier in the school year:
You can celebrate all Latino or Hispanic children.
You can celebrate all African American children.
You can celebrate all Native American children
You can celebrate all Jewish children.
You can celebrate all Arab American children.
You can celebrate all Asian American children.
You can celebrate all Christian children.
You can celebrate all Muslim children.

The important factor here is that you celebrate all children- for all of their wonderful uniqueness, and that you are able to help them learn to celebrate each other each other, as well.