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Supporting cultural diversity in early years settings at Christmas

Supporting cultural diversity in early years settings is fundamental to supporting children’s understanding and acceptance of the wider community and world in which we live. Involving all children in the range of celebrations taking place throughout the setting will support children in creating their identity and self esteem whilst acknowledging the acceptable differences amongst us and our peers.

When the exciting time of Christmas approaches in early years settings it creates interest and enthusiasm, which will open up a wealth of communication and language development and idea sharing for children and their families. However, the month of December can also become a focal point for the mass production of similarly painted Christmas trees, symmetrically straight cotton wool stockings, numerous rows of Christmas cards and endless Christmas tree decorations, when we should in fact be focussing on children’s independence, ideas and decision making.

Exploring their individuality

Individuality and the child’s voice should always be easily identified on children’s creative pieces of work.

Differentiation of activities should be consistently considered and offered to all children to allow for their individualism and ideas to developed and celebrated.

Our thoughts around Christmas automatically then turn to the traditional items which are generally displayed around the festive season, however consideration should be given to how the wide range of cultures we welcome in our settings can participate in the celebrations, without compromising their beliefs.

Celebration cards and decorations

Christmas cards can become general brightly coloured celebration cards, with Christmas decorations becoming celebration decorations for some children.

When children’s work is individual, it allows for the wide range of abilities and beliefs of children to be celebrated without there being an obvious difference to the purpose.

The opportunity for children to explore celebrations together should always be a positive individual learning experience which will be inclusive of the children’s needs and cultural beliefs.

Understanding diversity

It is really important that children have the opportunity for early understanding of the diversity in their communities; encouraging the participation of children to explore times of celebrations should be an inclusive and positive experience, discovering the traditions and customs that different cultures experience. This should be supported through the use of books, posters, images, real life day to day experiences, role play, languages, music, exploring foods and lifestyles. This should not be tokenistic - a printed out sheet, for example, but should have clear meaning to the child.

Children's own cultural experiences

Family festival books can be used to familiarise children’s own cultural experiences and support communication skills. Children should be able to make links and association with their beliefs and lifestyles through their play and activities they are offered.

The opportunities of exploring the wider world should be offered across the seven areas of learning and fully embedded in the environments. All opportunities to involve parents in these celebrations should be embraced which will help secure and confirm the children’s identity and their families custom.  

The approach to all cultural celebrations should be embraced with the same enthusiasm as Christmas festivities to ensure children are given full opportunities to learn about our diverse world. Christmas festivities can be easily identified in early years settings with these often being repeated at home.  

The month of December for a lot of homes will become a blur of visits to grottos, writing letters to Santa, family visits, wrapping presents, decorating homes and Christmas trees. All of this excitement will be shared with the setting by the children and their families and further supported by the key person within the setting. Christmas activities will become strategically planned over many weeks despite being a one day celebration on the calendar.

Although some cultural celebrations may not require the same amount of planning, by not embracing all celebrations with the same enthusiasm and commitment we will not be supporting the promotion of the huge importance of diversity to children or their families. Whilst planning is beneficial, incorporating children’s ideas and own experiences should always be valued and taken on board to allow these experiences to hold a sense of identity for them.

About the author

Wendy Morland is a childcare and curriculum advisor for Busy Bees Day Nurseries. She has worked for the company for 5 years previously working for a smaller childcare company.

Wendy’s role is to offer support and guidance to a group of nurseries on how to develop their enabling environments, supporting children’s learning and development through challenging activities and the key person relationship.

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