By Vanessa Rasmussen, © 2004, All rights reserved.
United States has become more linguistically and culturally diverse and hence, early childhood educators have a responsibility to understand how best to meet children's needs and how to provide effective early childhood education for all children. Most children actively attempt to understand their world through their own language and culture and learn best when they acquire skills in a meaningful context. Children who do not speak English at home should not be looked at differently than the rest. Instructors should promote the use of native language learning while encouraging the acquisition of English in order to strengthen the links between programs and families.
Teaching with a multicultural viewpoint encourages appreciation and understanding of other cultures as well as one's own. Teaching with this perspective endorses the child's sense of the exclusivity of his own culture as a positive feature and enables the child to accept the uniqueness of the cultures of others.
All children could benefit from exposure to multilingual and multicultural learning environments. Diverse classrooms provide the opportunity for all students to acquire an expanded range of languages, skills, and capacities to perform successfully as citizens in a multicultural society and as workers in a global economy. With knowledge of effective practices, and with the support of administrators, colleagues, families, and the local and global community, teachers can create classrooms that are responsive to the diverse needs of all children.
Children learning English need to interact as much as possible with English-speaking children in the classroom. Research shows that children learn a second language more easily if they participate in meaningful activities that require using the second language; thus the curriculum should encourage children to speak, read, and write the second language in meaningful ways. It is very important to relate academic content to the linguistically and culturally diverse children's own environment and experience. The more diverse the children, the more integrated the curriculum should be.
Do not consider children coming from a minority background scholastically lower than those coming from the majority. When teachers start viewing them differently and consider them to be deficient in some ways, the effect is detrimental on children. It is important to note that schools that establish high expectations for all students--and provide the support necessary to achieve these expectations--have high rates of academic success.
Children as well as adults are more often than not easily influenced by the stereotypes and biased view of society that exists in our schools and the media. Let the children feel positive and proud about their cultural heritage. Focus on activities that highlight the similarities and differences of all children's lives. Use role-playing as a strategy for developing new perspectives on culture and lifestyles. Treat each child as a unique individual, each with something special to contribute. A teacher must become aware of the child's cultural background if he/she wants to understand the child as a whole.
The goal of multicultural programs is not only to teach children about other groups or countries, but also to help children become accustomed to the idea that there are many lifestyles, languages, cultures, and points of view.
Copyright 2001, 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written or verbal permission is strictly prohibited. For information about reprinting this article, contact the copyright owner: Vanessa Rasmussen, Ph.D, Starting a Day Care Center, http://www.startingadaycarecenter.com.