One of the reasons you love being a teacher is getting to help children explore the world around them. Your preschool classroom is a reflection of America—a melting pot of different ethnicities, languages and cultural beliefs. It’s normal for children to be curious about people who look or act differently than they do, as this natural curiosity presents the perfect opportunity to bring the importance of diversity into your classroom.
“It is our responsibility to not only provide our children with early access to education, but also to prepare them to be responsible and caring citizens of the world,” says Marc Carver, founder of educational technology company FutureSoBrite. “Creating that crucial spark of discovery and curiosity in our children at an early age can lead to a lifetime of embracing and celebrating diversity.”
Teaching diversity may seem like an intimidating task in early childhood education, but it doesn’t have to be. These hands-on multicultural activities for preschoolers are a fun way for you to introduce other cultures to the little ones in your care. Keep reading to find a multicultural activity for your next lesson plan.
5 Multicultural activities for preschoolers
1. School around the world
Children are interested in learning more about kids their own age, including what school looks like in other countries. Set up a “school” interest center in a portion of your classroom. Add photos, books, videos and other activities that feature students at school in another culture.
Encourage discussions about school in other countries by asking questions such as, “How do the children get to school?” and “What do they eat for lunch?” Rotate cultures throughout the year so students are exposed to many different school experiences from around the globe.
How it teaches diversity: “By focusing on school, children can automatically relate to experiences of children around the world,” says Robin Leon, a 20-year ECE teacher and senior community counselor at Global Awareness. “Letting the children experience schools around the world through pretend play is a great way to tackle this important topic at a developmentally appropriate level.”
2. Diversity dinner party
Food is at the center of community in many cultures, so it’s a great way to introduce young children to cultural traditions that are different from their own. Ask your classroom families if there are any favorite traditional cuisines they’d like to share with the class, suggests Alison Kim Walker, educational consultant and owner of Hummingbird Learning Group.
Try to include healthy dishes from a variety of countries that may be different from what children have experienced at fast-food restaurants: fresh guacamole, Bánh mì, homemade hummus with pita chips or naan with mild curry.
How it teaches diversity: Some children may be afraid of new experiences, and that includes food. One of the best ways to introduce an unfamiliar culture is to sample the cuisine. This activity provides a safe way for children to try new foods from other cultures while also giving families a chance to share their personal food culture.
3. Hello, friend!
Greeting one another each morning is already an established part of your preschool routine. Make it a fun learning opportunity by introducing words and phrases in other languages at circle time, and encouraging children to practice by greeting their friends with their new vocabulary words.
Bilingual read-aloud books provide another opportunity to introduce children to new languages. Try Hello Ocean / Hola Mar by Pam Munoz Ryan (Spanish), Bee-bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park (Korean) and Am I Small? / Mimi Ni Mdogo? by Philipp Winterberg (Swahili).
How it teaches diversity: “One of the first steps in understanding cultural differences is recognizing that not everyone speaks the same language,” Carver says. “Through this exercise, children begin to understand the many different ways people of the world communicate and that language is a bridge to understanding other cultures, not a barrier.”
4. We all celebrate
Children love a good party! Teaching them about cultural and religious celebrations around the world is a great way to get children excited about diversity. You can easily add multicultural classroom celebrations throughout the year by choosing one event to celebrate each month.
Use books and online resources to teach children about the importance of each celebration, and incorporate relevant music and artwork into the learning experience. Children can decorate their own paper skulls for Dia de los Muertos, create Chinese lanterns and rattle drums for Chinese New Year and husk an ear of corn for Kwanzaa.
How it teaches diversity: A culture’s celebrations can reveal a lot about its deeply held values and traditions. Children will look forward to their monthly party while gaining a deeper understanding of how people around the world celebrate with family and friends.
5. Passport travelers
This fun activity allows children to become world travelers and introduces them to their classmates’ diverse backgrounds. First, talk to the parents and children in your class to gather information about their background and any cultural traditions that are important to them, recommends Diana Lee Santamaria, preschool teacher and children’s author. Then, have the children create their own passports for their upcoming ‘round-the-world trip.
Throughout the year, students will take turns sharing where they’re from. Encourage children to bring props like photos, a favorite snack or their country’s flag. Everyone in the class earns a new passport stamp for each country they “visit.” If your class doesn’t have a diverse group of children, Santamaria advises reading a book like Diversity Soup by Latrecia Brown-Johnson, then letting children choose countries from a map.
How it teaches diversity: “It helps children to understand that although we all come from various backgrounds, we are all essentially the same,” Santamaria says. “They also learn that diversity is all around them, even in the classroom.”
Teaching global citizens
We can’t overlook the importance of diversity, even for our littlest members of society. By incorporating these multicultural activities for preschoolers into your classroom, you’re doing your part to raise the next generation of children who appreciates and respects people of all cultures.
Guiding children through the preschool years is a big job. For more tips and advice on how to keep your preschool classroom running smoothly, check out our article, “10 Proven Classroom Management Tips for Preschool Teachers”