It’s back-to-school season, and that means getting new school supplies, adjusting to new routines and learning about all kinds of subjects. An important subject that parents can help teach their kids about is diversity and inclusion as they encounter new students in class.
What is diversity and inclusion?
Diversity is the range of human differences, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, physical or mental ability and attributes, religious or ethical values system, national origin, immigration status, language, learning styles and family structure.
Inclusion is involvement and empowerment, where the inherent worth and dignity of all people are recognized. An inclusive classroom promotes and nurtures a sense of belonging; it values and practices respect for the talents, beliefs, backgrounds and ways of living of its students.
Why diversity and inclusion matter
Talking openly and positively about differences can help children better understand themselves and those around them. Embracing diversity and inclusion empowers kids to engage their world with curiosity, confidence and kindness. Diversity and inclusion helps children learn to empathize with people who are different from them. Diversity and inclusion make all kids better learners, allowing them to understand various subjects from multiple points of view.
Ways to promote diversity and inclusion at home
The best way for kids to learn about diversity and inclusion is to see it modeled by trusted adults. Parents can take active steps to make sure their child is immersed in communities and opportunities that embrace and celebrate differences.
What is unique about our family culture? How do we celebrate that uniqueness? How do we respect and celebrate other cultures?
What types of diversity do we have in our family?
Who do we invite to our home for social time?
Is our neighborhood diverse and inclusive? If not, what makes it that way?
What types of diversity and inclusion are reflected in our religious or ethical community? How can we be more diverse and inclusive?
Does my child see diverse people in positions of authority (e.g., teachers, coaches, health care providers, faith leaders, etc.)? If not, how can I change that?
Do our extracurricular or leisure time activities include diverse groups of people? What opportunities exist to become more involved?
Does the media we consume (e.g., books, shows, videos, games, etc.) feature diverse characters and storylines without stereotypes? Do we use media as an opportunity to talk about diversity and inclusion?
How to involve kids
Acknowledge differences. Kids notice them, so there’s no need to pretend they don’t exist. Emphasize the positive aspects of differences and be honest about the ways people are mistreated for their differences. Use resources from our Children’s Mercy Parent-ish blog to help you talk about gender, sexual orientation, race and white privilege.
Ask open-ended questions and listen without judgment. Encourage your child to keep asking questions by expressing your values for diversity and inclusion without shutting down the conversation. Get ideas from websites like Learning for Justice.
Take time when you need it. If you're unsure how to answer your child’s question, tell them you’ll think about it and set a time to talk when you’re more prepared.
Speak up when bias happens. Whether your child or someone else does or says something prejudiced, address it in the moment. Silence teaches children that it’s OK.
Read diverse books and watch diverse media together. Maybe even start a book club with friends.
Discuss current events at an age-appropriate level with help from resources like Table Talk.
Take action together. Brainstorm ideas with your child for how to promote diversity and inclusion in your neighborhood, school, and community. Involve others if possible. Get ideas from resources like Doing Good Together.
Partner with teachers to promote diversity and inclusion
Children spend a lot of time at school, and educators work hard to facilitate students’ learning. Parents can support their efforts to teach diversity and inclusion by getting actively involved.
Get involved in the classroom. Help plan learning activities and field trips that expose kids to new experiences and points of view. Volunteer to find diverse guest speakers for the classroom or school assemblies.
Ask how diversity and inclusion are being modeled and taught at school. Find out what curriculum is being used. Inquire how you and other parents can help teachers get the resources they need to teach these lessons.
Donate diverse books to the class or school library.
Communicate openly and regularly with teachers and school personnel about your child’s unique needs, attributes, strengths, challenges and cultural values and your expectations of how they will be treated at school.
Learn more about individualized education plans, adaptive technologies and teaching strategies that ensure diverse students are getting what they need to be successful learners.
Ways to work with school administrators to promote diversity and inclusion
In addition to partnering with teachers, it is important to stay connected with school leaders and voice your support for a diverse and inclusive school environment.
Questions to ask
What are the school’s stated values regarding diversity and inclusion? What policies are in place for accountability? How are those playing out in the school? In your child’s classroom?
What is the demographic makeup of teachers, staff, and administrators in regards to race, ethnicity, gender, disability, class, etc.? How does this compare to the larger surrounding community? What plans does the school or district have to diversify hiring, retention and advancement?
What is the demographic makeup of the student population? How does this compare to the larger surrounding community? Who is involved in extracurricular or enrichment activities?
What types of diversity and inclusion training exist for faculty and staff? What types of continuing education are available on these topics?
What issues of diversity and inclusion are present in the school according to school social workers or counselors?
Actions to take
Collaborate with other parents to promote diversity and inclusion through a parent-teacher group.
Run for school board or help someone campaign who will prioritize diversity and inclusion. Vote.
Attend school board meetings to advocate for policies that advance diversity and inclusion and speak out against actions that hinder them.
We know when children learn empathy and understanding from working with people who are different from them, they will grow in to compassionate, well-rounded adults, and our future communities will be better.
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