Multiculturalism and your preschooler

When we go to our favorite Indian restaurant, the waiters already know my kids want a mango lassi. The other diners are often amused to see a non-Asian 4- and 2-year-old dive into a plate of (mildly) spicy foods and calling most of the dishes by their names.


By Candace Lindemann

Children's Author & Education Consultant

Candace Lindemann is a published children’s writer and educational consultant. She holds a B.A. from Yale University and an M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. You can also find Candace blogging at http://NaturallyEducational.com. While Candace’s degrees prepared her for a career in education, she’s found that the best preparation for parenting is on-the-job training.

When we go to our favorite Indian restaurant, the waiters already know my kids want a mango lassi. The other diners are often amused to see a non-Asian 4- and 2-year-old dive into a plate of (mildly) spicy foods and calling most of the dishes by their names.

Multicultural dining? We've got that down. Weaving other experiences into my children's lives and education can be more challenging, however.

With Chinese New Year and Black History Month approaching, there are plenty of opportunities to highlight cultures other than my family's. We make crafts, read books, and visit the celebrations of our friends and neighbors. The trick, though, is to expose them to the rich diversity of our country in an authentic way. We want to be good cultural neighbors, not cultural voyeurs!

Some of the things I keep in mind as we approach learning about cultures other than our own: 

  • We recognize the familiar and notice when our culture has borrowed from another or has similar traditions.
  • We welcome our friends and neighbors to join in our traditions in addition to graciously accepting their invitations.
  • We look for opportunities throughout the year to include cultures other than our own in our learning, not just isolating them to a given day, week or month.
  • We try to read children's books by authors that are part of that culture.
  • We ask polite questions and listen to individuals, rather than make generalizations or assumptions.

Most of all, I try to lead by example, all year long, and embrace the diversity of our area. Our playgroup membership is diverse by ethnicity, nationality, and native language. We choose books, toys, and dolls that show children of multi-ethnic backgrounds. I show my children that I value and respect the cultural traditions of others, while maintaining a strong sense of our own.

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