Building Belonging:

Teaching respect for cultural diversity

As National Children’s Commissioner, my role is to promote and advocate for the rights of children and young people in Australia, Megan Mitchell, National Children’s Commissioner, writes.

This work is guided by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the human rights treaty that defines the rights of children under international law. The CRC is also a guiding document for the Early Years Learning Framework:

''Early childhood educators guided by the Framework will reinforce in their daily practice the principles laid out in the [CRC]. The Convention states that all children have the right to an education that lays a foundation for the rest of their lives, maximises their ability, and respects their family, cultural and other identities and languages.''

After hearing from teachers that there were limited resources available to support them to appropriately discuss and address cultural diversity and racial prejudice, in 2015, the Australian Human Rights Commission conducted an online survey of 476 early childhood educators in an attempt to better understand their experiences with these issues. Seventy two per cent reported that there were challenges to educating about cultural diversity, and 43% reported that there were challenges to addressing prejudice. Further, 77% indicated that a child had asked a question about their own or another person’s racial, cultural or ethnic background. While many of these were simply a result of children’s natural curiosity, 43% of respondents told us that a child had said something negative and 49% that a parent had said something negative, about another person’s racial, cultural or ethnic background.

Based on the results of the survey and with input from a reference group of early childhood education experts, the Commission developed its first series of early childhood resources. Building Belonging is a comprehensive toolkit of resources which includes an ebook, song with actions, teacher guide, posters and lesson plans. The resources are linked to the EYLF, the Australian Curriculum (Foundation Years) and the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers and focus on encouraging respect for cultural diversity and tackling racial prejudice in early childhood settings.

For example, the ebook All My Friends and Me tells the story of Pax and her friends at preschool. They observe their differences but quickly realise that they have much more in common and conclude that they are happiest when they are dancing, singing and playing together. All My Friends and Me is available in multiple formats – as a website, PDF download and as an audio file. Like all of the resources, it is available for free from the Commission’s website and can be used by teachers and parents alike.

The toolkit also includes a guide for responding to difficult questions and comments from children and parents. The guide provides suggested responses to a number of potentially challenging questions and comments, based on real life examples provided by surveyed teachers.

Children are never too young to start learning about their rights and responsibilities. Children’s learning experiences shape their thinking and values. Children who grow up knowing they have rights and responsibilities will carry the messages of respect and dignity that accompany this knowledge into adulthood. Building Belonging supports teachers to introduce and discuss some of the basic concepts of human rights – non discrimination and fair and equal treatment – to young children.


You can read the full text of the Convention at: There are also child-friendly versions available. See for example:

DEEWR. Belonging, being and becoming: The early years learning framework for Australia (2009) 5