Embedding culture in your curriculum

Exploring culture and diversity is a requirement in early childhood services, Rachel Rooke, RARE Early Childhood Support Services, writes.

However, the way this is approached can either support holistic compliance or leave your service at risk of not meeting compliance in other areas.

Most services explore culture and diversity through a calendar of events and celebrations that introduce a range of international traditions into the curriculum.

The problem is that these events are generally implemented in an adult directed and universal approach, not allowing for the children’s individual interests and needs to be supported during these calendar driven experiences.

How do you choose which event is right for you? With over 500 different days and weeks to choose from on the many government released calendars, there is a mind-boggling array of choice.

If you represent every culture, then there would never be a day free that didn’t have something adult directed on it. Often the calendar of events is set based on traditions and historical importance within the service but may not represent current stakeholders and therefore prevent a sense of belonging for those not visible in the events chosen.

It is important to reflect on the events being chosen, not only to ensure that they represent the stakeholders but also to ensure they allow for meaningful compliance.

With the emphasis on a child directed curriculum that is taught through open ended, play based experiences that reflect children’s current interests, it is important to explore how adult directed events planned around the calendar can achieve this compliance requirement.

Reflection should be conducted around the notion of maximised learning opportunities and whether calendar events achieve this if children have to abandon their interests to participate in experiences that may or may not be meaningful for them.

More than just a craft opportunity

When choosing the events that are right for you, it is important to explore the meaning and tradition behind an event, then use this knowledge to assess whether the event aligns with your values and philosophy. Aim for events that are not just fun or produce cute experiences.

Some events are not age appropriate, some are not culturally sensitive and have evolved into something commercial, some exclude certain groups of children because of their own cultural background or current circumstances.

How can you explore different cultures with young children? Often the way in which culture is explored in services, particularly around calendar events, is through craft.

Making something that is a clear and obvious piece of evidence that different cultures are explored and celebrated, often becomes part of a display on a wall.

The challenge is to consider whether this craft experience is achieving the stated outcomes of educating the children about different cultures.

If the craft experience is semi-structured creating or decorating of an item, then usually the conversations that occur around this experience are about the craft, which items to use, what colours have been selected, how to make it look nice as a finished product and so forth, with a conveyor belt of children being ushered through to have their turn.

Rarely is the discussion about why the experience is being conducted and an intentional opportunity to connect children to different cultures by sharing knowledge and valuing the child’s current level of understanding and insight into the intricacies of those from other backgrounds.

Ideally, experiences around culture should be child focused, play based and open ended, an experience that has many different learning opportunities, one of which is about different cultures and traditions.

This can be achieved through calendar events; however, it is more valuable if incorporated into the everyday curriculum through resources and carefully selected materials that allow children to explore and discuss cultural diversity as and when they are developmentally ready.

Moving away from calendar events allows children the opportunity to have meaningful exploration of other cultures throughout the year.

An embedded approach

Such experiences can include loose parts play, sensory bins, play dough, home corner, art, music and movement. All of these activities can reflect the current event while allowing children to be creative and engage in holistic learning opportunities that are not just about the finished product and the display to demonstrate compliance.

Moving away from calendar events allows children the opportunity to have meaningful exploration of other cultures throughout the year as more than just an event, but as part of everyday life and experience, providing a more realistic approach to cultural diversity in Australia.

The most meaningful way to introduce and explore a variety of cultures, including Indigenous culture, is through aspects of what is already included in the service curriculum.

This way, the cultural element isn’t seen as different or a novelty; instead, it is just an accepted part of everyday life. For example, using different traditional recipes when engaging in cooking experiences with the children, adding newspapers in different languages to craft areas, providing an assortment of food packaging from different countries to home corner.

Through approaches such as edible plants, music played at rest time, stories provided in book corner, and prompts provided in the art area, children have access to a range of different cultures to discuss as and when they wish.

This embedded approach takes more time and effort, requiring a commitment to developing knowledge about the cultures to discuss with children when they are ready; however, it will maximise children’s learning opportunities.