Storytime: An Ideal Time To Teach Your Child About Diversity
Stories open children’s minds and imaginations to people, places and worlds beyond the familiar, offering an ideal opportunity to teach them about diversity.
Storytime is, for many parents and children, their favorite time of day — an opportunity to cuddle, connect and share a literary adventure together. From board books and picture books to chapter books and audiobooks, stories help to inspire, teach and broaden our awareness, making them an ideal resource for introducing diversity to children.
What does “diversity” really mean?
Before we can teach our children about diversity, we need to understand its range of meanings. According to Dr. Melissa Marks, author of Teaching About Diversity: Activities to Start the Conversation, “diversity is not only about race. It’s also about family structure, religion, language and culture and place of origin. Understanding diversity means being able to see lots of different perspectives.”
As the Director of the Education Program at University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, Dr. Marks instructs teachers in training, who soon learn the intrinsic value of stories. “Children are naturally curious. Telling them stories opens up conversations and allows you to normalize everybody’s lives, including their own. Kids will ask questions like, ‘Mom, why do they have two dads?’ or ‘Dad, why don’t they look like me?’ Through reading, these differences become normalized, and that’s the beauty of it.”
Kids are sponges
Well before they’re old enough to express themselves verbally, children are constantly observing and absorbing information around them. As they grow, develop and interact, they form opinions about themselves and others, making these early years a crucial time to teach them how to value the amazing diversity that exists in the world. “From an early age, children recognize differences, and it’s important that parents…are mindful of that and play a role in celebrating those differences,” says Louie Rodriguez, Ed.D., Associate Professor of Education, Society and Culture at University of California, Riverside. “The earlier we can do that in our homes, schools, and communities, the better we’ll be at continuing those conversations as children go from K–12 to higher education.”
Books make the best icebreakers
Reading stories is an ideal way to gently introduce children to new language, ways of living and looking at the world. Stories are also an ideal springboard for discussing differences, privilege, respect, acceptance, empathy and inclusivity. Luckily, there are plenty of books to choose from these days that feature characters of different ethnicities, races, religions and gender identities.
As children venture into the world and interact with a range of people, it’s important to instill a sense of acceptance and tolerance in them, and books are an ideal catalyst. Diversity books help familiarize children with individuals or groups who might seem foreign to them, especially if your community is fairly homogeneous. Texts and images that illustrate what others face because of their race, ethnicity or preferences is an invaluable opportunity to teach understanding and empathy.
Resources at your fingertips
Finding books that illustrate diversity is easier than ever these days, thanks to a range of resources. Children’s Book Council and Goodreads.com both publish an annual multicultural book list, as does the National Education Association. The Everyday Diversity Project aims to identify and highlight storytime books that feature racially diverse protagonists.
In the end, teaching our children about diversity is really all about helping them learn to be kind and accepting to those who are different than they are. Stories open them up to worlds they might otherwise not be exposed to, and teach us, as parents, how to model social tolerance, empathy, curiosity and compassion.
Top Kid’s Books That Teach Diversity