One of the things we were adamant about when we had Noora was that we would provide as many different toys, books and cultural experiences as we could for her. Our world is an increasingly fractured and partisan place, and one of the things that we wanted to instill in our daughter was open-mindedness, love and inclusiveness.
But how does one start the process, with a toddler? I teach 3-6 and I can talk about race with preschoolers and elementary children without much of a problem. I know those conversations, and while sometimes hard, I can handle them. Teaching inclusivity to a one year old, on the other hand, was totally foreign to me. And still, so important. We know that children begin to recognize and internalize racial differences as early as two- so how do we promote cultural diversity, acceptance and awareness early enough to help make a difference?
Thankfully, it doesn't even have to be that hard. One year olds aren't sitting for a complicated chat about implicit biases or systemic racism or police brutality. But they will sit and look at books with you. Or play with dolls and other toys. Or see art on your walls and in their rooms. So. Let's talk about ways to introduce diversity into your home.
1) Books! So many books! When choosing books for your child, make a conscious effort to include books featuring children that aren't white. Children's books are well known for a lack of diversity but it's getting better every month, and there are great board books out there featuring children of colour.
Look for books by Black, Latinx and Indigenous authors and pick books that have a variety of cultures, religions and people represented. Some of our current favourites are pictured below: including Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children (as it is a universal rule babies love to look at pictures of other babies and children, no matter skin colour!); Learn the Alphabet with Northwest Coast Native Art (actually all the board books from this store are gorgeous and all illustrated and written by Pacific Northwest First Nations artists); First Book of Sushi (all the world food books in this series are delightful); and Sweetest Kulu (an Inuit lullaby).
Other excellent examples of board books featuring children of colour are Whose Toes Are Those; Please, Baby, Please (a book I can now recite by heart because it makes Noora laugh every time and I'm a sucker for her laugh); Lola at the Library; and More, More, More, Said the Baby. I'm always looking for more books, and if you have any recommendations for board books featuring Asian, Muslim, or Latinx characters specifically, I'd love to hear about them! (It's increasingly easy to find books featuring Black children- less so other children of colour).
2) Toys! I have a major obsession with peg dolls in particular, but this can be applied to any doll toy. Pick the one that doesn't have white skin. When you're grabbing that action figure or Barbie off the shelf- pick one with brown skin instead. At this age, because toddlers aren't going to have a racial dialogue with you, what matters is the exposure to different races and being comfortable with diversity.
I have these gorgeous peg doll sets thrown in with other toys- a casual and conscious choice we made to include toys featuring people of colour and of different religions. The beautiful Muslim dolls in the first picture are from this fantastic store on Etsy; and the wonderful multicultural career peg dolls are from this equally fantastic store, also on Etsy.
Or this toy, featured in a previous post, and one of my all time favourites. Designed by a prominent BC First Nations artisan, the shape sorter is a simple, easy way to bring in Indigenous art into Noora's world without being culturally appropriative. Look for toys made by artists and designers of colour and support independent women and minority run businesses while you're at it! Everyone wins!
Finally, and of course I don't have a picture off hand because I decided to write this while Noora is asleep and that means no going into her room, but have pictures and art up that depicts a variety of people and cultures. Surround your children with books, art, food and toys that represent the vast and amazing spectrum of humanity and it will help lay the groundwork for future acceptance, understanding and inclusivity.
Colour-blindness is not an option- it supports those with racial privilege and not those who are oppressed. It's easy to get anxious about talking about race (and don't worry, when we get to that point, I'll have more to say about those conversations!!!) but for toddlers and babies, you don't need to fret. It's as simple as picking some books and toys and adding them into your rotation. Raising this upcoming generation to do better than the status quo and to be more kind and inclusive than the world currently is requires conscious choices on our part- choices of representation and inclusion in our children's lives. And while that's not always easy, this is the easiest way to start.
Let me know other ways you've brought diversity into your homes for your young children in the comments!
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