10 February 2010

Crèche teaches about race

Children may notice differences in skin and hair colour, but is it an issue that should be coming up at crèche? Read what CyberShrink and other readers have to say.

A worried mom asks: 

Is it right to teach 4-year-olds that they are different to each other based on the colour of their skin?
How do I deal with this situation without drawing negative attention toward my child at the crèche?

 Prof Michael Simpson replies:

Kids will notice such differences between them, just as they notice differences of many sorts between girls and boys, and notice some are tall or short, long-haired or short, black-haired or blonde - good at games or good at maths.

And I don't think it helps to ignore such differences or the likely awareness of them. What matters more is how the teachers and parents respond to differences - this is what makes a big difference between celebrating and enjoying diversity, or teaching kids to be suspicious of, or prejudiced towards, others who are different from them in some way.

So, I wonder what is reflected in your first sentence. Are kids, in the teaching they meet, learning that they are all special and unique, and differ in a number of interesting ways, but are essentially also the same inside, in their value and loveability. Yes, skin colours differ, but the kids inside are not of different value because of that, any more than red-heads are better or worse than brown-haired kids.  If there is suspect teaching, and a gentle discussion with the teachers should clarify this, I think qwerty is right about how to deal with this. 

Below are some comments by other readers.

Qwerty says:

That depends on how they are being taught they are different. Certainly, the first big, visible difference would be that their skins really are different colours. This could be the same as saying, " Sally is different to Jane, because she has blonde hair and Jane has brown hair." 

But beyond that, kids should be encouraged that they are the same inside, even though they might look different on the outside.

What exactly are they teaching the children? If they are teaching and/or imparting anything negative based on race, (e.g. creating stereotypes) then this would really need to be addressed. Or you might possibly want to move your child to a different school if you are scared that taking this up with the teachers will draw negative attention to your own child.

Purple says:

By the age of 4 most children notice that everyone has slightly different skin colour, and most notice this as soon as they start interacting with other children.  However, children don' t attach any significance to the differences in skin colour. They might get frustrated with a child who can' t speak the same language as them, or they may remark that so and so has brown skin and mine is (and then struggle for the word - I just told my son it was peach, as his is fairly peachy).
Any racism (such as : I don' t want to play with you because you are xxx), or where they describe someone using racial sterotypes is definitely taught by adults though, as children describe what they see and stereotypes are not that descriptive of the colours we really are.  
If this is the way the crèche your child attends does things, bearing in mind that sometimes children come to school with something they've learnt at home, then you should speak to them about your concerns.  If you're afraid that your child will learn prejudice in this environment, move them. If you are afraid your child will be on the receiving end - move them.

Although I work, I didn't make use of a crèche, choosing rather to put my child into a formal pre-primary school from the age of 2.  They generally run right up to grade R.  I just found that, because the teachers are all qualified, the assistants are often studying, and class numbers are fairly low things work out well.
In addition, because the staff are mostly all educated, they have good knowledge on childhood behaviour, so don' t overreact to things, keep parents in check, and deal with discipline kindly and firmly, and can answer many questions parents have about behaviour, age appropriateness of what their children are doing, good primary schools etc.

Have you had a similar experience with schools or crèches?

Read more:

The family tree

Choosing the right day-care centre for your child



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