How can ECE centres stimulate cross-cultural learning in children?

Cultural diversity in early childhood facilities has increased dramatically in recent years. As a geographically isolated region, we love travelling to get a taste of other places and cultures. Combine this hunger to understand other people’s way of living and being with our sense of social justice, and amazing opportunities open up in early childhood to celebrate and foster our many cultures.

How do children benefit from a centre philosophy that embraces cultural differences?

Encouraging and supporting families in the use of their home language can help young children to build a strong foundation for further language learning and literacy. Being recognised as competent and able in their own culture helps build confidence and healthy self-esteem.

In a centre where every child's own language is seen as a treasure and their varied cultural heritage is valued, children are able to develop a strong sense of integration and belonging. Te Whariki states that all children have the right to the recognition of their language, culture and identity. Learning the values of Kaupapa Maori in a bi-cultural setting opens up the way for learning about other cultures and languages.

While multiculturalism refers to the presence of different cultures, cross-cultural action implies the sharing and acknowledgement of those cultures coming together in one place. Intercultural communities have taken the next step: the Spring Institute in Denver, Colorado explains that in this kind of community a mutual exchange of ideas and cultural norms happen, deep relationships develop and no one is left unchanged because they learn from one another and grow together. In a community like this, children will have equitable access to learning opportunities.

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The teacher’s task:

Culturally competent teachers, according to Tātaiako - Cultural competencies for Teachers of Māori Learners, understand how to utilise the learner’s culture/s to aid the teaching and learning process, and are able to use the learner’s culture/s as a building block to learn and teach.

ERO suggests that teachers reflect on their practice by asking to what extent their assessment information show that they recognise and respond to the different cultures represented in their service, leading to positive outcomes. Finding ways to improve their skills and locating helpful resources may make up the next steps of their personal learning journey.

What may the journey to being an intercultural community of learners look like?

If your centre or kindergarten is ready to work towards becoming more cross-cultural or intercultural, the good news is that expert help is not only at hand in the form of parents and extended family, but they may in fact be very pleased to be involved. Reach out, ask questions, begin by learning more about the child’s own family, and then how their culture influences their parenting, their hopes and expectations.

A next step may be to assign a place to the languages of the children in your centre programme. If this is not already part of your practice, greet each child in their mother tongue, learn and use basic vocabulary in those languages, play their songs. Children and their families may be happy to tell the other children about their culture, demonstrate their cooking, music, dance, traditional costume if possible and display flags and other cultural items. Their home country can be located on a world map.

A positive spin-off of the involvement of parents and sometimes grandparents by allowing them to share their knowledge and customs is that families are allowed to form closer connections with the centre staff, and sometimes with other families, in this way.

A better understanding of what happens at preschool may lead to them further supporting the program, sharing their wishes and ideals and developing deeper relationships within the centre community - another definite win for their children.

Kaiako’s response to the multinational nature of their early childhood centre or kindergarten can lead to increased benefit for children, their families and the community through creating a vibrant and mutually uplifting intercultural learning environment.