As the end of the year approaches, our thoughts turn towards the seasonal festivities in schools and nurseries across the country. Many of your learners will be in their placements helping out with end of term parties, nativity plays, Christmas concerts and other celebrations and it is always a good time to remind ourselves of the many different religious festivals and celebrations that are recognised across the UK.
Equality and diversity in the early years is a very important part of both the Level 2 Certificate and Level 3 Diploma for the Children and Young People’s Workforce, particularly:
L2: Unit SHC 23 Introduction to equality and inclusion in health, social care or children’s and young people’s settings
L3: Unit SHC 33 Promote equality and inclusion in health, social care or children’s and young people’s settings
Unit CYP 3.7 Understand how to support positive outcomes for children and young people
In addition, Diversity, Equality and Inclusion in the Early Years also form a whole unit (Unit 10) of the new Edexcel BTEC Level 3 National Diploma in Children’s Play, Learning and Development (supported by the Collins student textbook). This unit also includes strategies for inclusive practice and planning to meet children’s individual needs.
In order to really appreciate diversity and discrimination, learners need to be aware of their own attitudes, values and beliefs. I have frequently used an “Attitude Poll” as a starter exercise in class, which provides a forum for learners to explore their own beliefs as well as reflect on how they might deal with ideas that challenge their own views. Divide your learners into small groups and provide each group with a set of statements, including several controversial ones (Some examples are attached). Invite the learners to discuss each statement in turn and decide if they agree or disagree with the statement. Each group should then select one statement (perhaps the one they had the most discussion about or the most controversial) to share with the whole group. You will need to act as facilitator, adjudicator (and sometimes referee!), but it can give rise to some extremely interesting and thought-provoking discussion. This has an important message for learners who will someday be working with a wide variety of people, holding a mixture of different views, which will very often be in opposition to their own. How will they handle that? Learners can sometimes be very critical of parents and families, but it is important for them to think about how they will maintain a professional attitude, which encompasses diversity and is non-judgemental.
Many of your learners will have studied different religions in school, but their knowledge and understanding is often varied. One way to consolidate what your learners already know is to use the blank chart on world religions (Attached) and ask your learners to work in groups to complete as much of the chart as they can. Explain that it is not a test and stress that they are not being assessed on how much they know. Provide the completed chart (Attached, and adapted from http://www.bbc.co.uk) for your learners to fill in the gaps.
The significance of this relates to the implications for early years practice, particularly in areas like festivals and celebrations, dress, diet and dealing with death. Your learners may already have some understanding of different religious practices from their own lives or their placement experience. Invite learners to share their experiences and create a collage about the different ways that early years settings embrace religious diversity in practice, (for example by celebrating different religious festivals, having a range of resources or involving parents or community leaders in the setting).
One activity I have found very thought provoking for learners is a role-playing exercise around answering children’s questions, (Attached). This can be extremely challenging, but can also give rise to some very useful discussion and practical advice. If learners are reluctant to engage in role-play, then encourage them to think about how they would respond and then share their ideas in the group. With issues involving different religious beliefs, stress the importance of putting the question back to the child, or checking in with what the child already knows i.e. “Where do you think people go when they die?” or “What has you mum told you about that?”
Amidst the hectic whirl of the end of term and preparing for the holidays, we can always count on young children to bring us all back down to earth.
Janet Stearns, Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies, former Lead Examiner for CACHE