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Cultural Competence In Early Childhood Settings

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Cultural competency is about having awareness, respect and understanding of the diversity around you. Cultural competence is “respecting multiple ways of knowing, seeing and living, celebrate the benefits of diversity and have an ability to understand and honour differences".

It is an opportunity for children to develop their sense of belonging and to become more aware of our differences and similarities.

Cultural competence aims to foster interactions between different cultures, this means it is about the relationships we make, our attitudes, and how we honour and celebrate diversity.

When we are being culturally competent we appreciate and live with difference, and we are aware of what we gain from acknowledging differences.

Cultural Competence In The EYLF

The EYLF describes cultural competence as, “much more than an awareness of cultural differences. It is the ability to understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures”.
Cultural competence encompasses:

  • being aware of one’s own world view
  • developing positive attitudes towards cultural differences
  • gaining knowledge of different cultural practices and world views
  • developing skills for communication and interaction across cultures

Cultural competence builds on the abilities that individual children bring with them and provides support where it’s needed to enable all children to achieve their learning potential.

In the context of an early education and care setting the Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework stresses that cultural competence needs to be applied on three levels:

At the individual level - where it will be evident in the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours of each educator in their relations with children, families and colleagues.

At the service level -where it will be evident in the policies, procedures, expectations and practices of the setting and the way in which the views of children, families and the community influence decisions.

At the systems level —where it will be evident in the way services relate to local community people and agencies and respect local protocols.

Cultural Competence In Practice

Educators who are culturally competent respect multiple cultural ways of knowing, seeing and living, celebrate the benefits of diversity and have an ability to understand and honour differences. Educators also seek to promote children’s cultural competence.

Educators who respect diversity and are culturally competent:

  • have an understanding of, and honour, the histories, cultures, languages, traditions, child rearing practices
  • value children’s different capacities and abilities
  • respect differences in families’ home lives
  • recognise that diversity contributes to the richness of our society and provides a valid evidence base about ways of knowing
  • demonstrate an ongoing commitment to developing their own cultural competence in a two-way process with families and communities
  • promote greater understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being
  • teach, role-model and encourage cultural competence in children, recognising that this is crucial to ensuring children have a sense of strong cultural identity and belonging
  • engage in ongoing reflection relating to their cultural competence and how they build children’s cultural competence.

Developing Children's Cultural Competence Include:

  • Concept of skin colour: Have children mix white, yellow, brown and red paint to try to match their own skin colours.
  • Talk about the concepts of lighter and darker, as well as different colour shades and hues such as golden brown, tan, peach, rosy pink, ivory and so on.
  • Black beauty: Think of how colours brown and black can be referred to in positive ways such as ‘the horse in this story has a beautiful black mane’. Counteract as best you can the most universal notion that ‘white is good’ and ‘black is bad.’
  • Opportunities to talk with children about cultural, racial and any other similarities and difference in a positive way.
  • Together with the children in your service look at maps of Aboriginal Australia and colonial Australia- Use this as an opportunity to talk about how Australia has changed over time.
  • Explore the different ways people live their lives in other countries and within Australia, the different jobs people may have, different lifestyles they may lead and different environments they may spend their time in etc.
  • Acknowledge the traditional landowners of Australia and be open and honest in exploring harmful policies that existed in the past.
  • Acknowledge the contribution of migrant communities to Australia’s culture and economy.
  • Develop curiosity about unfamiliar customs, for example once a week, have an activity call ‘try it, you’ll like it!’ Bring in an unfamiliar food, game, or type of clothing. Encourage the children to try and experience and describe their reactions.
  • Talk about how it takes time to enjoy unfamiliar things, and how if you don’t try, you can miss out on something good.
  • Encourage children and parents to contribute things from their own family and communities.

Environment and Resources

Cultural competency is about everyday practicalities as much as big concepts and principles. Educators create culturally supportive programs and environments when they work collaboratively with families to include elements of family life into the service.

Familiar items from children’s homes, celebrations that recognise the important times in families lives and routines that respond to children’s everyday lives are just a few of the ordinary ways we can make cultural competence real.

Welcoming and Supportive Environment

  • Provide translated notices, brochures and pamphlets that help explain the routines of the early years setting.
  • Create a space to display community information and provide bilingual information whenever possible.
  • Acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land at meetings and public forums.
  • Display a plaque that recognises the Traditional Owners of the land, as well as posters and symbols (such as the
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flag) that symbolize cultural respect.
  • Display a calendar of significant cultural events to share with all families.
  • Discuss with families appropriate ways of acknowledging and celebrating these events with children and families.
  • Display photos of children engaged in learning. Accompany photos with explanations of the children’s experiences using the languages spoken by the children and written in the spoken language and English.

Art Area

  • Crayons, paper and writing implements in different skin tones.
  • Opportunities to mix paints (or dyed shaving cream) to represent a variety of skin colours
  • Use fingers, materials from nature and other resources in painting, not only paintbrushes.
  • Examples of artworks, including contemporary artworks such as paintings.
  • Materials that showcase and encourage children to create arts and crafts found in diverse communities including their own (e.g. ceramic bowls and statues, clay to make pottery, woven wall hangings, place mats, wool)

Music

  • Musical instruments used in different cultures
  • Songs reflective of different cultures.
  • Make musical instruments from natural materials
  • Have diverse types of music playing throughout the centre

Construction & Blocks

  • Images of a diverse range of houses and architecture, including those representative of the local community. National geographic magazines or websites may be a good source of images from diverse places.
  • A range of building materials including twigs, rocks, plants, canvas and bricks.
  • Animal figures- both locally familiar and native to other countries.
  • Toy vehicles that represent different occupations (e.g. taxis, farm tractors…)

Dramatic Play

  • Multicultural kitchen utensils, storage containers and food packages
  • Dolls and puppets of various ethnicities and genders
  • Child sized disability aids (e.g. crutches, walkers, eyeglasses with lens removed)
  • Consider designing dramatic play setting that represent a range of environments where people may live and work.

Displays

  • Fabrics and rugs, wall hanging and artwork that are representative of a wide variety of cultures.
  • Maps of local community or world maps to identify different cultures within the centre.
  • Environmental print in different languages, particularly those that are relevant to the children and their families including local Aboriginal languages.
  • Images of diverse peoples and lands can be sourced through various websites and magazines, including National
  • Geographic. Representations of cultures in books, images and artifacts need to reflect contemporary perspectives, rather than stereotypes.

Nature

  • Plant a variety of herbs and plants that reflect a rich cultural diversity, for example Vietnamese mint, bamboo in pots, lemongrass, and oregano, Australian native plants.
  • Get baskets from the local op shop and fill them with pebbles, bark, honkey nuts, shells and other locally sourced natural resources.

It's important to understand that adding diverse resources into the environment and within the experiences that the children engage in should not be limited to just that. Culturally competent educators enable children to explore cultures, explore customs, explore traditions and create meaningful learning opportunities for children.

Becoming culturally competent is to develop respectful relationships with children, parents and the community. It requires a positive attitude toward cultural differences and involves listening, observing and reflecting.

References
Cultural Competence In Early Childhood, ECU Education Australia 
Understanding Cultural Competence, EYLFPLP
Cultural Connections, Child Australia 
Cultural Competence, ACECQA
What Does It Mean To Be Culturally Competent, ACECQA
Cultural Competency In Early Childhood, ELAA Australia
Cultural Competence In Children, Selmar Education 
Early Years Learning Framework
Guide To The Early Years Learning Framework 

 

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