Culturally competent teaching can be challenging, especially with the wide range of diversity in our local American communities. Cultural diversity is present not only by the categorization of varying ethnicities, races, and cultures, but there is also a wide range of diversity within these categories as well. Educators hold the complex responsibility to teach the context of culture from multiple perspectives. During the elementary years, children are developing a foundation of education to reflect and build upon in later years. It is therefore important to recognize this extreme variation of diversity and simplify it strategically and ethically, to meet the educational needs of all students, creating a foundation of knowledge about diversity early in their education.
Through many routine and special activities, diversity can be taught by layering information in a way that overlays required curriculum. For example, geography will help students better understand why people have so many cultural differences. When maps are introduced to students, the teacher should show photos of different landscapes, foods, art, farming practices, and provide a brief overview of the histories of those peoples. This will help students understand why people dress, eat, and live differently around the world. It is also helpful to ask students if they have personal connections to those regions.
Diversity can be taught in the elementary classroom in many ways. Creative concepts can be continuously developed throughout an elementary teacher’s career, but various examples can be connected to an elementary classroom or school. World events are excellent opportunities to teach about culture. During the Olympics, a teacher can go through the sports that different countries participate in and make connections to the sports the students play. The country hosting the Olympics (or participating countries) provides excellent opportunities to teach about their customs, such as food, art, religious practices, and geography. Food is another great teaching tool when teaching about culture and religion. Health lessons could lead discussions about nutrition and how nutritional needs are met in other parts of the world. Geography lessons could pose questions on why, for example, the Japanese eat a lot of fish. Food can also overlap with holiday studies where students could learn why Jewish people eat Kosher. Food is prevalent and definitive of many cultures and a fun way to integrate diversity into lessons. Lastly, literature is a probably one of the easiest methods to teach about culture. Stories about world cultures can be read aloud by the teacher, in groups, or individually. Furthermore, lessons can also be developed to cover information that may be missing from the reading. For example, some books that teach about cultural diversity may have excluded some cultures. Students can reflect and discuss the cultures in the reading and other cultures that they witness in the world or in their own community. During certain holidays, the teacher could read books about diverse cultural histories and celebrations.
There are a variety of ways for a teacher to instruct a culturally competent curriculum. This can be a fun and creative practice in the elementary classroom; the content can easily overlay required academic curriculum as well. With cultural knowledge and ethical tact in hand, an elementary educator is capable to teach about diversity from many perspectives. There is a vast range of diversity in our world and local communities. In an ever-changing American culture, it is important to teach a foundation of cultural competency at the elementary level, and begin to instruct students to reflect on why people live the diverse ways that they do. This will provide children with the tools necessary to continue an education of cultural knowledge.