If we think of humanity as a large family, then to be inclusive means that everyone has a place at the table. No one is excluded, marginalized, or left out. Everyone has something to offer. As adults, we pass our values to children every day through what we say and do.
What Is Inclusiveness?
To be inclusive, according to Merriam-Webster, is to be “broad in orientation or scope.” Too often, inclusiveness is described as something we should do to benefit others. Being inclusive is more than a moral obligation—although this alone is an advantageous enough reason to practice it. When we are inclusive we aren’t divided. Instead, our world becomes enlarged. We gain relationships and experiences that enrich us. We recognize that we are all different and that those differences bring joy to living.
Examples of Inclusive Activities
Children generally like participating in cultural events or trying ethnic foods, but this is a superficial approach. To really become “broad in orientation and scope,” we must actively seek to get to know others who initially seem different than us. For example:
- Invite a child with a disability or a special need over for a playdate.
- Rake the leaves of an elderly neighbor.
- Offer to help a non-native English speaker learn the language.
Four Strategies to Raise an Inclusive Child
Here are four great ways where you, as a parent, can teach your child to have an inclusive attitude and approach.
- Be a role model. Children follow what we do more than what we say, so it’s important that our actions are sending the right message. This can be as simple as getting to know your neighbors as you’re walking the dog or getting the mail. Make an effort to talk to others at school activities or community events. In particular, be aware of those who might be new or feel left out.
- Teach compassion. It’s not realistic to ask children to be “best” friends with everyone all the time, but elementary-age children in particular can learn to be friendly and compassionate in a group setting, such as school. Teach your child to be aware of other children who might be new or who might feel left out. Teach your child the fine art of small talk and asking questions to draw other children into the conversation. For example, challenge your child to include another child who is sitting alone at lunch or playing alone at recess.
- Explain differences, don’t ignore them. “The question is not whether differences exist; it is what message we are sending by teaching children to be "blind" to differences,” according to Christopher J. Metzler, Ph.D, author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a “Post-Racial America.” Metzler wrote, “Unless we as parents are willing to help explain to children what seems strange or different to them, we will never be successful in teaching children to understand and appreciate differences.”
- Use children’s literature. Children’s books are a great vehicle for exploring differences in culture, race, and ability, especially when the literature depicts authentic characters involved in relatable situations. Eve Bunting has written several excellent books, such as, A Day’s Work (1997), Going Home (1998), The Wednesday Surprise (1989), Flower Garden (2000), One Green Apple (2006), and The Cart that Carried Martin (2013).
The benefits of inclusion can be tremendous for all parties involved. Through the provided simple activities and tips, children can learn the real lessons of inclusiveness: that inclusiveness means looking in someone’s eyes, seeing their humanity, and understanding their heart.
More from Bright Horizons on Teaching Inclusion to Children