Nurturing a Multicultural Classroom: Embracing Our Own Diversity

mkb multicultural classroom mcenaney

The classroom is one of the first places where children encounter diversity as they suddenly find themselves spending huge portions of their day with dozens of other children from a wide range of backgrounds and life situations. As a teacher or parent it is important to embrace this opportunity and help showcase diversity and respect for others from the very beginning by nurturing a multicultural classroom.

Creating this environment is a year-long commitment to building a classroom culture where all children feel understood and valued — one where kids learn to understand and appreciate differences as well as celebrate our commonalities. Learning these lessons on a personal level helps kids extrapolate to the wider world around them.

Recognizing Classroom Diversity for a Multicultural Classroom

The beginning of the school year is a great time to begin an introduction to diversity and multiculturalism. Many “Getting to Know You” activities provide ways for students to learn new things about their friends, classmates, and teachers. Think about how you can include multicultural topics and themes within these activities.

With my third graders, we start the year with a biographical activity. Students write blog posts to their classmates, sharing about themselves and answering a series of questions. Some questions (like languages spoken at home and countries of your ancestors) are required, while others are optional (favorite animal, interesting place to travel, favorite foods, favorite activities, etc.). The kids then read and comment on each other’s posts. They love learning new things about each other, and inevitably, they focus their comments on things that they have in common.

mkb -multicultural classroom -map-mcenaney

Within the classroom we use the results from these posts to gather statistics about ourselves as a class. Students designed little circles to represent themselves, and we decorated a map of the world to showcase all the places we had ancestors. For example, in my class last year we had connections to 36 different countries, 6 continents, and 9 different languages spoken at home among the 30 students! As with any family-based activity, please be sensitive to all types of families as well. I always send an individual note to adoptive or same-sex parents acknowledging that families and not genes define our families.

Support Kids in Seeing the Diversity within Diversity for a Multicultural Classroom

The second step is making sure that the activities and books in your classroom also represent our multicultural world. My third grade curriculum is based around world geography and world cultures so this was always an easy one. Nearly every book we read aloud and discussed in class represented a different country or culture to study!

It is also important to think about highlighting the diversity within a given country or culture. Reading one book on Africa or a single Native American folktale does not help students understand that Africa is a diverse continent of more than 50 countries or that Native American people are a vibrant part of our modern world too. Share multiple books or perspectives on a given issue; let kids dive deep into exploration of a specific place or people.

mkb multicultural classroom -books-mcenaney

Take a few minutes, if you haven’t before, and do an inventory of the books you share with students. How many have characters from a different country or culture than those of your students? How many feature boy main characters versus. girls? How many include characters from different socioeconomic backgrounds or with a physical or mental disability? How many contain different family arrangements?

Make sure that your classroom represents the diversity of your students as well as the diversity of our world. As you start to notice the holes in your curriculum or your book lists, take some time to address these oversights. There are many incredible multicultural books out there and more are being added every year. Looking for ideas? Check out this curated list of text sets around diverse and multicultural topics.

All children deserve a multicultural classroom that celebrates them for who they are as well as pushes them to understand and appreciate the unique backgrounds and contributions of others. Let’s make a plan to embrace multiculturalism in our own homes and classrooms today!


Photo credits: Katie @ The Logonauts

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Katie McEnaney writes books that celebrate the power of words, language, and history. She is an upper-elementary school teacher who loves introducing readers and her students to the wider world and fostering their excitement about history.

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