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Four Ways Play Can Teach Children to Embrace Differences

Author - 5Marys Editorial Team

Our children are growing up in a world of more diversity than ever - a world where their classrooms are not just multi-cultural, but reflect a variety of differences that ours may not have had. Children with family units of different compositions, kids that identify differently, and kids with special needs. As parents, educators, and role models, we have the opportunity to teach our kids important values that will help them become kinder people - values like tolerance, inclusion, compassion, and collaboration.

Play grants children an opportunity to practice and embody these values, instead of simply being told about them. This is at the heart of our vision for 5Marys - to help kids cultivate a sense of curiosity, respect, acceptance, and CELEBRATION of differences through play and modeling.

The ideas below offer some more specific examples of activities that you can initiate to help kids model and practice inclusivity:

A Globe, a World Map, and the Internet
A great place to start is by showing kids the world (literally) - and what a beautifully large, diverse world it is! When they read about characters from around the world, learn about history at school, or see a movie about a character that lives in a different country, the globe or a map will help show them where that part of the world is, and to cultivate their curiosity about what it looks like. A little online search can also help show them photos of what that country looks like, its major cities, and how other kids there live. We love this collection of photography from classrooms from around the world.

                                                                                 Dolls and characters representing special needs children
Characters like Meili and Charlote demonstrate that kids with special needs are really not that different than kids without those needs - they still have interests, like to play, and have feelings. They also help kids with special needs identify with a doll or character that looks like them.

Dolls and characters representing different cultures
The 5Marys characters are definitely a start - Evelin is from Cuba, while Carissa is from Greece. There are also toys that are distinct to different countries and cultures that can be introduced into kids’ play - for example, rag dolls from Mexico, timber toys from Denmark and Sweden, and the Motanka rag doll from Ukraine. These characters and toys help children experience that kids from different parts of the world might have toys that look different - but they are all united by play.


Lastly, food is a wonderfully experiential, DELICIOUS way for children to learn about what different cultures offer - and to cultivate the curiosity to learn more. Food is also a great way to bring children of different cultures together - allowing them to bring an item or beverage that is unique to their culture, for all to enjoy. From hamburgers to empanadas to tortilla Española and other items - kids can learn that we’re all united by wonderful flavors.

Lastly, it helps to remember that - while play is definitely a wonderful way for kids to learn inclusiveness and acceptance - it’s also our own behavior and words as adults that they will ultimately model. So if we practice inclusivity, curiosity, and compassion ourselves - it is highly likely they learn it themselves.


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