The family is a child’s introduction to the world. A child’s identity is grounded by their culture and heritage. For families, there is pride and honor in sharing your culture with your child. As they step out of the home and into new environments, like child care, holding onto a family’s culture can become complicated. Whether you are a family looking to find a diverse program or a child care program looking to learn equitable practices, it is important to create space for cultural and diverse conversations.
To better understand how families and child care programs can work together to create inclusive environments, Child Care Answers turned to one of their own, Grace Sededji.
Tell us about your family.
My husband sees the light out of the darkest of days. He helps me see the world from a good place. My son is one of a kind. He is so unique, individualized, and smart. I look at him, and I see beautiful things. He is truly the love of my life – don’t tell my husband!
I am from Togo, and my husband is from Liberia. We have never been to each other’s homes even though they are only two countries apart. We have a two-and-a-half-year-old son named Phillip. At home, we call him by his native name, Sitou. Sitou is a personal name to me that comes from my mom’s village. The name means “showers of blessings”, and it is a part of his African identity.
How do you teach your son about your culture and heritage?
I try to speak a lot in my native dialect, Ewe. I don’t want a situation where we go home and he is lost. He should know that there is more to him and who he is than the United States. I also cook a lot of African food at home. My son loves it! He has never been to Africa, but the day he goes he will tear it up! His favorite is rice and collard green stew. As for clothes, I find it hard to wear African clothing during the winter, but I try to wear authentic African clothes in the Spring and Summer at home and to church.
What are your hopes and dreams for your son in child care?
Back home, the way I grew up was in a community. It was place that was not just your parents. Everybody is there, and you are truly raised by a village. That is not what it is like here. I want to see his child care as his other village that can assist me and his dad.
My hopes and dreams for his care are that it is a place for him to feel safe, comfortable, and accepted for who he is. They feel open to communicate with us, and we can learn from each other. They have expertise that we do not have, and we have expertise about our son that they do not have. I believe that they are influencing his development just as much as we are at home.
In what ways have child care programs supported and honored your family’s culture?
I’m going to be honest; this is hard to answer. One program was more diverse – every place on the earth was represented. It made it very easy to discuss culture on a personal level. They did a great job helping parents think about culture as a family. They incorporated language into learning and asked questions, like “What holidays do you not participate in?” or “What foods are culturally appropriate for your family?”
In another program, he was one of few black kids at the center. It made it hard. I had to be the one asking for them to allow these conversations. For example, they didn’t know he was growing up in a bilingual family. They didn’t ask, and there wasn’t an opportunity to bring it up. Some days, as a mother, you are just trying, and there are only so many things you can think about asking and sharing.
At times, it was complicated. Support and questions about our family’s culture came later. Instead of preparing the classroom and experiences to meet diverse needs, the program asked questions about our culture to support our child only after a problem began. For example, they had a family week. Families brought in pictures, and the classroom had dolls to play family. The teacher expressed concern that my son was not playing family with the other children. The next day, she brought in dolls that were black. He ran to the dolls and said, “Mommy! Daddy! Sitou!” His play changed when she brought representation into the classroom.
We had a similar experience with meals. There was a time when he stopped eating at school. They would call me to pick him up early because he was hungry and would not sleep. After a few weeks a teacher asked, “What does he eat at home?” I shared that he loves rice and stew. It was nice to have the program recognize his culture.
What advice do you have for families advocating for inclusive experiences in child care?
Regardless of your culture, background, or religion, all families should be able to feel comfortable to be a part of their child’s development and learning at school.
I don’t want my son to ever feel “lesser than”.
Looking back, I wish I would have asked, “How does your program make children with different backgrounds feel included? How do you make those children feel like they are just as much the majority as the other children?”
What tips do you have for teachers and child care programs to provide inclusive experiences?
Ask questions and be curious. How do you know how to tailor teaching to all homes and backgrounds unless you ask questions and are curious about each of the children in your care? Curiosity sparks creativity. Knowing how they are learning and growing at home will help you create inclusive experiences.
Teachers should seek out professional development opportunities on inclusivity, equity, and diversity. Directors should be proactive in making this type of professional developmental available to their staff. That includes professional opportunities to teach them how to make space for conversations with diverse families, because we do not live in a world that is just white. You are going to have kids from all over the world, and you must adapt how you are teaching to include their culture.