EDITH Cowan University researcher Dr Helen Adam is urging day care centres to have more multicultural books so children can appreciate cultural diversity.
Dr Adam’s new study, Portray cultures other than ours: How children’s literature is being used to support the diversity goals of the Australian Early Years Learning Framework, was recently published in The Australian Educational Researcher.
The study involved an investigation into the cultural diversity of books in kindergarten rooms of four day care centres in WA.
It found 18 per cent of 2413 books contained representation of non-white people.
Dr Adam said more books needed to be published by and about people from minority ethnic groups and getting children to read them.
“Very early in life, children develop an awareness and recognition of difference, and evidence has shown they develop own-race bias from as young as three months of age,” she said.
“The books we share with young children can be a valuable opportunity to develop children’s understandings of themselves and others.
“Books can also allow children to see diversity and both similarities and difference between themselves and others..
“This can help develop understanding, acceptance and appreciation of diversity.”
Dr Adam said Australia was a very multicultural country so there was a need for more diverse books.
“When children are invisible or when they see their background stereotyped or portrayed as exotic, it is an accumulative effect,” she said.
“It just the lack of visibility which can act on the children’s sense of identity and feeling they are excluded or they are different.”
Dr Adam said she wanted to raise awareness and encourage educators to be part of a “solution”.
Centres in City of Bayswater and Town of Bassendean lead the way
Bayswater Child Care Association Inc chief executive Sereena Garbett said a love of books began in childhood and books were a valuable learning resource.
“Bayswater Childcare Association centres actively source books that reflect our culturally diverse society,” she said.
“Recently, one of our centres messaged parents to say that they were seeking donations of children’s books published in languages other than English.
“Books are one of the many ways that child care centres can embrace diversity and foster respect and cultural awareness in children.”
The association runs an occasional care centre, three long day care centres and three out of school care centres.
The centres have students from various cultural backgrounds, including Indigenous Australian, Indian, Chinese, Portuguese, Serbian, French and Maori.
Ms Garbett said at the occasional care centre, The Den, about 30 per cent of its books had main characters which reflected cultural diversity.
“This centre had a count of 10 books reflecting Australian indigenous culture,” she said.
“Dr Adam’s study draws attention to a ‘dearth of culturally inclusive books’, and this matches staff experiences in purchasing books, that often the culturally inclusive books are more expensive or not as readily available.”
She said the centres also have multicultural dolls, puzzles, toy multicultural food, a multicultural meal plan, world flags, multicultural music and language classes for children to enjoy.
At MercyCare Bassendean Early Learning Centre, there are 13 different nationalities and 35 per cent of enrolled children were from a culturally diverse background.
Cultures include Italian, Korean, Aboriginal, Vietnamese, Brazilian and Indian.
MercyCare early learning services manager Rosina Smith said when each centre bought equipment, such as books, dolls’ clothes or mats, staff were conscious of representing children’s backgrounds.
“We encourage children and families to bring in photos from home and talk about what they do in their household and how they celebrate cultural events and milestones,” she said.
“This builds a sense of community, belonging and provides opportunity for children and educators to celebrate these differences.
“Children are also encouraged to bring books in from home for the educator to share.”