Promoting Diversity and Inclusivity in the Classroom

The new school year is back in full swing, and we want everyone in the classroom to feel included. Promoting our differences can be a touchy subject, but it is extremely important. All students are different in their own unique ways, which means their learning needs can be different too.

So why is diversity and inclusivity in the classroom so important? It helps educate kids about the society we live in with many different ethnicities, orientations, abilities and how to be aware of all our different unique qualities and building compassion for everyone.

Encouraging kids to be themselves and celebrating their differences creates better thinkers, supports self-growth, self-esteem, identity and makes them feel welcomed as part of the group. It provides tools they need to be the best learners – and people – they can be. Raising awareness about issues in society in a way children can understand can promote diversity. Teaching values like kindness, inclusion, and educating kids on how they can be sensitive to other people’s feelings when it comes to physical and non-physical differences can influence them to grow up to be positive leaders and members of their community.

Encouraging kids to be themselves and celebrating their differences creates better thinkers, supports self-growth, self-esteem, identity and makes them feel welcomed as part of the group.

Promote Diversity

Here are some ways to make your classroom more inclusive and promote diversity with your students:

  • Invite kids to have a “culture day” and encourage them to learn more about their heritage. Bringing stories, objects, pictures, or books about their culture is a fun way for students to learn more about themselves and their peers.
  • Host open discussions about injustices they have experienced, and brainstorm ways to help fight inequality in the classroom and in their personal lives.
  • Take field trips to cultural and historic events and places in the community.
  • Invite speakers and advocates to your classroom that have first-hand experiences to share about diversity and inclusion.
  • Asking for feedback and ideas from fellow colleagues can help ensure you are growing as an educator.
  • Offering diverse reading materials featuring distinct cultures, languages, beliefs, and abilities can help them feel represented, appreciated, and understood. Make sure these materials are offered in different forms to accommodate different learning styles, such as audio, physical, and visual forms of learning.
  • Participate in writing letters with global pen pal programs to connect students with other students just like them, across the world!
Teacher standing in the classroom with a book answering students questions about diversity

Inclusion Teaching Strategies

Diversity and inclusion in the classroom also mean assisting students who may have a more challenging time learning than others and providing them the tools they need to succeed. Meeting with parents and kids and getting to know your students to find resources that help them thrive is necessary to help them reach their goals. These needs can be different for every child.

  • For some students, learning challenges are caused by a lack of ability to focus, and sensory toys are a clever way to help get their fidgets out.
  • Sometimes students just need a break from their day, and a quiet peaceful space can really help them relive stress and unwind
  • Noise sensitivity can also be an issue, so giving students resources to block out the noise while focusing on reading or other tasks can help them collect their focus
  • Make yourself approachable to talk to about different learning styles, needs, and accessibility to solutions.
  • Offer alternative seating arrangements for students with difficulty sitting still
  • Communicating with kids and communicating with their parents to help build meaningful relationships and to find out what learning resources they may need.
Children of different cultural backgrounds embracing each other

Teachers contribute to shaping the minds of today’s kids and turning them into great future leaders. By hosting activities, having conversations, and encouraging more personal growth, we can build a more inclusive and diverse environment for all learners. It is important to make sure we applaud positive behaviours and use the classroom as a safe space for all students – regardless of what they look like, where they come from or how they learn!

Battle Boredom

As we roll past the one-year anniversary of our world being flipped and turned upside down, it feels like a great time to brainstorm and come up with new ways of keeping boredom out of our class. It is no secret that early childhood educators have been unsung heroes throughout this time of transition into the new normal. We know that it can be hard to keep things fresh and exciting in your class, so whether you are sanitizing toys and furniture or helping wash little hands 100 times a day, we want to take off some of the pressure.

The best way to fight the boredom bug is by keeping those imaginations running wild! With spring upon us and summer just around the corner, we are finally able to get outside more often. We have a few fun ideas for games to play that can be set up and used both indoors and outdoors, making it perfect – rain or shine (or a spring snowstorm!)

One of our favourite ways of encouraging outdoor free-play is by using what mother nature gave us! Stick-lets help children reconnect with nature through imaginative and open-ended play. Flexible, durable, reusable, weather-resistant and safe silicone connectors will satisfy any little builders’ imagination and curiosity. And the best part – there are no rules for how you use them! All you need are some branches or sticks and if those are in short supply, wooden dowels also work amazingly to create your very own fort or village.

Another great way to let the kids run free and get those gross motor skills fine-tuned, all while playing pretend is by setting up your very own driving obstacle course! Choose from a selection of ride-on toys to cruise around on, set up some drive time signs and let the kids pretend to drive like mom or dad all while they enhance their balance and coordination and learn about common road signs. Make it extra fun by making their very own pretend driver’s licenses or license plates to hand out to the kids. 

For a different kind of obstacle course, it is always fun to set up a maze with different items that promote balance and motor skills and let the kids run through it again and again! Start with a pair of bucket stilts and have them navigate to an exciting setup like the river landscape or the step-a-forest. Next, you can get them walking like a duck using the duckwalker set to race to the outdoor balance board. You will be providing a variety of options for balance training, movement, and exercises all while making sure everyone has a blast!

Sensory tables are always a blast and we have a great way to make sure you can continue engaging in all the sensory fun while still following all the new health and safety precautions. By giving each child their very own bin, you are ensuring they keep their germs to themselves while also having fun. There are a thousand different ways to create a sensory bin! You can put in seasonal items to drum up excitement about Easter, Halloween or any other holidays. Fill a bin with water and toss in a variety of items and then guess which ones will sink and which ones will float. Or simply use sand/pasta/rocks/any other knick-knacks you can get your hands on!

And lastly, everyone’s favourite indoor or outdoor activity that is sure to lead to a fun-filled day – the parachute! As a kid, you just knew it was going to be a great day when the parachute was pulled out. As a teacher, it can still be just as fun because there are endless possibilities of how this can be played with. Starting with a basic game like Mushroom, where the children simply spread out in a circle and on a count of three, raise it high into the sky and then quickly run underneath to the centre. You will never run out of ways to play silly games with the 3-2-1 Time For Parachute Fun book and the parachute accessory pack

We hope that fills up your cup with some inspiration and you can take some of these ideas and have fun with your class!

Sensory Bins 101 

Truth be told, it took me three years of teaching kindergarten to discover the beauty behind sensory bins. Little did I know at the time, they allowed children to explore, touch, create, communicate and discover while also learning important skills. Yes, learning. That’s what I hadn’t understood just yet. I was going stir-crazy trying to constantly come up with different activities for our sand and water table that would keep students engaged when learning kindergarten skills…until I finally realized they had been learning all along. Whether children are making lemonade, baking muffins or building a shelter for animals, they are scooping, pouring, measuring, counting, building, communicating – they are learning through play. 

Below, you will find a few tips and tricks to help you set up sensory bins for your little ones at home or in your classroom. 

First things first: bin choice! Over the last few years, I have experimented with different types of bins, but I always come back to a deep square sensory bin or a large sand and water table. Not only are large bins sturdy and great for both indoor and outdoor play, but they also give students more room to explore. 

Next up, fillers. White sand has been my go-to for years, but changing your filler is a simple way to keep your learners motivated and engaged. Reusable fillers are a must! Find fillers that you can use over and over again, no matter the theme. I especially love using dry black beans, dry dyed chickpeas, shredded coloured paper and oatmeal (with a dash of cinnamon – yes, it smells delicious!). Mulch, shaving cream, snow and flour fall into my ‘messy fillers’ category and let me tell you, they bring a whole new level of excitement! They’re also a great way for children to discover and manipulate different textures. And of course, you can never go wrong with water. It’s free, simple and can be used in so many different ways. From scooping and pouring to bathing dolls, water is always a hit! 

And finally, manipulatives! Adding manipulatives is my favourite part. In most sensory bins, I add mixing bowls, spatulas, muffin tins and easy-grip tweezers. Depending on my intention, I’ll add more manipulatives such as letters, numbers, pompons, corks, seasonal loose parts, animal figurines and sometimes, I’ll even throw in some blocks! These are just a few ideas. Be creative. Think outside the box.  

Sensory play often doesn’t make sense to adults and that’s ok. Children are exploring, learning and having fun; that’s what’s important! 

Written by Genevieve Landry

Take Science Outside

The beautiful weather at the moment is simply dragging me outside. I have no control over it! If my children want to stay indoors, too bad! Luckily, there is so much outdoor learning to do! Plus, most outdoor learning is inquiry-based, which suits my curious children and, let’s face it, most curious children.

Learning outdoors is a great way to bring science to life! Using Inquiry Learning, you can teach children how to investigate and track experiments, or how to satisfy their curiosity and questions. Why study a picture of a plant when you can watch one grow? You can also observe the eco-system that surrounds it, like the insects, ideal habitat, weather conditions and other factors that affect it.

Having just taught plants and soils whilst ‘Learning from Home’, Inquiry Learning is very much on my mind. Plants and soils are an important part of the science curriculum and so fun to teach; this topic is also a natural choice as we plant our summer gardens. As I sent my grade 3/4 students home with at-home learning packages at the start of the pandemic, I wondered how to teach this unit from a distance. So much of learning about plants and soils is hands-on and many of my students don’t have access to gardens.

My student teacher had the wonderful idea of sending the students home with a couple of bean seeds and a soil pod.

They were asked to plant their seed in a recycled container and followed along as we grew plants, discovering what plants needed through firsthand experience. The Root Vue Farm helped us see how deep and far-reaching roots of a plant are and what happens under the soil as plants grow. Using the app Seesaw, we were able to share videos and photos of our plants, and students were also able to share and add to their online portfolio.

If you have younger children, you can simplify the lesson by checking in each day, seeing the changes, and discussing the plant’s growth, giving opportunities for rich language learning. Children see things that we do not notice and can have lots of fun while developing observation skills. This can easily be applied to your backyard garden, where you can also observe how plants and insects interact with each other. Something as simple as a bee can initiate a lengthy discussion:

“What colour is the bee?”
“Where is the bee going?”
“What is it doing?”
“Where do bees live?”
“How do bee’s fly?”

This is the perfect opportunity to jump into bee research, arts and crafts, flight experiments, pollen-collecting dances, flight of the bumblebee music and the list goes on. It can even cover endangered species and eco-systems for older students!

Child lead inquiry is one of the many skills that ECE’s excel at. We teachers often get bogged down with the need to cover learning objectives and sometimes miss the beautiful opportunities provided by child lead inquiry. Whilst inquiry is guided heavily by adults in the early years, it does not make the process any less valid. Children are learning to answer their own questions.

Whatever method of planning we use, backward design or inquiry, our job as educators is teaching children how to learn for themselves. Learning to be learners is their most important and job and the outdoors is the perfect playground to gather questions!

Written by Chris, a middle school teacher in Manitoba

Fun in the Mud

Spring is hard in daycares. You’ve been stuck inside more often than not all winter, due to extreme cold, icy winds and freezing rain. You’re going stir-crazy and your kiddos are too! Finally, the temperature starts to rise and everything starts to thaw. Everyone is so excited to be out…until the first fall into a mud puddle, which occurs approximately 3 seconds after the kids are let loose. You forgot…spring means mud. And dirt. And puddles. And MESS!

Despite frying your last sane nerve, it would be easier to remain indoors until the weather dries up. Being outside, however, is so beneficial for children (and for adults, too!). There is so much to see, explore, touch, and learn outdoors. Climbing, jumping, and other forms of outdoor play encourage risk-taking and improve kids’ balance, coordination, and sense of confidence. The list of benefits of being outside goes on and on. So how to enjoy the outdoors without having multiple toddlers completely destroy your house every time they go in and out?

Tip 1: Dress for the Weather

Invest in proper outdoor weather gear. Tall rubber boots (without cracks along the soles!) are essential for surviving puddles and muddy playgrounds, and one-piece splash suits are more than worth the initial cost. Buy a set in multiple sizes, all in one colour so your kiddos are easy to spot, and you won’t have to worry about parents remembering to send splash pants. Multiple pairs of spare mittens for cold mornings are also a good idea.

Designate certain toys as “outdoor toys,” and be ok with them getting dirty or possibly broken. Pick durable, hard-wearing toys that are designed for fun outside and easy to clean; they are even a selection of play-learning toys specifically made for your mud kitchen. Instead of play food that could get destroyed or cracked, use the new Fruit or Vegetable Sensory Play Stones that can hold up to the elements.

You can also use materials found outside like sticks, branches, rocks, bark, pinecones and more in non-conventional ways; enlist the children’s help in a scavenger hunt and have them help decide how to use the items they find!

Tip 3: Get the Kids Involved with Cleanup

Allow the children to help you clean toys and themselves before heading indoors. Provide a tub of warm soapy water and encourage them to wash the cars, animals, or any other toys that have made their way outside. If you can, keep a boot tray right outside or inside your door for muddy boots to dry. Teach your kiddos to hang their mittens and scarves to dry (simple clothespins on a string work well), and keep a mop handy near your entrance.

Getting outside in the spring does take extra effort and planning, but in the end, it will be well worth it, for you and your kiddos. Happy puddle jumping!

Written by Erin Rifkin, owner of a Reggio/Montessori daycare in Ontario

Coding in Real Life

Picture this: it’s springtime and the kids are outside enjoying the sunlight on their face and the fresh air in their lungs. What does this mean for you? A bunch of happy children… and muddy clothes.

After their fun but (begrudgingly) messy day, their clothes get tossed into the washing machine – you set the washing machine to normal and adjust the temperature to warm, then go on with your day. What are we left with? A fresh pair of jeans that are ready for all the upcoming days of stomping around in rain boots and a fresh sweater ready to wick watery mud off their brows… into the wash, they go again.

Now, let’s dig a little deeper. How did we get from squeaky clean to needing a wash to clean again? As much as I am sure we all wish we could get from one end to the other in an instant, as with everything in life, steps must be taken in between in order to achieve our result.

Something even as habitual as laundry also requires steps! We get dressed, we go outside to play, we come inside, we notice our clothes had a bit too much fun, we put the clothes in the washing machine, we set the washing machine to our desired settings and the final product is clean clothes ready to get dirty once again.

It seems like such a simple idea that a certain number of steps would be needed in order to achieve a result, that exact same principle can be applied to many facets of life, including… Coding!

Arguably, coding and coding literacy are some of the most important skills for future generations to learn. Every task requires directions to complete, utilizing the fundamentals of coding. Daily, we’re surrounded by technology that requires coding to work, whether that be your average appliance or coding specific toys such as Botley The Coding Robot.

Botley teaches the basics of coding through active play, providing a foundation for what will be necessary for our children in their future endeavours and everyday lives!

Botley is 100% screen-free to limit screen time and includes a 45-piece activity set with fun and interactive features such as the ability to detect objects – and move around them, follow looping commands, navigate obstacle courses, follow black lines and even has additional hidden features to unlock!

Botley is also only one of the many coding products we have available that will equally benefit your children and their familiarity with coding, such as Coding Cards, Pre-coding Penguin Activity Cards and Coding Critters Ranger & Zip. Any of these products would be beneficial in furthering your children’s knowledge regarding coding.

With the ever-changing times and the development of new technology, it has never been so important to rely on parents and early childhood educators to stimulate and educate our youth. Let us make sure that they are ready to take on life’s challenges regarding this new technological age, encouraging them to become bright individuals with even brighter futures.