Play is important to a child's development, regardless of their culture. Play is common across all cultures and helps children learn about their world, including their cultural values.
Play is an excellent way for children to discover differences in other people. Infants and toddlers learn the foundations of self-awareness through 'what is me' and 'what is not me'; preschoolers are beginning to sort, based on colour and size; prep children can make distinctions between members of the same racial or cultural group; and junior primary aged children can understand how one person can be a member of several different groups, for example, family, classroom, culture and/or race.
A child's play and the playthings used are often tied to the culture in which the child lives. Imaginative and dramatic play provides opportunities for children to practise roles as adults or skills they will need as adults.
Keep a separate toy box containing toys and playthings from other cultures. These can include 'active' toys such as drums, castinets, and jigsaw puzzles that have pictures of different people and places, as well as games from other countries or dolls in different cultural dress. Many small, inexpensive toys and games can be found in many Oxfam shops or Asian stores.
Make a day together to shop for foods that are different. Try supermarkets or shops that cater for different cultures (Korean, Chinese, Indian) or major chain supermarkets or delicatessens that specialise in European and/or Asian cuisine. Keep it simple by buying small quantities of noodles, sweets, biscuits or tinned fruits.
Dramatic play is a great way to enhance cultural awareness. Put together a box of clothing for dressing up and role play to reflect different cultures. Make good use of coloured beads, bangles, scarves, shawls, hats, and pieces of material that can be pinned up to make a skirt, poncho or sari.
Make a cubby house or home corner with a difference. Opportunity shops are great places to collect fun furnishings and accessories. Chairs, beaded cushions, table decorations, small lamps or picture frames, teapots or small drinking cups, or a rug or two can help children to explore what it is like to live in 'a different house'.
Young children cannot easily distinguish between fact and fantasy, so books chosen must present realistic information about different people. Look for books that accurately depict vocabulary as well as how people are portrayed. Determine if characters are stereotyped according to colour or gender, or if children can identify with the street scenes.
Keep a craft box for scrapbooking. Include travel and other magazines with pictures that depict different places and people. Include raffia for grass huts, bits of shiny or patterned materials for pieces of clothing or oriental lanterns, cotton wool for snow...and any other trimmings that can be used for scrapbooking. Most children enjoy cutting and pasting, and pictures can be assembled and pasted onto cardboard and used for dramatic and imaginative play.
Children's artwork depicts thoughts, actions, emotions, experiences and everyday happenings. Paintings, drawings, collage and constructions help children communicate. By using vibrant paint colours, lines of crayon or wonderfully tactile finger paint, children can present stories that their language skills may not as yet be able to convey. It's also important to ask older children to tell you about their drawings, rather than interpret something into their work that they hadn't intended.