Johnson et al., (2005), in discussing culturally relevant materials, state that many classroom materials, are culturally neutral, such as balls, blocks, and math manipulatives. They emphasize, “Efforts to make such materials relevant to specific groups of children are humorous at best and potentially counterproductive” (p. 234).
However, many materials are not culturally neutral. It is critical that books, posters, play people, dramatic play props, puzzles, and other materials that reflect cultures be inclusive. These materials need to reflect the diversity within the program (for example, race, ethnicity, family structure, age, disabilities, gender, occupations). In addition, we want to expose children to diversity they might not regularly experience (Wardle & Cruz-Janzen, 2004). In evaluating toys and materials for multiculturalism, consider the following (Johnson et al., 2005):
- Materials should expose children to many forms of diversity (for example, race, ethnicity, family structure, disabilities). Teachers need to integrate the materials into the environment and curriculum, rather than using them only occasionally or in an isolated way.
- Materials need to portray the child’s culture and all cultures in a positive, authentic, and realistic light. For example, you would not want to portray American Indians as only living in teepees and wearing headdresses since this is not an accurate portrayal either historically or currently for many American Indians.
- Materials should never convey that one group is better than another group. “Unfortunately, if certain people are not represented in play materials, this invisibility is a powerful indicator of lack of importance” (Wardle & Cruz-Janzen, 2004).
- Materials need to challenge all forms of stereotypes, such as only men or only women can have certain careers, or because you are from a particular race, you have a specific talent.
- Materials need to emphasize individual differences and the diversity within large groups. Just because you belong to a specific group (female, male, African American, Caucasian, Asian American, and so forth) does not mean that you think, act, or have the same talents as every other member of the group. Many children are multiracial and multiethnic. It is important to have materials that reflect this as well.
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