Stereotypes and prejudices are already evident in early childhood (4-5 years old) and can lead to racism, sexism, homophobia, etc if they are not challenged with more balanced views during this formative stage. As the child’s hypothesis about the world have not yet fully crystallized into belief systems, the early years provide a unique opportunity for effective intervention that can have a lasting impact. As children learn who is „like us” and who is not, fear of the „Other” develops. Many of the messages they pick up on are non-verbal, as they observe not only what the important adults around them say – but also how they act, what makes them uncomfortable and indirect messages about who is important and who is not that are reinforced by the popular media.
The president of AEN, Didi Denise Deshaies, presented the project „We all have a story”, financed by the NGO Fund and implemented in Bucharest, Romania at the international conference on early childhood education organized by ISSA (International Step-by-Step Association) in October 2014. Through this project, we are developing a new methodology for addressing pro-diversity education in early childhood settings. This presentation included a short interactive experience of the method. The main premise of this approach is that warm, authentic human friendships are the best antidote to the barriers formed by bias, and listening to personal stories from a diversity of people leads to greater empathy, respect and closeness. As children are carefully observing the behaviour of their teachers, a truly effective pro-diversity program must first address the barriers that have been internalized in the adults – otherwise diversity curriculum will be superficial. When a safe space for sharing personal stories is created, participants have the opportunity to appreciate the differences and similarities between their own stories and those of people facing the extra challenges of being in a minority. Participants experienced the dynamic of exclusion through an interactive exercise, exchange stories with a partner from a different background, and learn how to integrate personal stories into kindergarten diversity curriculum.