The aim of this post is to inspire parents primarily but also carers anyone who has influence over young children to see the need for more racially diverse material especially for children under the age of 5.
Young children especially aged 0 to 3 are very attentive and absorb a lot of what they see. Early learning brain development research shows that the biggest gains in the number of connections in the brain are generated during the first three years of life, and these connections are dependent on the amount and types of stimulation’s babies and toddler’s experience. These experiences include every type of sensory stimulation baby’s experience, including hearing their native language through conversations, being read to, holding books and turning pages etc.
Through research this is a known fact however I experienced this first hand. One day I decided to ask my son who at the time had just turned 3 years old a question… I showed him three boys all wearing identical clothing, they were all different races black, white and Asian. I asked him ‘‘which one of these boys looks most like you?” To my surprise he chuckled and pointed to the white boy with blond hair (not really the answer I was expecting, considering we are black). Careful not to show him my disappointment (which was not in him but in myself as a parent), I corrected him showing him the correct image. It was at this moment when the penny dropped and I realised the importance of him being able to see a representation of him in some of the books that he reads and also the cartoons he watches.
The fact that he chuckled indicated to me that he really knew that the boy did not look most like him however there was clearly something within him that identified with this boy. I then started to examine all the material he watched and read, starting with our book collection (believe me we have a lot), the books in the local library, the cartoons, advertisements, kids at our local playgroups etc. Once I examined everything his answer made more sense to me, 95% of the books, cartoons that he watched did not represent his likeness, the other 5% represented animals and perhaps 1% represented him.
From that day I vowed to do three things:
- Expose my children to more racially diverse books and cartoons
- Promote awareness among parents regarding the need for racially diverse books/materials
- Become a published children’s book author with the aim of create a series of children’s books for all children that contain diverse picture illustrations
I stated working on point number 1 immediately! This blog post is my first attempt of accomplishing number 2 on a larger scale and I am still working on number 3 so please watch this space.
Perhaps some of us have never noticed the lack of diverse books and material around us (I certainly didn’t). That might be because we’ve never lacked a book in English, about families that look like us, celebrating Christmas and Easter, flying to a family holiday on the beach, there have been plenty of mirrors.
It is not just children from ethnic minority families who benefit from racially diverse books and materials. All of our children benefit. I believe picture books should not only provide a mirror of our own experiences, but also a window into others’ lives. We can therefore begin to teach appreciation for differences to young children by reading picture books with racially diverse people and cultures.
The benefit of diverse picture books in my opinion is far needed. I have always wondered how children at such a young age develop low self esteem, low confidence, low self worth, strong beliefs in stereotypical ideologies or even being over confident or having a sense of superiority. I’ve asked myself could it be down to us as parent’s guidance or misguidance, media, lack of positive role models or maybe even a combination of them all. I by no means claim to have the answer but I do believe that racially diverse books and other materials will help to bridge the gap by inspiring young minds to love and appreciate themselves and each other.