Teaching Acceptance, Not Diversity

image Garth Williams illustration, courtesy Harper & Row

One never knows when a powerful teaching moment presents itself.  In spite of all the lesson planning, the real times an educator can seize the opportunity to teach young children often come unexpectedly.  It happened during chapter reading.  We had just begun Little House on the Prairie where Ma, Pa, Laura, Mary, and baby Carrie moved from the big woods of Wisconsin to Kansas.  In the 1870’s Kansas was Indian territory.  Throughout the book there are times that Laura talks about Indians.  She knows that she and her family have moved into Indian territory, and she is curious.  She wants to see a papoose, yet she does not know anything about Indians.

The conversation went just like this:

“Jennie, are all the Indians dead today?”

“No, not at all.  There are many Indians today.  Just as many.  Probably more”.

(A long, silent pause.)

“Oh.  So do they hurt and kill people?”

“Oh, no.  Do you know that most Indians were gentle and friendly when Laura and Mary and Ma and Pa lived?  And, the Indians today are the same way.”

“Do they have guns?”

“No.  Indians are just like you and me.  They wear the same clothes, go to school, and do the same things we do.  They have beautiful black hair, too!”

“Where do they live?”

“Everywhere.  They live in Groton, Pepperell, Ayer, Dunstable… everywhere.  Just like you and me and everybody.”

We talked about clothing, school, and all the things that preschoolers can understand as the same and different.

When an Indian came into Laura’s house, she was scared because he was different with darker skin, a feather in his hair and a fur around his middle.  He didn’t talk, yet his eyes sparkled at Laura.  The children realized that the Indian was just like ‘Gloria’, our beloved classroom puppet.  I have a hard time referring to her as a puppet because she is very real to everyone in the school.  Gloria is different.  She doesn’t talk, but her eyes sparkle, too.  She isn’t scary or mean.  She is kind and shy.  Maybe the Indian was shy, and that was why he didn’t talk.  He smiled with his eyes.

We talked about how somebody who is very different can seem scary, like the Indian and like Gloria, yet they are not.  The children not only understood, they came to the same conclusion on their own.

The depth of conversation was clearly about acceptance.  If I can help children to use their critical thinking and ‘see people’, then I have given them a life-long skill.  After all, aren’t all of us the same, yet different?  Ma and Pa certainly are.  Whether it is the food we like, or the color of our skin, diversity in all of us.  Teaching preschoolers about the many differences and the many similarities that we all have, small or large, is an important step toward preparing them to be good citizens and contributors to our world, grounded in giving and kindness.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
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15 Responses to Teaching Acceptance, Not Diversity

  1. Dehan Taylor says:

    You are really doing a wonderful job with your children Jennie, keep up the good work. I would love to see a picture of Gloria.

    • jlfatgcs says:

      Thank you, Dehan! I wrote a series of posts about Gloria. Her picture is in’The Evolution of Gloria: Part II’ written on November 2, 2014. There on two or three posts in a row. Great story about her. Let me know if you have a chance to read it. Jennie

  2. jonna ellis holston says:

    I’m a quarter Native and I grew up in Chelmsford and Lowell! Great teaching moment and they’re lucky to have you!
    Sure wish I had the black hair!

    • jlfatgcs says:

      Thank you, Jonna. Another blogger wanted to see a picture of Gloria. I wrote a few posts in a row about her, as she is my classroom link to diversity and acceptance. You might enjoy the read and the photo, “The Evolution of Gloria: Part II” on 11/2/14. I didn’t know you grew up in Chelmsford and Lowell. So close to Groton. And yes, having the black hair would be lovely. Jennie

  3. reocochran says:

    You are a God-send for speaking gently and explaining how people may be different but have some similar beliefs and feelings, Jennie. Thank you for sharing this invaluable lesson. Being open to discussion is such a wonderful way of allowing comfortable feelings and sharing thoughts. Not scolding but embracing questions. I believe in this practice of teaching acceptance, too. ❤

    • jlfatgcs says:

      Thank you, Robin. It flows so naturally with young children when questions arise, and those curious little minds have plenty of questions!

  4. What a wonderful post! I study Native American Indian culture. I grew up in a place were evidence of their inhabitation was more than 10,000 years, The People of the Dawn. The tribes in the north eastern area of the United States to the Mississippi River formed what is known as the 5 nations. They were a democratic society. Few societies in human history cared for the land, the planet, and each other more than the indigenous people of this country. I believe knowledge and understanding are key to embracing other human societies whose beliefs may well be superior to our own, we can learn from these societies, respect them, and with respect comes acceptance and even awe. Again, thank you for your many teachable moments and insights, and commentment to learning. Awesome!

    • jlfatgcs says:

      Karen, thank you for sharing your story! Yes, they were a democratic society who deeply cared for the land and each other. Young children are innately curious, and that sets the stage for questions and answers. If I am reading a good chapter book to them, those questions are a foundation for learning. Win-win. I love those teachable moments!

  5. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Teaching Acceptance, Not Diversity by A Teacher’s Reflections. This is a very interesting classroom conversation with an insightful lesson.

  6. Story books are a great way to introduce the subject of diversity and Little House on the Prairie is a wonderful example.

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