A beautiful landmark building. A balanced approach to delivering the curriculum based on best practices for preschool education. Field trips, music, movement, yoga, art, two gyms, and a climbing wall. A library. Filmmaking. Add to this, a group of dedicated teachers and administrators working together with you and your children to create the best possible educational environment for your student. There is no doubt Montclare offers everything most New York City parents can dream of wanting from their child’s preschool program.
But what about an immersive, multicultural experience? Montclare provides that too. With more than 17 languages spoken among Montclare families, and a student body composed of children whose parents come from so many different countries around the world, Montclare is as international, if not more so, than many other preschools in the region.
Multiculturalism in preschool? Many parents feel there isn’t a need to worry about that yet, that it’s too soon. Research findings from the American Psychological Association revealed that many American adults believe race shouldn’t be introduced to children until they are five years old. Yet, Pediatrics Nationwide, a publication from Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio, advises that “children become aware of differences in physical characteristics of human beings when they are three years old, at which time they notice differences in sex, height, weight, hair texture, skin color and so on.”
Adiaha Spinks-Franklin, MD, MPH, attending physician in Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics at Texas Children’s Hospital, says, “These differences in physical characteristics are all normal human variations, and by age three, children are aware of them,” and “…by age four they begin to recognize their own racial group and those of others.” Then “… depending on home and community experiences, they may start to discriminate between certain human variations in selecting playmates.”
The Century Foundation, a progressive, independent think tank, affirms the other research with its own. In the report titled, “How Racially Diverse Schools and Classrooms Can Benefit All Students,” the authors state that “Students can learn better how to navigate adulthood in an increasingly diverse society—a skill that employers value—if they attend diverse schools.” Additionally, they noted that ninety-six percent of major employers say it’s “important” that employees be “comfortable working with colleagues, customers, and/or clients from diverse cultural backgrounds.”
There is an abundance of evidence supporting the idea that becoming a world citizen should start early. Multicultural exposure is a foundation that will best position children to be comfortable and appreciative of being part of the broader global community both abroad and at home.
New York City parents may still hesitate, believing that because they live in the most multicultural city in the world, their child is sufficiently exposed to people who aren’t exactly like them. Moreover, parents may believe their family values and ethics, and the diversity among their contacts is sufficient, that they don’t have to make a particular effort because they don’t teach difference, or because they support racial and social equity. That may well be true, but there are still distinct advantages to ensuring that children are exposed to multiple cultures through their school experience, starting at a very young age.
Young children have the intellectual capacity for undoing any pre-existing unfair perceptions of others as they engage in meaningful, culturally responsive experiences with the primary caregivers in their lives. That means parents, relatives and friends, but also those around them at preschool. There are personal developmental advantages as well. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Early Childhood Education Early Childhood Development department shares research that suggests “…adults who engage children in culturally responsive educational experiences help to:
- Build young children’s self-confidence and skills
- Increase children’s awareness, appreciation, and inclusion of diverse beliefs and cultures
- Maximize children’s academic achievement and educational success
The belief in introducing multiculturalism at an early age is also international. At The Canadian International School in India (CIS), one of the top international schools in that country, the philosophy is that “In an ever-changing global scenario, it has become imperative to equip students with adequate exposure to be citizens of the future. When children share space with a diverse group of individuals from around the world in a multicultural classroom with people from different countries and cultural backgrounds, they engage in an international experience.”
Jessica Sullivan, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Skidmore College says that delaying meaningful conversation about race and cultural differences can make it more challenging to change misconceptions later on. “Children are capable of thinking about all sorts of complex topics at a very young age,” she said. “Even if adults don’t talk to kids about race, children will work to make sense of their world and will come up with their own ideas, which may be inaccurate or detrimental.”
So, no, it’s not too soon to expose your child to different cultures, races, and beliefs. Being with children who look different than they do, eat different foods, speak other languages and observe different holidays — and to have that celebrated through age-appropriate learning opportunities in a welcoming, inclusive environment — is as essential to a child’s development as reading, writing, climbing walls, yoga and film festivals.
Montclare’s values of mutual respect, providing a safe and nurturing environment, and inclusive community are reflected in the diversity of its classrooms. As a result, Montclare graduates are characteristically creative, confident, collaborative, resilient, kind, and competent and are burgeoning citizens of the world, even before they get to kindergarten.