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As Early Years practitioners, we should never underestimate the power and influence we have on shaping the lives of children and families.

It is essential that we reflect on our attitudes, behaviour and practices. The attitudes of young children towards diversity are profoundly affected by the behaviour of the adults around them. Inclusion is not optional. Children have defined entitlements in this area and settings have legal and moral responsibilities.

In order to meet those responsibilities, we must first examine our own thoughts, attitudes and assumptions towards difference and diversity. To overcome barriers for children, we need to be aware that those barriers, not always obvious or instantly recognisable exist, particularly those barriers which are subconscious and attitudinal.

It is important that we are able to examine our feelings and attitudes, sensitively, honestly and openly to avoid successive generations of children experiencing bias and inequality which can lead to underachievement.

What does Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Mean?

Equality means recognising and responding fairly to the needs of individuals and identities of all others. It provides every child with an opportunity to reach their full potential and have an equal chance to live their life as they choose. Equality also refers to the way we handle cases of prejudice and discrimination to ensure there is equality in the process and outcome.

The Equality Act 2010 provides a legal framework to protect the rights of individuals and advance equality for all. It provides a single, consolidated source of discrimination law, covering all the types of discrimination that are unlawful. Everything that we do in early years needs to be non-discriminatory and this requires regular reviews of practice, policies and procedures to ensure we do not discriminate against anyone without exception.

Diversity in the EYFS

The Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage (April 2017) which sets the standards for learning, development and care for children from birth to five seeks to provide:

“Equality of opportunity and anti-discriminatory practice, ensuring that every child is included and supported.”

Providers have a responsibility to ensure positive attitudes to diversity and difference. Not only so that every child is included and not disadvantaged, but also so that they learn from the earliest age to value diversity in others and grow up making a positive contribution to society.

All children should have the opportunity to experience a challenging and enjoyable programme of learning and development.

Inclusion in the EYFS:

Inclusion is the process by which we value all individuals, recognising their unique attributes, qualities and ways of being. Central to good inclusive practice is children’s rights. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, (1989) outlines the basic human rights to which children up to the age of eighteen everywhere are entitled: the right to survival; the right to the development of their full physical and mental potential; the right to protection from influences

that are harmful to their development; and the right to participation in family, cultural and social life. The Convention protects these rights by setting minimum standards that governments must meet in providing health care, education and legal and social services to children in their countries.

In order to ensure inclusive practice, we need to develop our ethos, policies and practices to include all learners with the aim of meeting their individual needs. To help to ensure inclusivity we must be proactive at removing the factors which act as barriers to inclusion such as negativity, bias and stereotyping. It takes a whole team approach to develop positive attitudes, implement clear strategies and nurture collaborative approaches.

Early years settings are well placed to provide a safe environment where parents, staff and children can learn about each other’s differences and similarities and learn to empathise and value each other.

Reflecting on Policies and Legislation:

  • Does your setting have an equality policy? – your setting should implement an effective policy which ensures equality of opportunities for all children regardless of culture, race, faith, belief, gender, sexual orientation, special educational needs and disabilities.
  • Is equality, diversity and inclusion inspected by Ofsted? – The early years inspection framework sets out the requirements which include children learning to respect and celebrate each other’s differences and develop an understanding of diversity beyond their immediate family experience, through a range of activities that teach them effectively about people in the wider world.
  • Are there opportunities for focussed discussion and training to help practitioners to consider the nature of discrimination and develop inclusive practice? – Ensure opportunities for discussion, to review and implement, monitor and evaluate the setting’s race equality policy. Ensure staff have time and opportunities for professional development in race equality.
  • Do all staff understand the requirements of the legislation and can they make links? – It is crucial that all staff have an awareness of the legislation and make links between the documents. For example, the fourth Fundamental British Value is: mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. It is important to accurately reflect our culturally diverse society so that all children learn about the society in which they live; to foster respect for other cultures and to ensure that children from minority ethnic groups are able to relate to their environment and activities and take pride in their ethnicity.

Reflecting on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in EYFS practice

Awareness of cultural diversity needs to be at an age appropriate level for Early Years children so that it is positive and meaningful. It is important that practitioners provide an exceptional range of resources and activities that reflect and value the diversity of children’s experiences.  Schools and settings need to actively challenge gender, cultural and racial stereotyping and help children gain an understanding of people, families and communities beyond their immediate experience.

Challenging Stereo Types

Researcher Marshall Duke found that children who knew their family histories were more resilient. If the narratives were just about the family’s successes, they were not as powerful as if the narratives told about both the ups and the downs… “we had plenty of hard times, but we made it through together.” It creates a story for children about resilience.

It is equally important for children to see themselves and others portrayed positively in books and posters in the environment. We need to consider how diverse our books are in the provision and to ensure images and pictures include different cultures, race and religion, different disabilities and family backgrounds so that all children feel represented and included.

 In 1990 children’s literature scholar Rudine Sims Bishop wrote that

“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of the world that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”

At the end of this article, you will find a range of books which celebrate diversity. We must remain responsive to the different cohorts of children and work closely with families, developing a mutual understanding of culture and heritage, and understanding the role this plays in planning for learning. We must actively seek out ways to counter the learning of negative attitudes towards difference. It's essential that the support, resources and experiences that we provide reflect the rich diversity of multi-cultural Britain and give all children the opportunity to develop a positive self-identity, self-esteem and respect for others.   

Points for Reflecting on Practice:

  • Are there opportunities to share experiences and explore the concept of fairness, tolerance and forgiveness through circle time and group activities and in everyday play such as role-play, small world and storytelling?
  • Do our resources reflect cultural and ethnic diversity and do not promote negative stereotypes, for example ensuring that dolls and puppets have realistic skin tone, facial features and hair texture?
  • Do we provide opportunities for children to explore household items from different cultures, stories and family photographs that realistically reflect a range of backgrounds?
  • Do we offer foods from a variety of cultures and share family recipes and traditions?
  • Do we provide books and stories free from stereotypes and promote positive role models from a wide diversity of backgrounds?
  • Do we provide opportunities to experience diversity through visits or hosting visitors from a range of backgrounds, such as sportspeople, storytellers, artists and musicians?
  • Do we recognise the need for training in race equality whatever the ethnic makeup of our setting and surrounding area?
  • Do we answer questions about race and ethnicity openly, honestly and sensitively?
  • Do we have a commitment to challenge racism?
  • Do we share that commitment with parents and carers and openly deal with racist remarks and other discriminatory behaviour making it clear that it is not acceptable?
  • Do we welcome all families equally?
  • Do we ensure all families have access to all the activities we offer? 
  • Do we place value on equalities education in the same way we do other areas of learning?
  • Do we raise all children’s language awareness in our setting, for example, through dual language stories, songs and rhymes?
  • Do we find out which children in our setting speak or hear languages other than English at home or within the extended family?
  • Do we celebrate the languages and regional dialects of the children in our setting?
  • Do parents recognise the importance of the maintenance and development of their home languages? How do you know?

Books to Help Celebrate Equality, Diversity and Inclusion:

  • Susan Laughs by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross – Susan may be in a wheelchair, but she is no different from any other child.
  • It’s Okay to be Different by Todd Parr – This book delivers important messages of acceptance, understanding and confidence. It is targeted at young children.
  • My Name is Not Refugee by Kate Milner – A young boy discusses the journey he is about to embark on with his mother.
  • It’s a No Money Day by Kate Milner – Mum works really hard but today there is no money left and no food in the cupboards. This story gives a moving insight into the sad rise and necessity of food banks and the perspective of society’s most vulnerable.
  • Hands Up! by Breanna McDaniel, illustrated by Shane W Evans– A black girl raises her arms for many reasons throughout her life, from greeting the sun as a baby to taking part in a protest march as an adult.
  • And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole – Two male penguins fall in love and start a family by taking turns sitting on an abandoned egg until it hatches.
  • Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love – Julian wants to dress up like the spectacularly dressed women on the subway. But what will his grandma think about the mess he makes – and how Julian sees himself?
  • Not All Princesses Dress in Pink by Jane Yolen and Heidi EY Stemple and illustrated by Anne-Sophie – Proof that princesses can jump in puddles, climb trees, play sports and use power tools!
  • The Pirates Next Door by Jonny Duddle – When a family of pirates move to a seaside town, neighbours are aghast and soon spreading rumours, while the family next door wishes their daughter would play with ‘normal’ girls and boys.
  • So Much by Trish Brown, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury – An uncle, auntie, cousins and grandparents all arrive eager to hug and kiss the baby.
  • Freddie and the Fairy by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Karen George – Will a hard-of-hearing fairy be able to grant Freddie’s wish for a pet, particularly when he tends to mumble?
  • Fussy Freya by Katharine Quarmby and Piet Grosler – One day, Freya says no to dahl and then to all her favourite foods, but her grandparents have a solution.
  • My Sister is an Alien by Rachel Bright – Space-mad Alfie is convinced his new sister is an alien and sets about returning her to the moon.
  • Tucking in – Just Like Me! by Jess Stockham – Babies will love lifting the flaps in this board book to find out all about themselves, and their tastes.
  • The Mega Magic Hair Swap by Rochelle Humes – Mai and Rose are best friends but they’re not two peas in a pod. Mai has dark curly and whirly hair that never stays put and Rose has blonde hair, as straight as a ruler, that slips and slides whenever she tries to put it in a ponytail. This is a joyful story about celebrating differences and loving yourself from head to toe!
  •  Hair Love by Matthew Cherry -This tender and empowering story is an ode to loving your natural hair and a celebration of daddies and daughters everywhere.

Lists of recommended books that celebrate diversity can be found at:

  • www.sevenstories.org.uk/learning/projects-and-partnerships/diverse-voices-2014
  • www.letterboxlibrary.com/acatalog/Early-Years-0-5yrs.html
  • www.booktrust.org.uk/booklists/r/represents-picture-books/
  • https://diversebooks.org/resources/where-to-find-diverse-books/
  • http://mirrorswindowsdoors.org/wp/reading-lists/

More Information

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, (1989)  

The Equality Act 2010 and schools (DfE May 2014)    

The special educational needs and disability (SEND) Code of Practice 0-25 years  

Building futures- a focus on provision for black children in the EYFS  

Building futures – a focus on provision for Gypsy, Roma and traveller background children in the EYFS  

SEAD -social and emotional aspects of development  

Confident, capable and creative: supporting boys achievement  

Supporting children learning English as an additional language EYFS 

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