'A toy wok should not just be in the kitchen at Chinese New Year'
Glasgow has launched Scotland's first anti-racism curriculum for pre-school children. It has already issued one for primary schools, which was also a Scottish first.
Now, nursery staff will be expected to confront any awkward situations involving children's racial differences.
The council aims to ensure that different cultures become a normal part of everyday life in nurseries, not just something to be celebrated on special occasions.
The anti-racism curriculum pack will go to each of the city council's 126 early years centres and to another 88 nurseries, which will involve nearly 14,000 children.
Gordon Matheson, the council's executive member for education and social renewal, said: "The indications are that the earlier you can pick up any tendency towards discriminatory or prejudicial behaviour, the better chance you have of successfully tackling it."
Myra Struthers, headteacher of Thornlaw Nursery, one of those seconded to work on the curriculum, said lack of confidence among nursery staff about dealing with racial differences meant inappropriate comments were likely to be quickly admonished, but not discussed.
She wants such incidents dealt with "head on", and turned into an opportunity for children to learn about each other. A white child who did not want to hold a black child's hand, for example, could be asked what he or she would feel like in the same situation.
"It's about turning it into a positive, not making children feel bad," Mrs Struthers said.
The curriculum also underlines the need for the ever-present inclusion of other cultures in the classroom, not just at certain times of the year. So, for example, a toy wok should not appear in the kitchen only at the Chinese New Year; it should be there all year round.
Mrs Struthers stressed that, while there was evidence that children start to notice each other's differences from the age of two, it was far more likely for pre-school children to show curiosity than hostility towards each other.
There was more likely to be tension between parents and, crucially, the pack has three sections: children; staff; and parents and carers.
Mrs Struthers added that lots of good work on anti-racism already took place in Glasgow's nurseries, but that the new curriculum would give staff more support and make clear what was expected of them.
Michelle Lizemore, whose five-year-old son Jason attends Kinning Park Nursery, where the curriculum was launched this week, is "extremely pleased" with what she has heard about it. She said: "It's the responsibility of parents, not schools, to teach children about anti-racism.
"But if parents aren't going to, then it's fantastic that children can come home and perhaps teach their parents."
HOW TO RESPOND
Suggested responses for parents and carers to questions from pre-school children:
- Why is Richel's skin black?
Her skin is black because her parents have black skin.
- Can you wash black skin clean?
You can wash all skin colours clean, but it won't change colour.
- Why does Mei-Lin talk funny?
She doesn't talk funny, she just speaks a different language from you.