Equity in Early Childhood Education

A colleague reached out to me with these words, “Missouri is in the headlines again…” It is a shame that the outside world only hears about Missouri through stories of racial tension. It is time to change the face of Missouri. We can do this by starting conversations about equity, diversity, and inclusion EARLY.

As a community we can start a movement for change by investing in our young children. We want a more equitable environment for our children and for the state of Missouri.

Look at these two young friends. Where will they be in 15 years? Will they still be friends? Or will they be on opposite sides of a racial divide? The laughter and natural relationship pictured here tells me that they can be friends for life if we can provide a system in which they can thrive together.

The power to change society lies in changing the way we teach young children.  And, it begins in infancy. We have research to qualify that what happens early in life lasts a lifetime. We know that 90 percent of the brain’s architecture is developed by the age of five, which means we are influencing a generation every five years. 

During their earliest years, children develop biases.  As we grow in our own comfort levels with differences in hair texture, skin color, and vocal patterns, it is the optimum time to encourage and solidify our children’s acceptance of others. If we begin early, helping our youngest children understand equity, fairness, and acceptance through empathy and compassion, children will grow up knowing the importance of relationships and attachments. They will understand how to navigate the differences they see in others.  Developing those so-called soft skills – empathy, communication, the ability to form attachments and friendships – can make a life-long difference in our young children and our community.

We need to build a system that embraces inclusiveness through equity, fairness, and compassion. Soft skills are the foundation. This type of system is where we can develop children who will thrive in diverse communities. Our children are growing up in a system that disregards the impact of the early years. We will create change in Missouri by investing in early childhood differently.

In order to help children accept differences, we (as a community) need to explore our own biases and challenge our thinking and feelings to overcome our own fears of a truly inclusive society. We cannot let fear keep us from accepting and understanding others.

It is time to transform messages of fear and judgment into hope, acceptance and strength. This endeavor must be an intergenerational partnership. By helping our children, we can enhance our own understanding as a community.

We want these young boys to look each other in the eye with the same level of caring and joy 15 years from now. They spent the first years of their lives in an inclusive, fair, accepting and intentional early childhood environment. Will the effects of that nurturing environment continue throughout their lives? The research says it will. As a community let’s work to make a system where all children can thrive, because our children and Missouri deserve better. It is time to change Missouri. 

Post by Steve Zwolak