thoughts on diversity, inclusion & waldorf play
Our world, it seems, and I do sincerely hope, is going through a deep and profound process of change: of social justice and revolution. Although, there is still a long, long journey ahead to undo the years of systematic racism that is so prevalent worldwide in our political systems, societies and communities. There is light, hope and conversation continuing to challenge the norm with a view to change and raise our children in a world which is fair, just and a reflection of a world with a shared passion for all of humanity and for the rights and freedoms of the individual.
One way in which I have seen parents, and indeed educators, reflect lately is how we are ensuring our children are growing up in a home which is inclusive and celebrates diversity in all its forms. Parents buying toys and resources consciously and purposefully in an effort to bring the wider world into their homes, only to feel a growing frustration that the toys and resources they are looking for are simply not available to them. A struggle parents and families of Black and Minority Ethnic groups and parents such as myself with children from a mixed race background have battled with for a long time.
There is indeed a need for more diverse representation of ethnicity, culture and of people with disabilities in the traditional toy market, which is slowly being met, but not quick enough as our children grow with the blink of an eye. Waldorf Education inspires the answer to this problem for all parents, weather you follow a Waldorf inspired approach for your child, either for the Anthroposophical approach, for play based learning or simply for the handmade, sustainable natural toys there is a way we can ensure our children are immersed in a world that reflects reality, their own unique family and circumstance and the diverse world and wealth of culture present outside of our windows.
The Magic of Waldorf Education is that in its very essence it encourages self directed arts and craftsmanship, the very act of willing an idea into existence and seeing through to completion is highly valued as a way of modelling perseverance and whole processes to children. Anything you would like – for a fraction of the cost, and with time and love, you can make. Indeed many of the beautiful toys found in Steiner schools and kindergartens across the world are made in this way, by hand, by teachers, parents and the local community.
I know sometimes as a parent with the demands of modern life the idea of making something can seem too much, sometimes we feel we are lacking the skills and know how for the task at hand, and that even if we had a go the toys may lack the ‘finish and quality’ of bought toys.
The magic in creating toys ourselves is that all those ‘flaws’ are what make that toy special. To a child those flaws are not flaws, they are part of the toy, of its identity and as they love and accept that toy into their world through their play they themselves are absorbing a deep understanding that there is diversity in the world, in their immediate world where they play, and in the wider world outside their window.
Our world, after all, is a rich diverse place, and allowing our children to not only see a representation of their own culture in toys, but also that of others is so important and so nourishing. How might we using simple means fill this ‘hole’ in representation of ethnicity, background, faith and culture in our home?
- Silks are great for play, and headscarves, saris and other items purchased from charity shops and second hand can ensure your children can reflect diversity in their play, saris, headscarves, hijabs and baby slings and carriers and just some of the possibilities.
- Dolls are one of the most important toys in early childhood – they are a representation of the human being, and in kindergartens are treated with great reverence and respect, behaviour worthy of imitation from young children. Lots of books are available to help you make these dolls, from cuddle dolls with a simple body to more complex dolls with arms and legs. Jersey/stockinette and wool for hair in a wide variety of colours can represent dolls of all ethnicities and cultures. Furthermore dolls can be made to represent people with many disabilities and special needs.
- Pencils and Crayons in a range of ‘skin tones’ can ensure children can imagine their own diverse and beautiful world, with people of all ethnicities and from all cultural backgrounds.
- Storytelling is one of the most ancient traditions and important aspects of Waldorf Education which allows children to absorb and process scenarios and ideas, painting small peg dolls with watercolours to use as puppets, telling stories from different parts of the world (from books and lots are available online too) can really enable children to become deeply absorbed in another time, place and culture. You can again paint these dolls to represent anyone you wish, the only limit is your imagination.
- Celebrate with your children. Any and every occasion. I have had so many messages online and even in the school community asking if I am Jewish, or Christian, Muslim or Hindu, because I celebrate a wide variety of festivals with my children, they understand and respect the beliefs of others and when they come across people of another faith they are not shy of respectfully asking questions and getting to understand a part of that person which some may shy away from. Acknowledging and striving to understand another’s culture, background and faith builds bridges and can only strengthen our compassion for others and strengthen our society.
- Explore food and music from other cultures. It is amazing how food and music can really give a sense of a place, of a celebration and deeply connect us to others.
- Representing outward signs of disabilities or illness such as, nasal tubes, braces for limbs etc can be recreated sometimes with the same medial items, a simple piece of tube taped to a doll or teddy can be such a comfort to children going through treatment, or for youngest children who may have a relative or loved one receiving treatment. Equally mini hand sewn masks for dolls can help young children identify with and process mask wearing at this current time.
- Inward signs of illness or disabilities sometimes involve the wearing of a badge or sticker and these can be recreated simply with crayons and given to children.
There are many many ideas out there but I hope these have provided some starting points in helping create beautiful toys and resources which enable our children to grow in the world we envisage for them in the future. Have fun creating something unique and beautiful to gift to your child!
This Journal Post was written by our dear friend Kelly of The Way We Waldorf – you can find her on instagram @thewaywewaldorf
Colouring Pencils in different skin tones:
Lyra Skin Tones