The Challenge of Monoculturalism – What books are educators sharing with children and what messages do they send?

Year: 2019

Author: Adam, Helen, Barratt-Pugh, Caroline

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The call for the publication and use of diverse books for children is gaining momentum worldwide. However, the state of play in Australian early learning settings suggests have a long way to go before we realise the potential of using diverse books to build a more socially just future for all children. This paper aims to both inspire and support educators, educational leaders and policy makers to implement effective changes to practice and policy with long term benefits for all.

When inclusive children’s books are shared with young children the educational and social and emotional outcomes improve for all children. However, achieving these outcomes is complex and multifaceted.

This paper reports on a larger study which investigated the factors and relationships influencing the use of children’s literature to support principles relating to cultural diversity in the kindergarten rooms of long day care centres.

This study was conducted within an ontological perspective of constructivism and an epistemological perspective of interpretivism informed by sociocultural theory. A mixed methods approach was adopted and convergent design was employed to synthesise the qualitative and quantitative data and interpret significant relationships and their meanings. Twenty four educators and 110 children from four long day care centres in Western Australia participated. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews, video-based observations, field notes, document analysis and a book audit.

A book audit of 2413 books showed overwhelmingly monocultural book collections being used in long day care. Furthermore, analysis of 148 video-recorded book sharing sessions as well as interview and observation data suggest that educators face significant challenges when seeking to address diversity through children’s literature. These challenges include educators understanding, beliefs and confidence about diversity, including knowing what and how to select inclusive literature as well as a dearth of available culturally diverse literature. In particular, minority children are at risk of not achieving the well-known benefits of book sharing due to the lack of the use of inclusive children’s literature. These findings have implications for the rights of every child to thrive and to learn.

These findings have important social justice implications and draw attention to the challenges faced by educators when selecting and using books with young children. The outcomes of this study have implications for educators, policy makers, early childhood organisations, those in the publishing industry, and those who provide higher education and training for early childhood educators.