Scéalta – The Early Childhood Ireland Blog

< Back to Blog

Being Nice is not Enough!


Tuesday 14 July 2020

What if I said racism, sexism, ableism, classism, homophobia exist in policy and practice in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) settings? Might you feel that that statement is ‘a bit over the top’, ‘a load of nonsense’ or perhaps a bit ‘shocking’, or even ‘true’? What is your response? The reality is that none of us can escape the fact that these oppressions affect us all, whether explicit or implicit, conscious or unconscious. It is easier to recognise explicit racism, sexism and other ‘isms’ and we are often horrified to witness or hear of them. But implicit bias can be more insidious in many ways. Remarks, jokes, comments, slights entangled with unconscious bias can have detrimental effects on adults and children’s lives. Implicit behaviours are often shrugged off with comments such as, ‘you are over reacting’, it’s only a bit of crack’, ‘I was only joking’, ‘you can’t take a joke’, ‘I wasn’t talking about you’. People are hurt by these behaviours, it is real, and it is not ok; neither is it healthy to learn to think you are better than or superior to others. As Early Childhood educators we tend to see ourselves as caring, kind and supportive. As such it might be hard to accept that there might be some truth to this statement. Research has long shown that policies, practices and behaviour in early childhood programmes can be and are discriminatory or biased in some or many ways (Robinson and Jones Díaz, 2016). The reality, unfortunately, is that discrimination, expressed as racism, sexism, ableism, classism, and homophobia are part of every level in our societal structures including ECEC.


None of us think of ourselves as racist, sexist, ableist, classist or homophobic but how sure are we about that? Most of us are confident we are not discriminating against others but is it enough to think that and say that? There is an important difference between ‘non’-racist or non-sexist (who in their right mind would admit being ‘pro’ racism or sexism?) and being actively anti-racist or anti-sexist. Being ‘anti’-discriminatory means you proactively try to make a difference for those experiencing oppressions in society. It is not enough to be nice. Albeit an important starting point, it won’t change the systems that maintain and continue stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination and racism, sexism, classism, ableism and homophobia. Becoming more aware of our unconscious and conscious bias both personally and professionally means we are in a better position to support children and families in our services. We sometimes address diversity through a multicultural lens, celebrating the cultural ‘dishes’, the ‘dress’ and the ‘dance’. But this work is not just about culture or Black versus White, it is much deeper and broader. It is about the intersectionality of our social identities, for example: you can be a Traveller girl/woman with a disability or a boy/man with gay parents, girl/woman, mixed race influenced by two cultures and religions.  


What has all that got to do with young children? Children are not born with discriminatory ideas. Children notice and show preference for difference and learn bias at a very early age, long before primary school (van Ausdale & Fegan, 2001). Parents are not necessarily the ones instilling racist attitudes or negativity towards difference. Children learn from many sources including the media, their peers and unspoken messages in imagery. Children experience hurt when they are ‘othered’ and are targets of negative words or actions. We know that if children are unhappy, they will have trouble feeling good about themselves and learning.

As early childhood educators we are lucky to have Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Charter and Guidelines (DCYA, 2016) we can use to support our thinking and our practice. We can also access Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI) training. Although only 15 hours, it is still a very good start to exploring concepts, approaches, equality proofing and dealing with challenging situations. The Guidelines and the training support an Anti-bias approach that actively supports anti-discriminatory practice with and for all children. The beauty of the Anti-bias approach is that it asks you as the adult to address these complex issues starting with yourself. In fact, it is a necessity to critically think and engage with these issues as the adult before we can meaningfully engage in a transformative curricular approach. So how to start? The first stage is to become familiar with how racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, classism work in society at a structural and individual level. Build your knowledge base for your own development and then venture into what you can do for and with children. The best place to start is with yourself. This is not always easy because we sometimes have to unlearn what we have understood all our lives and that can be challenging. It is also not about being defensive or about guilt, it is simply about finding out how these issues affect all of us and what we might do to change things. People tend to shy away from talking about difficult topics, especially racism and sexuality issues, because they often feel they don’t know where to go with them. Sometimes people say there was no racism in Ireland before we had immigration into Ireland, so we have no experience of talking about these issues. The fact that we have never recognised or addressed racism against Travellers in Ireland is an indication of our lack of understanding of racism and how much we need to learn. Talking about these issues adult to adult can be difficult, but not talking about them means we are not being fair to the children we work with.  


One of the things we have begun to do in practice is to fill our rooms with materials, including a variety of skin tone paints and dolls, books and images reflecting difference. This is a very useful starting point. The physical environment in ECEC is really important, but it will not address the challenging issues that we sometimes feel are not relevant to young children. How we work with the materials, the conversations we have with children, the conversations with parents are the real beginnings of making a difference. The DEI Charter and Guidelines (DCYA, 2016) provide a good foundation on which to build your knowledge, equality-proof your materials, use critically reflective questions with your team, which will support you to build on or begin to embed an Anti-bias Approach in your setting. The tragic death of George Floyd in the USA and the Black Lives Matter movement has offered all of us an opportunity to take stock and think about our relationships and how we are addressing DEI in ECEC. It starts with each and every one of us continuing to reflect on our values and attitudes, and  critically questioning our role in building the type of society we wish for all Irish citizens.




Colette Murray lectures on the Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) Degree Programme in TU Dublin and is Coordinator of EDeNn She has more than 30 years’ experience in the Early Childhood Education and Care sector in both national and international contexts. Colette has worked as educator, trainer, lecturer, advocate and researcher. She has advocated for a comprehensive Diversity, Equality and Inclusion approach in ECEC practice, training and policy, introducing the Anti-bias Approach to the Irish ECEC sector. Colette coordinated the National Preschool Education Initiative for Children from Minority Groups (2011-2013). She is interested in transformative and emancipatory practice in education and care. Colette has written and published primarily on social justice, diversity, equality and Traveller issues.


Department of Children and Youth Affairs. (2016). Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Charter and Guidelines. Dublin: Government Offices.


Murray, C. & Urban, M. (2012). Diversity and Equality in Early Childhood: An Irish Perspective. Dublin, IRL: Gill & Macmillan. 


Robison, K. H. & Jones Díaz, C. (2005-2016). Diversity and Difference in Childhood: Issues for Theory and Practice. London: Open University Press.


Van Ausdale, D. & Feagin, J. R. (2001). The First R: How Children Learn Race and Racism. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, INC.


0 comments Comments

Comments are closed.

Recycling(2) Maynooth University(2) environments(1) Party(1) Relaxation(1) partnership with families(1) World Health Organisation(1) Together Old and Young Programme(1) learning(19) Growing up Outdoors(2) Frosty the Snowman(1) Irish Early Years Research & Practice Seminar 2018(1) TOY Programme(1) respect(5) Early Childhood Care and Education(2) Tuscan Approach(2) eating(1) Rituals(1) HR(1) RTE Investigates(1) Confident(1) Norway(2) Pedagogical leaders(1) Scéalta Blog(106) Trigonometry(1) Research Seminar(1) life long learning(1) Pobal sector profile(1) Book Review(1) Communications(1) National Early Childhood Research Conference(2) Academics(1) National Pyjama Day(1) UD(1) Workplace Relations(3) movement behaviours(1) bloom app(1) Arlene Forster(1) Opportunities(1) Síolta(139) Impact(1) Imagination(3) Employee(1) friendships(1) pablo(1) CIT(1) Scéalta Book Review(1) Limerick(1) Recycle(1) child safeguarding(1) Fire Safety(1) Kids Own(1) Self-regulation(1) Mealtimes(1) Yoga(1) First 5 strategy(1) Trauma-Sensitive(1) Orla Kenny(1) stories(3) Halloween(2) Universal Design Guidelines(1) Partnership with Families Innovation Award(2) toddlers(3) Participation(2) inspiring interactions(1) San Miniato(4) TRAP(1) linc(1) Maternity Leave(1) Lego(2) Independence(1) Awards Night(1) democracy(1) The Jelly King(1) Facebook(1) Loss(1) educarer(1) Empathy(1) responsive relationships(1) Maria Montessori(1) Graduation(1) Degree(1) preschool(4) Visual Impairment(1) Siolta blog(8) curiosity(3) women in research(1) reopening ireland(1) Children's Rights(3) phone apps(1) Inspections(1) Xbox(1) Adoption(1) Interests(1) Sweets(1) Child mental health(1) ELC(1) science week(2) Children's Book Club(1) Kerry(1) Reflective Practice(1) Painting(1) Elders(1) annual conference(1) peer group(1) Belonging(3) preschool settings(1) Engineering(3) development(9) Margy Whalley(1) animals(2) Maths(6) NCCA(4) Event Guide(1) Visitors(1) Shapes(2) Playschool(1) Graduate(1) First 5 transitions for children award(1) homeschool(1) Early Childhood Ireland(10) Academic Skills(1) Educators(2) PIP(1) Thank you(1) Magda Gerber(1) Digital Devices(1) play therapy(1) Learning Stories Award(3) Upcycling(1) Proceedings Journal(1) Oireachtas(1) Quality(4) Jenga(1) Leargas(1) Research Conference 2019(1) Confidence(1) Pre-School Services(1) UK(1) memories(1) Fantasy play(1) ICBN(1) Croatia(1) mushrooms(1) Affordability(1) quarantine(2) youdoodle(1) First 5(1) Giraffe(2) early years settings(1) Favouritism(1) Drawing(2) UK Government(1) Touch(1) scientific and artistic processes(1) Plants(1) early years learning(1) Easter(1) Treasure Chest(1) Exit interview(1) UN(1) Book Club(2) Smiles(1) Department of Children and Youth Affairs(2) meals(3) Bereavement(2) Self-Esteem(1) Masterclass(2) Early Years Education(1) Special Needs Assistants(1) Appreciation(1) Engineering Ireland(1) Laugh(1) child led(1) Early Learning and Care Centres(1) Care routines(1) june29(1) Feeding(1) Toby Bears Camping Trip(1) early childhood(1) Valerie Gaynor(1) Professionalisation(5) christmas(9) The Play and Learning in the Early Years(1) IGL(1) racism(1) food(1) Competent(1) research submissions(1) Japan(1) Mental Health(4) Christmas Creativity(2) Celebrate(1) curriculum(7) Stress(2) Diversity(1) Vietnam(1) babies(7) Exclusion(1) Light table(1) Performing(1) Traditions(2) Twitter(1) learners(1) Looking Back(1) Childcare Barometer 2018(1) iOS(1) Reading Time(2) Potential(1) University(1) Rising to the Challenge(2) an post(1) Policy(2) Iraq(1) Awards 2018(3) UNCRC(2) Inspiring Practice(1) Leprechauns(1) worldbookday(1) education system(1) risky play(2) value(1) outdoor space(3) Family(1) Magnavacchi(1) emotions(2) Identity and Belonging(4) Leadership(1) Reopening Childcare(1) risk(2) Thanks(1) Exploring(1) Inspired Practice Awards(1) continual professional development(1) story time(2) Change(1) Certificate(1) Access and Inclusion Model(2) man up(1) Wendy Lee(4) Inspired Practice Award(6) National Awards 2019(1) Minister Katherine Zappone(1) coronavirus(1) keep in touch(1) Return to Work Training(1) Deirdre Rogers(1) Early Years Educators(3) Sequins(1) Mount Everest(1) online training(1) code of ethics(1) Intention(1) Learning journals(1) outdoor play(7) early life(1) Design(1) Digital(1) Montessori & Early Childhood Professionals Ireland(1) Craft(1) Arts(1) keezy(1) Equality & Inclusion Guidelines Training(1) gender stereotype(1) EECERA 2016(1) Irish guidelines(1) Interaction(1) Eritrea(1) show and tell(1) Photographs(1) Universal Design(2) Covid19 crisis(1) QRF(1) Kindness Challenge(1) play(37) National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education(1) Hand Hygiene(2) behavioural science(1) under 3's(3) democratic citizens(1) St. Patrick's Day(1) Meet the Members(1) structure(1) Exploratory Play(1) Creativity(7) Santa(2) Cork Institute of Technology(1) Nonverbal(1) Growing up in Ireland(3) Pen green(1) Vivian Gussin Paley(1) Return to Work(1) Sculptures(1) Blocks(1) Maths Week Ireland(1) Settling in(4) children’s learning(1) Love(3) Mixed age groups(3) Nuturing interactions(1) presentation skills(1) Super Shed Stories(2) Seas Suas(1) social media(2) RIE philosphy(1) collaboration(1) Kilkenny(1) Maths Week(1) social science(1) European Early Childhood Education Research Association(2) Irish Childhood Bereavement Network(1) community(5) Inclusion(3) Line-ups(1) supportive environments(2) National Annual Awards 2020(1) Youtube Series(1) emotional environment(2) SPICE Framework(1) Albert Einstein(1) Workplace well-being(1) Sustainability(3) Performance Management(1) LINC Award for Leadership in Inclusion(2) Children's Voice(1) Dance(1) learning bias(1) Mayo(1) built environments(1) play pods(2) Iceland(2) Montessori(3) Valentine's Day(3) Pretend Play(1) experience(1) Early Childhood Education(1) Penguins(1) Behaviour(3) Wrapping paper(1) parents(7) STEM(3) Brain(1) Reggio Children Network(1) Health(2) Obesity(1) science(3) relationships(18) planning(1) Death(2) Mo Scéal(1) gender bias(1) Mud kitchens(1) Síolta Quality Assurance programme(1) Map(1) upskilling(1) CPD(1) Liz Kerrins(1) Decision Making(1) Budget 2020(1) National Bereaved Children's Awareness Week(1) Support(1) dining experiences(1) Budget 2018(1) School Age Childcare(2) dublin(2) Grief(1) Magic(1) Large Doll Play(1) National Research Conference 2019(1) Jillian van Turnhout(1) Shoes(1) Window(1) educating(1) Builders(1) COVID-19 crisis(1) play pod(1) Plastic(1) Anxiety(2) ERASMUS+(3) World book day(1) United Nations(1) role playing(1) Mantra(1) E.coli(1) Motor neuron disease(1) early childhood educator(2) Communicating(1) timekeeping skills(1) Sleep(1) UN Sustainable Development Goals(1) outdoor environment(1) Weather(1) research(8) Snakes(1) multi-generational community(1) reading(6) Childcare(3) Equality(1) Culture(2) Creative(1) Interactions(3) Socioemotional development(1) GDPR(1) Advocacy(1) Art(6) Challenges(1) Fabric(1) National Childcare Scheme(1) Autism(4) Online(1) Leaders in Practice(1) Spiders(1) Environment(2) code of professional responsibility(1) overhear(1) Thinking(1) Reggio Emilia(2) pets(1) Anthony Semann(1) imotion(1) TUSLA(1) Mathematicians(1) EECERA(1) Mindfulness(3) primary education(1) Department of Education and Skills(1) Arithmetic(1) Nutrition(1) National Awards 2018(2) Nordic model(1) Children(8) Europe(1) Fee Play(1) Titles(1) Learning Journal(2) Qualifications(1) Aistear Siolta Practice Guide(1) Early Years(1) Online Research Symposium(3) learning hub(2) COVID-19 landscape(1) Primary School(3) listen(1) COVID-19 Reopening(2) Covid pandemic(3) early year’s classrooms(1) outdoors(4) Aistear(132) Child Care(1) early childhood ireland research(1) Trade Unions(1) education(2) Wonder(1) Educator - Leader in Practice Award(1) CCTV(1) risk assessment(1) Italy(1) Sociodramatic play(1) Policy and Implementation Panel(1) Minister for Children and Youth Affairs(1) Sessional service(1) journey(1) guardian(1) Educator Award - Leader in Practice(1) Training(3) baby room(1) Ceremony(1) Gratitude(1) Infection Control(1) Inspirational(2) Gardening(1) Rich Documentation(1) Infectious diseases(1) bonds(1) COVID(3) Prexit(1) Patterns(1) natural environment(1) Body Language(1) Buddy Bench(1) Trick or treat(1) Snacks(1) Queues(1) Self Help Skills(1) Educator of the Year Award(3) Unesco(1) Women(1) Learning Stories(9) ears(1) Little Buddies(1) listening(1) Our Little Seed(1) Teamwork(1) Investment(2) Building Resilience(1) Loving Relationships(2) National Council for Curriculum and Assessment(1) interacting(2) Mark Twain(1) Music(3) Early Childhood Ireland’s National Early Childhood Research Conference 2019(1) conversations(1) Biting(1) AIM(2) creche(1) childcare services(1) Time(1) STEAM(1) routine(2) playleader(1) ReCreate(2) Learning Story(1) Adverse Childhood Experiences(1) ECCE(7) Counting(1) Dr Mary O'Kane(1) NAEYC(1) purpose(1) trust(4) UNICEF report(1) dining(1) Síolta QAP(1) healthy eating policies(1) ECIAwards20(1) Irish(1) Laughter(1) Aldo Fortunati(4) Celebrations(4) Traffic Lights(1) Reggio(1) Inter-generational(2) Family wall(1) maternity health(1) Horizon 2020(1) Research and Professional Learning(1) Funding(1) developing motor skills(1) Technology(3) National Holiday(1) children development(1) Storytelling(8) Learning Story Awards(2) Small World Play(1) Through the looking glass(1) Story(2) Afghanistan(1) mental health problems(1) Winter(1) Staff Motivation(1) Administrative Burden(1) quarantine kids(1) Vertical grouping(1) family time(1) Games(2) Skillnet(1) Pobal(1) MA(1) child-centric(1) Cognitive development(1) partnership(1) Annual Conference 2017(2) European Project(1) Exploring and Thinking(1) Consent(1) Awards(2) child-centred approach(1) Annual Conference 2019(1) International Narratives(1) Snack Time(1) Well-Being(10) Playdough(1) grandchild(1) Decisions(1) Running(1) Syria(1) Positivity(1) Children's Research Network(2) emotional well-being(1) reopening(1) Treasure(1) Supernanny(1) Leadership for INClusion in the Early Years(1) Dr. Emer Ring(1) Covid response(2) scéalta(58) Scents(1) Role play(1) books(5) ECEC(4) Workforce(1) Breathing(2) Inter-generational learning(2) College(1) Glitter(2) Children and families(2) Maynooth(1) Your place(1) EM Standing(1) Sustainable(1) Capable(1) Early Learning and Care(2) staying connected(1) Trade union(1) Names(1) feisty(1) Sport(1) Flowers(1) Seanchaí(1) Home Corner(1) preschools(1) lockdown(1) Human Resources(1) Social Skills(1) ECEC Setting(2) Care-giving routines(1) transitions(10) GoToMeeting app(1) Budget 2019(2) Exercise(1) Summer(2) Malaguzzi(1) Meal time(1) awards 2020(1) Time Out(1) Identity(5) General Data Protection Regulation(1) Buddies(1) AsIAm(2) Looking Forward(1) INTO(1) art of the relationship(1) documentation(4) conference(1) communication(4) budget(1) Pedagogy(2) annual awards(1) dogs(1) Ariana Pucci(1) DCYA(6) refugees(1) Cork(1) Engagement(1) New Appointments(1) Covid-19 lockdown(1) early years research(3) Study Trip(1) play stories(2) MECPI(1) Providing Leadership to the First 5(1) Effect of Lockdown(1) apps for children(1) Emergent Curriculum(1) Frustrations(1) Community involvement(1) SAC(1) DES Inspection(1) Wilenski(1) The Lullaby Book(1) Wesco(1) Awards 2019(1) COVID-19(18) Engineers Week(2) social media policy(1) Kindness(1) Learning through Storytelling(2) Early Childhood Ireland National Awards(2) blog(56) aistear blog(3) worries(1) Childhood(2) Routines(2) Aistear Siolta in Action(1) Whole Group(1) Regulation 23(1) Document Learning(1)


Site maintained and developed by Cloud Nine