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“Cultural competence is about our will and actions to build understanding between people, to be respectful and open to different cultural perspectives, strengthen cultural security and work towards equality in opportunity” (Livingstone, 2014).

Understand this definition. Cultural competence is something that even the youngest members of our communities can begin to learn about and develop. Indeed, diversity is often a part of many early childhood education programs. Cultural competence takes diversity a step further by trying to look at culture in conjunction with social justice. As Livingstone writes, cultural competence is important for children because the underlying principles are “trust, respect for diversity, equity, fairness, and social justice” and furthermore, cultural competence contributes to a child’s sense of identity (Livingstone, 2014).

Cultural Competence and Children

For young children, seeing a variety of cultures represented in their classrooms and daycares helps to build positive self-identity because it allows them to see themselves and their backgrounds present in a space that they frequent quite regularly. It is also important in that it allows children to explore deeper understandings of other cultures, their traditions, and the social spaces that these cultures intersect with. The goal of developing cultural competence in the early years is not just this crucial development of self-identity connected to place and space, but also the development of key social skills such as collaboration and group belonging, community involvement, respect, and responsibility.

How to develop cultural competence

In practice, in order to help children develop cultural competence, educators must first look inwards and examine the state of their own cultural competency. Do you celebrate multiple ways of learning and knowing that exist across cultures? Do you value diversity and incorporate it into your classroom in positive ways? Are you willing to learn and grow when it comes to cultural understandings?

In sum, for students cultural competence allows them to develop important cognitive skills and attitudes that, according to Livingstone, encompass:

  • Being aware of one’s own world view
  • Developing positive attitudes towards cultural differences
  • Gaining knowledge of different cultural practices and world views
  • Developing skills for communication and interaction across cultures

When approaching cultural competence in your early childhood education classroom it is necessary to find resources and materials that are culturally relevant and accurate and that are created by people from the culture being described. Take necessary steps to approach cultural education with respect and care. Also, remember that even the little things can count. It is about children seeing a variety of cultures represented in positive and meaningful ways.


Livingstone, R. (2014 July). What does it mean to be culturally competent? Retrieved from We Hear You.

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