Teacher Well-being
begin to ECSEL

Teaching Diversity through a Diverse Play Space

January 16, 2021

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Day and a National Day of Service, we cannot help but reflect on this tumultuous and important year of racial, political, cultural and social unrest. What have we learned and how can we share and teach those valuable lessons to our children and students?

Dr. King said that “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” If children do not have the positive, educational and appropriate toys, games, books and media that reflect all, they do not have the opportunity to come to “know each other.” Because of this, we should all consider and evaluate the space, materials and environment with which and in which our children and students play every day. Take a fresh eye to these important spaces, play objects and media and you may in fact recognize a lack of diversity. Traditionally diverse or multicultural toys and books have been missing in early childhood play areas, despite the enormous power diverse representation in toys and media hold for educating children in especially at the earliest stages of life. 

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”  -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Young children’s minds are very impressionable and are continuously absorbing the information and imagery presented to them. Embracing every child with the same respect, openness and understanding and encouraging children to then internalize those same qualities as a part of their character is a core component to being a begin toECSEL educator. We know young children learn a great deal simply by watching how we interact with others. You, as an important adult in a young child’s life therefore play a pivotal role in helping children receive positive and inclusive views and values in developmentally supportive and appropriate ways.

Young children need guidance from thoughtful adults to help them construct a positive sense of self and a respectful understanding of others. From a very young age, children are exceptionally aware of the differences and lack of differences as well. If we want children to become open-minded, compassionate, accepting, empathetic and understanding adults, we must first model for them what that looks like and provide for them the tools to learn from. For underrepresented children, and children with disabilities, it is equally important to be showing them that they too are represented and valued by the greater world around them. 

It is our responsibility as the key guides and models in a child’s life to ensure that, from the start, children are shown a diverse world and are encouraged to engage in that diverse world. Conversations and education around differences and diversity should never wait until children are older. 

Lessons of empathy and inclusivity for young children start with the important adults in their lives -- the choices we make and the modeling we present all impact the formation of understanding and embracing differences. And what better time to share these lessons of love, empathy, understanding and courage than during a moment when Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a historically diverse presidential inauguration and the beginning of Black History Month all coincide?

The tools ECSEL educators often use to share and create opportunities to discuss differences are books, educational toys, and games. So, below you will find a list of children’s toys, games and books to celebrate diversity of all types while being fun, educational and memorable. Here’s to more diverse play areas and bookshelves and the wonderfully educational conversation, learning and growth that accompany them...


Barbie Fashionistas Doll

Playdate Friends by Harper Doll

Basket of Babies

Cuddle + Kind Dolls

Selma’s Dolls

I Never Forget A Face Matching Game

Ms. Monopoly Game

The Big Book of Faces Coloring Book

Children of the World Memory Game

People Colors Crayon Pack

Melissa & Doug Food Sets 

Global Kids Box



I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King Jr. and Kadir Nelson

Not Quite Snow White by Ashley Franklin

Islandborn by Junot Diaz

Whoever You Are by Mem Fox

The Colors of Us by Karen Katz

Parker Looks Up by Parker Curry

The Boy Who Grew Flowers by Jen Wojtowicz

Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers

All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon

Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas by Natasha Yim

Besos for Baby by Jen Arena

Love Makes a Family by Sophie Beer

I Like Berries, Do You? by Marjorie Pitzer

Suki’s Kimono by Chieri Uegaki

Everyone Matters by Pat Thomas

It’s Okay to Be Different: A Children’s Books About Kindness and Diversity by Sharon Purtill

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold

Happy in Our Skin by Fran Manushkin

Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayer

You Matter by Christian Robinson

The World Needs More Purple People by Kristen Bell

One Big Heart: A Celebration of Being More Alike than Different by Linsey Davis

The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates

Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed

Kamala and Meena’s Big Idea by Meena Harris

Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue

Say Hello! by Rachel Isadora

Same, Same but Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw

Good People Everywhere by Lynea Gillen

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison

Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Pink is for Boys by Robb Pearlman

Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine

Everybody Cooks Rice by Norah Dooley

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie

Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

— Contributed by Jill Gerson, a Begin TO ECSEL educator


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