What are tokenistic practices?


Do you have strong connections to the local Aboriginal community? If not, how could you enhance it to create learning opportunities?

What are tokenistic practices?

Avoiding cultural tokenism

Cultural tokenism occurs when aspects of cultures are acknowledged superficially or because we have to. Even when well-intentioned, cultural tokenism oversimplifies cultural differences and at its worst can exacerbate existing stereotypes and prejudices about certain cultural groups. Some things to be aware of include:

  • Placing cultural artefacts on display without knowing or providing children with information about the item’s heritage or significance. For example, displaying an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander cultural artefact that doesn’t represent the cultures of the local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people, or using this item to represent all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures
  • Celebrating a cultural event in a superficial fashion or using the event as the only form of exposure to that culture. For example, celebrating Chinese New Year for one day and not exploring other aspects of Chinese culture in day-to-day practices
  • Using cultural attire or traditional foods as the only way of teaching cultural diversity. While exploring different types of food is a useful starting point for teaching about diversity, respect for cultural differences should extend beyond an appreciation of different foods. It’s also important to be cautious when using different forms of cultural dress, as wearing traditional attire as a ‘costume’ can be offensive to people who wear it as part of their cultural identity.

One way of avoiding cultural tokenism is to adopt a holistic approach to cultural diversity. Culture is all around us and there are many opportunities to incorporate different cultural traditions and perspectives into your day-to-day activities. Being aware of these opportunities is an important first step.

For more resources on how to cultivate cultural competency within your early childhood setting, refer to the Additional  Resources section of this guide.

What if I don’t know the answers or don’t have enough information?

It can often be challenging to respond to questions about racial and cultural differences, but it’s not necessary to have all the answers. Simply be open and honest. This can be a great opportunity to share in a learning experience. For example, if a child asks, ‘Where is Malawi?’, you can reply, ‘I don’t know the answer to that question. Why don’t we look it up on a map together?’

Knowing your community to create learning opportunities
Engaging with the local community then creating learning opportunities with children
Creating a lesson plan before going on excursions
Preparing a list of questions to ask on the excursion just in case the children run out of questions
Creating learning documentation after every excursion into the local community
Providing a copy of your learning documentation to the community member/business you visited
Providing a certificate of appreciation to the community member/business you visited
Tagging the community member/business you visited on both your and their Facebook page

EYLF and MTOP are relationship based curriculums. If you are just using equipment in your curriculum, and not planning activities around children’s interactions with their families and community, then you are not implementing EYLF/MTOP. In this case you are in breach of the Regulations which say you must implement an approved learning framework.

In the EYLF, the word community appears 40 times and communities 28 times.

In MTOP, the word community appears 62 times and communities 27 times.

Families and community connections

You need the following information (names, addresses and phone numbers) ready for families when they request it, or when you think they need it. Do you have it ready?

Yes No Doctors
Yes No Doctors
Yes No Doctors
Yes No Doctors
Yes No Doctors
Yes No Doctors
Yes No Doctors
Yes No Doctors
Yes No Doctors
Yes No Doctors

Ensuring information for families is:

  • in a place where educators can easily access it
  • in a place where families can easily access it
  • tidy and appealing to look at on the notice boards.

There must be a person who’s responsible for keeping the family notice boards tidy, appealing and up to date.

Yes No Is there a person who does this at your service?

Community and businesses will enjoy the relationship you and the children build with them. When educators provide opportunities to visit places in the community children have opportunities to form relationships with a broad range of people. This helps children build respect and trust in adults outside their immediate family.
The program also becomes a lot more engaging for children (and you) when you have strong connections with your local community. It’s easy to extend learning from community interactions, and it can go on for days. When children are engaged, behaviour issues decline because children are interested in the learning and are never bored. Families often don’t understand how beneficial community engagement is for children’s learning.