Inspiring thoughts / Language and food / Multiculturalism

Creating multicultural environment at Finnish daycares

(This is a rather long post, therefore I took the second half to the beginning in order to be focused on the topic of this post. However if you would like to know how I came to write on this topic, you can read the first half as well, which is right after this part)

The daycare my son is attending reveals some of the ways Finnish education system tries to foster a multicultural environment. What are they?

First – respect for the mother tongue. There is a text hang on the wall that explains how the mother tongue is essential for the child’s development. Once it is denied and met with disrespect, it really and deeply hurts child’s self-esteem and creates a big wound in her relationship with her family.

Second – include other languages and cultures – for instance, on the first day Aren started the daycare, I noticed the sentence in Turkish “Cocuklar okula hosgeldin” –  kids welcome to school. The grammar was wrong, but it only added to its cuteness. There was Russian and in other languages, representing the kids and their cultural diversity. I am usually not very happy with cultural mosaic idea, where different cultures only get respect as long as they are adding more recipes, a few interesting words and new clothing to the mainstream culture. Multiculturalism is and should be much more than that. However, recognizing other languages is still a very nice gesture. It should be followed by being open to different ideas and ways of looking/living, which is what culture is after all.

Third – I realized that the food at the daycare is quite open for different tastes as well. Aren is having a bit difficulty with the breakfasts, because they usually serve porridge and Aren does not eat that. Porridge is a very common Finnish breakfast, but we do bread-cheese-tea kind of breakfast, so does Aren. That is not a big issue though, because they usually have bread and butter as back up or sometimes as main breakfast. Then the guy is haaappppyyy!!!

Here is some of the sample lunch food: Oven baked mix of potato and meat (or vegetables), pea soup, rainbow trout, vegetable patties, steak with curry with dark rice, cabbage and minced beef dish with barley, pork with herb sauce, carrot pancakes, vegetable lasagna, soy balls, etc. I find this quite open to different tastes, but of course one should ask it to the kids 🙂

Fourth – gender balance. I know this sounds like an odd one. I think it is much better to teach kids to think out of the box, and today’s world relies too much on binary thinking, black and white, women and men, self and other, etc. I know I am being too academic right now but I cannot help but argue that if kids unlearn many binaries in life, that will help foster a multicultural environment. Therefore it was very important for me to have a man teacher at my son’s daycare. He then would not associate caregiving only with women, and would not associate men with non-caregiving jobs. As a boy himself, he would venture into “unmanly” jobs. Well, there used to be one, but he left to live in another part of the country and to do another job. And now, it is all women caregivers.

Some of the other ways I imagine could help kids think beyond the borders, could be how the caregivers create a physical environment, paying attention to decorative details; songs, this is the most powerful language for a toddler; toys and games, exporting not only US-made cartoon characters but being receptive to other characters, figures, animals, etc.

What are some of the ways you think, have observed or experienced as ways to cultivate a multicultural environment for kids?

(now if you are wondering why I wrote this blog, here is the background):

We are witnessing one of the biggest humanitarian crisis in our lifetimes, and one of the biggest human migrations. The continuing wars in Southwest Asia, aka “Middle East” and Africa resulted in mass uprooting of people. And the people in relatively safe countries, i.e. Europe and North America, are once again faced with a big challenge, to welcome foreigners and be open to change and be changed by the influx of new cultures, peoples, and ideas.

I am from Turkey, which has failed tremendously in its treatment towards the asylum seekers, so I cannot really give “good examples”. Even though I know some organizations and individuals that try to be in solidarity with the asylum seekers, overall the general public has seen them as, beggars, which “should” be equal to “immorals” that were “deteriorating” the culture. I just hope that those who think that way were a bit ashamed when they saw Aylan’s (2,5 year old toddler) washed ashore in Turkey’s most expensive tourist town. Their family had said that they lived in Turkey for a year, but could not find any hope for future there, like many others.

I have a lot to talk about on this, but let’s get back to our topic today. Finland, where I am living now, is receiving 500 asylum seekers everyday. And in a country of 5 million, with the lowest rate of immigrants in the Europe, that had created some turmoil. Since my Finnish is very limited, I can only give you a partial picture, but it seems the public is divided here. There is a well-developed notion of democracy, equality and welfare state but at the same time an economic crisis, high rate of unemployment, and a sort of conservative/homogeneous culture (I know such a summarising sentence cannot escape being reductionist). Last week, we were shocked by the visuals of an attack at the bus bringing asylum seekers, and one of those throwing the stones (around 40 people) were wearing Klu Klux Klan “costume” ( We also read that scary news that “Police have opened an investigation into a video upload on Facebook which shows a grown man telling a small child to hit a designated refugee with a soft toy”

Those news made me think of how to turn public spaces into more multicultural environments. And as the only public place I frequent everyday, I started with the daycare.


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