Teaching the Difference Between Equality, Equity, and Justice in Preschool - Paper Pinecone Blog

Teaching the Difference Between Equality, Equity, and Justice in Preschool

Published Date: 06/04/20

How You Can Teach Preschoolers Equality, Equity, & Justice


Equality versus equity versus justice.

Sometimes those words are used interchangeably but they have very different meanings and implications. All are important concepts to teach preschoolers and to practice in your classroom.

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What’s the difference between equality and equity?

The difference between equality and equity is straightforward. With equality, everyone has exactly the same thing. With equity, everyone has what they need.

You’re probably doing a good job of teaching equality at your preschool right now. You might give everyone the same number of crackers at snack time or set a timer for how long each child plays with a specific toy. And in some cases, equality works just fine and is appropriate. But in others, we need to take a more equitable approach.

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A simple lesson in equality & equity

We can think of it in terms of food. When ordering pizza for a large group, you’ll probably assume some people will eat one slice, some people will eat two, and some will eat three or even four. You’ll account for those differences when ordering - maybe you have several hulking athletes or small children in your group. You won’t police who eats how many slices, you’ll just assume that everyone got what they needed, be it once slice or more.

segregation in early childhood education

The pizza isn’t shared equally, it is shared equitably.

It’s easy to demonstrate visually. In the image below you see two scenarios depicted. The first show equality - everyone has the exact same platform to stand on to watch the baseball game. However, we see that the man doesn’t actually need a platform - he can see the game just fine. The taller child is able to see with the platform, but the smaller child still cannot see.


Equity means everyone has what they need

The second picture depicts equity. The man has no platform, as he can see over the fence without one. The taller child has one platform allowing him to see the baseball game, and the shorter child has two platforms now permitting him to see as well.

Everyone has what they need, which is equity.

equality vs equity

Image courtesy of Interaction Institute for Social Change - Artist Angus Maguire

How does justice differ from equality and equity?

Justice taken outside of a legal construct of crime and punishment, involves removing the barriers that prevent equality and equity.

In the cartoon below we see it demonstrated with use of an apple tree (seemingly with reference to Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, which is not without controversy).

The first image shows inequality. One person has access to the apples falling from the tree and one person does not.

The second represents equality. While both people are given ladders of equal height, the tree leans to the left, making the apples accessible for one person but not the other.

can preschool be the great equalizer

The third represents equity. The person on the right side of the tree is given a taller ladder to access the apples while the person on the left has a shorter one that allows her access.

Finally, there’s justice. In this we see that the tree is straightened, thus removing the barrier for the person on the right. He no longer needs a taller ladder to access the apples.


Image credit: Tony Ruth for Design in Tech Report


Teaching Preschoolers About Equality, Equity, and Justice

But life’s not fair.

No, life isn’t fair. We can’t straighten trees and make the world just. There are situations each of us are placed in that prove this. Situations of inequality, situations of inequity, and unjust situations.

And preschoolers need to begin to learn that. Sometimes things will be equal, sometimes things will be equitable, sometimes things will be just, but at other times they simply won’t be fair. All people must learn to navigate those situations and being placed in them occasionally probably builds resilience and problem-solving skills, though I don’t have data to back that.

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However, as one would expect, being placed in them continuously may lead to resentment and anger.

As early childhood educators we have a responsibility to begin the framework of life lessons and working toward equitability and justice, whenever possible, is an important component. Not everyone is given the same tools in life. Some are given none. When we teach children with tools to use them to remove barriers for those that don’t, we lay the groundwork for a better future.

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FAQs About Equality, Equity, & Justice In Preschool

Q: How do you teach children about equality?By age four children are already showing preferences for white faces and have begun developing racial biases. By age nine, they are unlikely to change their views on race, so discussing these topcis early is critical. Being surrounded by diversity, reading books with diverse characters, and talking openly, honestly, and truthfully about race, equality, equity, and justice are all critical to helping children learn. Don't forget that teaching children about equality also includes gender equality and ability. Be sure to have conversations and books that include different family units, represent the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities.

Resources to help teach children about equality:

Children's Books by Black Authors With Black Characters to Help You Talk About Race with Preschoolers

PBS Kids Hosts Special Event for Parents & Educators About Talking to Children About Race

These Books Turn Learning Disabilities Into Superpowers

LGBTQIA+ Books for Toddlers & Preschooler - Plus - Glossary of LGBTQIA+ Terms to Help You With Conversations With Children


Q: How do you promote equality in childcare?Studies show significant racial biases in childcare. Black children, children with disabilities, and low-income children are suspended or expelled from preschool at significantly higher rates than others primarily due to implicit bias among teachers.

  • Train staff on the Anti-Bias Curriculum
  • Promote equitable finding of state-run childcare programs
  • Offer financial aid at private childcare programs
  • Hire diverse childcare staff
  • Help educate parents on a variety of child development topics
  • Get parents involved in their child's education, beginning in preschool

Resources to promote equality in childcare:

How to Create Equitable Preschools For All Children

The Anti-Bias Curriculum in Preschool

10 Ways to support LGBTQIA+ Children and Families in Preschool

Study: Teacher's Race Affects Students' Perceptions

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