Raising a racially conscious child is something that has been important to me even before my child made his way onto this earth. Being a teacher, it is a topic I’ve thought about often, in order to be responsive to the diverse array of students that come into my classroom and so that I can seek to give them all a platform for bringing their wonderings about this topic to the forefront.
Research has shown that children are able to nonverbally begin categorizing people by race and gender by six months of age (maybe even earlier) and that by ages 3-5 children not only categorize people by race, but even begin to express bias based on race (Winkler, 2009). To me, this brings two key ideas to the forefront – first being, that neither children, nor we as adults are “colorblind”. Colorblindness is more or less this idea of “I don’t see color” or “I see everyone as the same”. But the fact of the matter is, we do and we should see color. We should be acknowledging each person’s uniqueness, personhood and experiences. It’s important. It matters. The second being, that we need to be talking about the concept of race and even racism, for that matter, with our kids long before they enter their school years. It needs to be something that we do on an ongoing, everyday basis through our everyday interactions.
This week I began to introduce some of the very basics of race to Asher. We read stories and did activities which enabled us to begin to have these conversations that I intend to continue and build upon as he grows. I want him growing up in a space where it is not only safe to talk about it, but it is encouraged and it is normal.
As those of you who have followed along with our weekly learning themes know, we also do a library haul to kick off our week. Above are some of the texts we read together this week, although I will admit, I had an additional bin full as it was just too hard to choose only a few.
On Monday, we read the book “Every Little Thing” , and as we read I shared and pointed out to Asher all of the different colors of skin that I noticed. We talked about how some of the children’s skin were lighter colors and some were darker, and how each child’s skin was unique. After reading, I pulled out several of our Crayola Multicultural Markers and gave Asher one marker at a time to color a variety of child-shaped cutouts. After he finished coloring, we took the time to talk about how all of the colors were different and even worked to place a few of them next to some of the characters in the book that had similar skin tones as those we colored.
On Tuesday and Wednesday we continued our discussion of diversity by learning about our hair and eyes. We read the book “Puffy” to launch our discussion on hair. I specifically picked this book as it gave Asher a chance to see examples of hair uniquely different from his own. After reading, we talked about different types of hair that children may have ie. curly, straight, bald etc. We then worked to match our cards with different hair types to those we saw in a variety of our stories throughout the day.
In discussing eye color, Asher and I first read a story where similar to what we did with noticing skin colors the day before, I took the time to explicitly point out to him the array of eye colors I noticed that the children had. After doing this, I shared 4 images of children with different eye colors with him, and we talked about what color their eyes were. Then I assisted Asher in selecting the crayon that matched that color so he could color a pair of eyes to match them to that color. In the days following, we were able to come back to the activity and have him work to match the eyes he had colored with the printed images to continue to practice as well.
Later in the week, we read one of my absolute favorite texts to launch a discussion on this topic, ‘The Colors of Us“. In the book, the little girl, Lena, makes note of all of the different colors and shades of people in her neighborhood using an incredible array of adjectives. She then goes on to paint portraits of these individuals keeping these descriptions in mind. After reading the story, I had Asher help me to mix some of his paints to make a color similar to his own skin skin and hair. I drew a face shape on his paper prior to painting and helped guide him to paint inside of it to create his face shape. I gave him a blank piece of paper for painting his hair color and let him have at it. I then later cut out pieces from the page to glue the hair on his head. Finally, once all was dry, I helped guide him as he glued on his eyes and mouth, and he watched as I labeled his skin, hair and eye color, and we talked again about where he could locate these on his body.
To conclude our week, I wrote this song for us to sing (it could certainly be used as a poem as well) to continue to review all of the concepts we had learned. It is called “Thank You, God”, and is meant to serve as a reminder that God created us all to be the beautifully unique people that we are. In English it shares “Thank you God for my skin, ….for my hair… for my eyes…, and that we are all unique! I am hoping it’s one we can continue to come back to time and again in our home.
Looking for more information on talking about race and diversity with your child?
Here are some of my favorite resources:
Book Ideas for Kids:
How to Choose Outstanding Multicultural Books
We Read Too App
Books, Toys and Activities for Talking about Race
Why I Teach My 2-Year Old About Race
Children are Not Colorblind: How Young Children Learn Race
Tips for Talking to Children about Race and Racism
How White Parents Should Talk to their Kids About Race
I’d love for you to share some of your favorites as well in the comments or via email, so that I can add them to the list!