Young children live in a social world. And while many believe they do not have awareness of racial and ethnic differences, research is showing otherwise. Studies show that as early as 6 months, a baby’s brain can notice racial differences and by the age of 4, young children have learned to evaluate people based on race; thus affecting their choices with whom they play and befriend. They learn bias from an early age from their first teachers- their parents. The language we use to talk about racial and ethnic differences is a major influence in how children perceive those who are “different”. The classroom environment also influences how children perceive race and ethnic differences; and as educators, we must be vigilant in our observing and in our actions . Take a close look around the classroom environment? Do classroom books represent a diverse cross-section of cultures? Are puzzles, dolls, and classroom images multi-cultural? Are children segregating themselves within group activities? Are we providing meaningful cultural opportunities that allow children to develop cultural literacy?
It’s important that we model how we want children to respond to others who are different from them. We also must acknowledge that racial bias exists and examine our own biases. Educators and parents should actively teach students to be respectful and kind when discussing racial differences. Use positive language when young children point out differences or ask questions. Rebut or re-state comments calmly if the child states something that is negative or troubling. “Her skin is funny looking” is rebutted as “Her skin is a different color than yours, It’s not funny looking. People are different colors.”
Most early childhood classes explore an “All About Me” unit of study early in the school year. This is the perfect time to highlight how everyone is unique and special just as they are and that differences are good things, not bad. To that end, my friend Marc Faulder, an Apple Distinguished Educator, and I co-authored a book called A Rainbow of Friends. It is uploaded into the Apple Bookstore and can be downloaded here. It’s a short book with activities to help children explore cultural similarities and differences in a positive manner.
Here is the Table of Contents. There are creative opportunities in drawing, photography, and music using the iPad.
Now is the time to be a part of the movement…to make a positive impact in changing our young students’ perspectives toward racial equity.
One of the greatest misperceptions about our youngest learners and meaningful technology use, is they “are too young” to be able to do that. Since the beginning of this blog, I’ve had hundreds of visitors in my kindergarten classroom to see my “littles” in action creating and demonstrating learning with an iPad. I would present and share their work to a variety of educators, who would often respond, “My kids can’t do that”. My nearly 30 years as an early childhood educator have proven to me that isn’t the case. Our youngest learners are alive with imagination and creativity. I’ve watched them turn a stick found on the playground into a magic wand granting fairy wishes or into a rocket ship blasting off into space. I’ve watched them play football with absolutely nothing but a pretend ball and 4 boys who were sure they were the ones who caught it. I’ve seen paintings described by the young artist in minute detail that would stump the most astute Rorschach interpreter. Yes, my friends, our young children can create. But, how often are we allowing them to explore this creativity? When do our students stop “pretending” or “imagining”? When we prescribe worksheets or other standardized activities with rigid learning outcomes, we rob our students of the ability to create their own learning. When we get “busy” with teaching standards and ensuring compliance, we can stifle imaginations and communicate the not-so-subtle message of my way or the highway. This also creates a crippling effect in our students of needing affirmation every step of the way for fear of doing something wrong. (Is this right? Is THIS right? What do I do next?)
Recently, I was given the very great honor by Apple to provide appropriate learning activities for young learners in the areas of drawing, photography, video, and music. I worked with another good friend and Apple Distinguished Educator from Canada, Gillian Madeley, to create project ideas, as well as cross-curricular activities in these same areas. The project was recently published as Everyone Can Create Teacher Guide for Early Learners. You can download the book free here.
This guide is a companion to the Everyone Can Create series also found in the iBook Store for grades 4 and up. Here is a screen shot from the Early Learner’s Teacher Guide:
The guide provides easy to follow lessons for teachers of young children to engage them in the creative process. Each section builds to a culminating project. There are also ideas for cross-curricular ideas in each medium. You don’t have to be an art teacher, media teacher or music teacher to incorporate these ideas. You just have to be willing to try some new things and give your students an opportunity to explore their creativity,
Take a look and let me know what you think. I would love your feedback!