Current Events in Education

Race-Conscious Reading For Preschool

Guest Writer: Marisa Lark Wallin

Initiating conversations about race and culture in your regular reading can help young children resist being socialized into white supremacy. Black Lives Matter At School national week of action will happen this February 3-7, 2020. There are many things you can do to participate in the movement individually or with your school/place of work for that week—or all year long. You can visit the official site for more information about Black Lives Matter At School, as well as access resources from NEAED Justice here.

As a white preschool teacher and program director in a racially and culturally diverse Brooklyn preschool for many years, I encountered teachers, administrators, children and parents unpacking race and racism in myriad ways…or not dealing with it at all. Through years of experience and many workshops and educational discussions with my peers and experts in the field, I am grateful to share a very simple change every adult can make in their interactions with kids to begin to dismantle racism in our schools and homes. I do not claim to be an expert on this topic, and I am constantly striving to be more anti-racist every day—as I hope each of you reading this is.
I am grateful to share a very simple change every adult can make in their interactions with kids to begin to dismantle racism in our schools and homes. Click To Tweet
It can be incredibly intimidating to broach the looming, heavy topic of race with young children. However, as adults who care for young children, it is our responsibility to do this work—because kids will encounter it, wonder about it, and make their own connections, regardless. According to Sesame Workshop researcher Tanya Haider, “What’s risky is when kids are left alone to make sense of the differences they see, with little more than stereotypes, television, and guesswork to guide them.” And discrimination doesn’t just start appearing whenever the adults in kids’ lives are ready to talk about it. According to a University of Toronto study, racial bias might appear in babies as early as six-to-nine months old.
A recent survey by Sesame Workshop found that “A majority of parents rarely, if ever, discuss race/ethnicity, gender, class or other categories of social identity with their kids.” This can be very dangerous because as we all know, little ones take all their social cues from us. If they ask a question about race and we adults become uncomfortable, ignore it or brush it off without discussion, they will get the impression that there is something wrong with talking about race…and the difference in general.
Rest assured you can do this—and trust me—the kids you work with are more than ready to talk about it. And they need it! An easy entry to having conversations about race is through something you participate in every day already—reading picture books.
• First, go through all your picture books. If you notice most of the images in your books feature white children or adults, get thee to the library! An excellent resource for finding more representative children’s books is We Need Diverse Books. Remember, your books do not all have to directly address race. Representation is what is most important. It is imperative that children not only see people who look like them represented in their libraries, it is also important that they see people who look different from them as well!

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