By Jeannine Sloane, 3's teacher
See photos from this exploration in materials here.
One day in 3b we read a compelling and lovely book entitled, Mixed Me!, about a child from a mixed race family, by Taye Diggs, that inspired thoughtful conversation among children and teachers. We wanted to share some excerpts from our discussion following the story as they are examples of how we approach thinking about difference in our community, and how we can affirm and extend such thinking. While we may not always know what to say in the moment, as teachers whose goal it is for children to leave school feeling whole each day, we know that it is important to create a culture in the classroom that encourages children to verbally express their questions and discoveries about their world and their growing awareness of the world around them.
Story Time 3/22/17
Children are gathered on the rug after hearing the story read aloud.
Jeannine: Do children have any thoughts they would like to share about this book?
Child 1: The children scratching their heads said you don’t match. The mom has a ponytail and she (Mike) doesn’t and the dad has no hair.
Jeannine: You’re starting to notice that these folks have different characteristics and that messages from others like, "You don't match" may not feel so safe.
Child 2: There are styles in her hair.
Jeannine: (reads from current page) "It’s my hair don’t touch."
(Points to illustrations of hands holding various tools to change hair) Why might these people be trying to change her hair?
Child 3: Why were they trying to cut her hair?
Jeannine: It sounds like people had different ideas to change this child’s hair.
Child 3: But why did they want her to cut her hair?
Child 4: They were trying to cut her hair because they thought her hair was too long.
Jeannine: Another thing I read was that they wanted to make her hair straight instead of curly. Did that feel comfortable for this child?
Many children: No!
Jeannine: Let's try something kind of neat. You can stay in your spot and look around the circle at your friends and teachers. Do we all have the same hair?
Child 5: People have different hair because sometimes they get a haircut like Mommy. I notice that Alex and I have different hair. His is curlier.
Child 1: Can I see the Mommy’s hands again? They look different. She has white.
Jeannine: You’re noticing the color of the skin on their hands. Do you call this color white?
Child 1: I call it sparkly!
Jeannine: Now let’s look around again. What do you notice about our skin colors?
Child 6: (Holds his arm up next to Naomi’s) I notice it does match.
Some children move around and begin to compare their skin color to each other and to teachers. Exclamations of delight ensue, “I’m darker!”, “I’m lighter!”
Child 1: Me and Laetizia have a match!
Kay and Child 7: Look, we match!
Child 1: It’s close, maybe Beatrice is a little darker.
Child 7: Yeah.
Jeannine: This brings up a question for me. Do your parents or grownups have to have the same skin color as you?
Many children: No.
A few children:Yes.
Child 8: Some say yes, some say no.
Child 5: My daddy has spikes on his chin. But I don't have spikes on my chin.
Jeannine: That is something that's different from you. Can you still be family?
Child 5: Yes.
Child 2: My daddy has spikes like this too.
Kay: My mom is actually a lot darker than me and my dad is a lot lighter.
Jeannine: Similar for me. My mommy has a darker shade of brown skin and my daddy has very light peachish skin. I am a just-right-for-me mix of my grownups.
Child 7: My daddy has darker skin.
Jeannine: Friends, it sounds like you are noticing and are very interested in the colors of your skin. Would you like to use paint to mix our own skin colors? Then you can name the skin color you make whatever name feels just right for you?
Many children: Yes! (Cheering)
Child 7: Can we do it tomorrow?!
Jeannine: Yes, I suppose we can do it tomorrow.
Child 1: And hair colors too!
We began our work the next day, as promised, by determining how to mix the color brown using tempera paint. In small groups children added other colors to the brown base, achieving lighter, and darker tones, pinker or bluer, until a color emerged for each child that they felt was a match with their own skin color.
Throughout the room children began to notice materials they had used before in a new light - “Look our wooden people have different skin colors!” Soon they realized that the wooden people did not have a diverse enough array of skin colors to represent each child. One child suggested, “We can use our skin colors to paint the wooden people.” We strive for the careful balance between exploring their curiosities about the world around them and providing a context that is developmentally appropriate.
This work continues to live and be of meaning in our classroom and we will continue to give it time, space, and materials while it resonates for children, even when it means changing our plan for the day, or holding off on another current thread of inquiry. We are grateful to be teachers in a community in which we can nourish, explore, and empower children around the many stunning dimensions of their identity.