Exploring the Black Lives Matter Principles in an Early Childhood Classroom

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By Shayna Tivona

In designing my Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action curriculum for PS3 and PK4 at Thomson ES (DCPS), I knew I wanted to cover all 13 of the guiding principles of the Black Lives Matter Movement. I quickly realized that one week would not be enough time for my mixed-age preschool students, so I extended the curriculum for two weeks.

I utilized the “How to talk to young children about the Black Lives Matter Guiding Principles” handout and shared that resource with my students’ families as well. I decided to discuss the principles in the following order: Empathy, Diversity, Unapologetically Black, Black Families and Black Villages, Black Women and Intergenerational, Globalism and Collective Value, Queer and Trans Affirming, Loving Engagement and Restorative Justice.

During our morning meeting, we reviewed the principles we had already discussed and I introduced the new topic(s). We would then read and discuss a book that covered highlighted the topic. Sometimes that meant a picture walk, or reading only a few pages.

During our regular read aloud, we would either continue our book discussion or read another book highlighting that same topic. Whenever possible, I tried to make that second book connect to our class study on clothing. We read books featuring Black fashion designers, Black Queer or Trans children, Black people with alter-abilities, Black kids who love clothes and dressing up and being with their families, people of color coming together to strike and demand better working conditions.

On the first day, I read The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and connected it to the principle of Empathy. We have been talking about thinking about how others feel all year long, so students were able to point out moments in the story where characters did or did not use empathy, and brainstorm ways that they could show empathy in the classroom.

My students really connected with the premise of the book; that there are days when people won’t like you, when you won’t fit in, when you’ll feel lonely or sad. Many of my students speak English as a second language, and were able to relate to the character Rigoberto, who is made fun of because of his accent. One child said, “my mom speaks Italian, and I wouldn’t like if someone said something mean to her for how she talks. That’s not kind.”

On the second day, we discussed the principle of Diversity. We read All the Colors of the Earth by Sheila Hamanaka and Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children by Sandra. L and Myles Pinkney We then drew self-portraits using the Lakeshore people color crayons, trying to pick the just-right shade.

We discussed the colors and where they would find them in real life: “my skin is copper like a penny,” “mocha like coffee,” “my skin is light brown like toast from a toaster,” “my color is like sand by the sea.”

I used the book Black All Around by Patricia Hubbell and Don Tate as the central book of my day covering the principle of being Unapologetically Black. Before I started the read aloud, we discussed what it meant to be unapologetically anything. Several students made the connection to apologizing (“you have to say you’re sorry”).

We then brainstormed things we wouldn’t want to apologize for – things we couldn’t or wouldn’t want to change about ourselves. I defined this as things or personality traits of which we were proud. Student answers ranged from “I’m proud I like ice cream” to “I’m a good big sister” to “I’m proud of my hair.” We took time to analyze the cover of the book and generate ideas of what black things might be in the book. As we read, I encouraged student enthusiasm in engaging with the ideas and connecting positive words to the images: “what a beautiful black horse,” “I love those shiny black shoes, I bet they’re perfect for dancing,” “don’t you wish you had a gorgeous soft black cat like that one?”

After reading, we again talked about how important it was to be proud of who we are and how we look. During center time, we continued working on our self-portraits from the day before. Some students also chose to work in their journals later in the day, adding their own pictures to the story “Black All Around.”

Our afternoon read aloud was Mary Had a Little Glam by Tammi Sauer, a play on Mary Had a Little Lamb featuring a Black girl with a lot of confidence, who helped accessorize the other nursery rhyme characters at school. 

We continued over the next two weeks to cover all of the principles, but those first three of empathy, diversity, and being unapologetically Black were reinforced daily.   Some of the other great books that we utilized to teach the principles and/or connect them to our clothing study during the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action included:

Fri2019Allison Acosta