Educators Explore Race and Representation in Early Childhood Literature

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On Saturday, May 19th at the beautiful Halcyon Arts Lab, forty D.C. area educators met to discuss how to address issues of race, representation, and history in developmentally appropriate ways.

The gathering began with educators building community through a storytelling activity. Educators then participated in a gallery walk where they were asked to respond to the following questions:

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  • What messages/information promote positive racial identity for young children?
  • What questions have you heard young children ask about racial identity or racism? (How have you responded?)
  • How do you talk about the need for anti-racist education with school staff and/or families who believe children should be taught not to see color or don’t believe this is a topic for children?
  • For ages 3-5
    • When do you teach the historical context of race and racism to young children? (Share your own experiences.)
    • How do you teach the historical context of race and racism in age-appropriate ways?
    • What historical topics (if any) are age appropriate?
  • For ages 6-8
    • When do you teach the historical context of race and racism to young children? (Share your own experiences.)
    • How do you teach the historical context of race and racism in age-appropriate ways?
    • What historical topics (if any) are age appropriate?

Following the gallery walk, educators engaged in small group discussions with one another on the one question which resonated with them the most. 

After hearing from Sheldon Scott, Teaching for Change board member and an artist in residence at Halcyon who hosted this event, educators were given DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time to explore the dozens of children's books on hand. Educators then broke out into grade-level groupings to discuss the books they read in light of the gallery walk questions. 

Feedback from the session indicated educators desire for more time to collaborate on and discuss with one another issues of race, representation, and history in children's literature. Here are some reflections on the most important things the educators gained from the session:

I was able to sit with fellow 1st grade teachers and discuss how race appears in our materials. I found that it would be a great opportunity to share how teachers are using their texts.

I learned there are peers of mine grappling with the same (and different) questions as me. Talking through it with like mind educators is so useful.

I appreciated being able to talk to professionals about how they utilize materials or how they reflect upon curricular ties to critical race and literature.

Teachers in various schools at various grade levels are grappling and eager to grapple with how to teach (traumatic) history. Teachers are at different places regarding which historical topics to teach 3 – 5 year olds.

It was great to network and talk shop with others who are looking to expand their practice and examine literature and how it connects to our practice and craft.

Every meeting/training like this gives me renewed spirit to address these issues with students and colleagues. 

School for Friends preschool teacher and D.C. Area Educators for Social Justice Advisor, Makai Kellogg, wrote a reflection about the session on her blog Makai's Early Childhood Equity Endeavors.

See more photos from the event below. Find recommended children’s books at Social Justice Books

Race and History in Early Childhood Classrooms
Allison Acosta