The D.C. Area Educators for Social Justice organized two events in January for early childhood educators on “Exploring Race, Representation and History in Children’s Literature.” This year, the focus was preparing for the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action. Teachers use a few of the Black Lives Matter Guiding Principles each day during the week of February 4-8 to create thoughtful, age appropriate curriculum.
“The goal of the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action is to spark an ongoing movement of critical reflection and honest conversations in school communities for people of all ages to engage with critical issues of social justice. It is our duty as educators and community members to civically engage students and build their empathy, collaboration, and agency so they are able to thrive. Students must learn to examine, address, and grapple with issues of racism and discrimination that persist in their lives and communities.”
Both sessions involved a gallery walk of questions followed by small group discussion based on the question of most interest.
- What messages/information promote positive racial identity for young children?
- When do you teach the historical context of race and racism to young children?
- How do you teach the historical context of race and racism in age appropriate ways?
- How do you promote positive views of Black families?
- What questions have you heard young children ask about racial identity or racism?
- 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?
- What do you do to foster positive racial identities in Black children?
- Using “They’re Not Too Young to Talk About Race,” share your thoughts and experience across the developmental timeline.
Then the participants chose a book to read over and discuss how it could be applied in the classroom while looking at the gallery walk prompts as a lens. At today’s gathering, though, the early educators also used the Black Lives Matter Guiding Principles (young children’s version) to develop curriculum around the books.
Today I presented the curriculum my co-teacher, LaJuan, and I planned during last year’s Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action for our three and four year old students. We read the book “Miss Tizzy” by Libba Moore Gray which is about an older Black woman who engages in fun activities with the children in the neighborhood. When Miss Tizzy gets sick, the children continue their tradition to help her feel better. Each day of the week my students participated in the same activities as the children in the book such as baking cookies, making puppets, creating art, and having a dress up tea party. We extended some of the activities, for example, the children shared the cookies with a parent’s office that works to support people experiencing homelessness and used their puppets to work on problem solving with each other. On the day designated for art, we read “One” by Kathryn Otoshi and the children drew scenes from the book. “Miss Tizzy” and “One” incorporated the guiding principles of empathy, loving engagement, diversity, collective value, intergenerational, Black villages, Black women and restorative justice. My students grasped these important concepts while participating in engaging activities.
Paula Young Shelton, author and first grade teacher, shared how she uses children’s
literature to study the Civil Rights Movement and collective action in her classroom. Shelton stated that she wrote “Child of the Civil Rights Movement” to “humanize Dr. King.” She empowers children by sharing Dr. King’s life from childhood, for example, by reading “My Brother Martin” by Christine King Ferris, that provides a context that young students can relate to. Shelton suggests having students complete a “human treasure hunt” where they make connections with Dr. King’s childhood experiences as well as with each other. Shelton also uses “The Story of Ruby Bridges” and “Rosa” to highlight and explore the work of young people and women.
I had the pleasure of sitting with Wendy Glasser who teaches at Concord Hill School. She has been reading “Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation” by Edwidge Dandicat with her third grade students. Glasser took the questions and comments made by her students on immigration and led a study on the history of immigration in the United States. Based on events in the book, her students learned the purpose of and participated in letter writing advocacy, took on roles as news reporter and guest to discuss immigration and separation, examined and explored the book’s illustrations and engaged families by sending the book home for the families to read as well.
There are many great works of children’s literature to include in the curriculum during the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action and throughout the year. How do you plan to participate?