Children are naturally curious about their environment. They experience the environment through interacting with it, such as playing in the snow, walking in the rain, kicking away fall leaves, and swimming in a lake. It is from this innate curiosity, that the conversation about race should start. The conversation must be an interactive dialogue.
#1 Observe The Natural Environment.
This does not have to be a science experiment. When walking or driving helps children to see the differences trees, colors of flowers, and sizes and physical characteristics of birds. Show that they are different from each other. Explain that this is the way the world is created: with a lot of different people, animals, trees, and plants. We all share the same earth. Be aware of your language. To say that “I’m different than you” may be perceived that the race of a child is the norm. A better statement is “We are different.” It’s also important to identify what is similar. Even though trees have different names, they are all trees. Even though races may have different skin colors, hair textures, shapes of noses and mouths, we are all human beings.
#2 Ask Your Child What They Know About Race.
As early as three years old, children know the difference and associate either negative or positive perceptions about race. Sit down with your child and simply say, “Tell me what you know about the race.” For early age children, show pictures of diverse people, point to one, and ask, “What do you think about this person?” “What do you know about this person?” You may be surprised that children have already formed perceptions about other races.
#3 Be Clear About Your Family’s Racial Identity.
Discuss and celebrate your family’s racial identity. It’s important for children to know their identity. In fact, this identity is a building stone for appreciating other races. Example: We belong to a group of people that are descendants from Africa. We are African Americans. Tell stories about your family. Show pictures of relatives. Use a map to locate the country where you are from.
#4 Discover and Appreciate the Racial Identity of Other People.
Select books and documentaries that tell of other people: Latino, Chinese, Japanese, Caucasians, and Native Americans. These books are easily accessible at libraries, bookstores, and online. Use of videos, such as 500 Nations (Native Americans), Brother Eagle and Sister Sky.
#5 Be Diligent In Pointing Out Mistreatment.
Children often see but may not understand. I saw a black and white photo of an African American being lynched. Young, white children were in the mob watching. What were they told? How did their parents justify this atrocity?
Although this conversation may be very sensitive, children need to learn that there is mistreatment based on the color of one’s skin. Helping them to be aware that how they are created is good … is beautiful. But at the same time, teaching them about how laws, politics, and stereotypes have harmed people is necessary.
Adults are the catalyst for honest discussion. We must also see through the eyes of other people.
Dr. Shelley McIntosh, is a passionate and committed educator for over 35 years. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies and Elementary Education, a Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction/Elementary Education, and a Doctoral Degree in Curriculum and Instruction/Teacher Education from the University of Houston. She is certified as a teacher in both Texas and Michigan. In addition, she is a Michigan certified school administrator. She holds certifications as a State of Michigan (Statewide System of Support) English Language Arts Coach and as a Direct Instruction trainer.
Dr. Shelley served in the capacities of teacher and National Youth Director in a faith-based organization for over 25 years. She served in higher education for eight years, and as an assistant professor in the Department of Urban Education at the University of Houston Downtown. She continued her educational career becoming an elementary school principal for Marvin L. Winans Academy of Performing Arts in Detroit. She has developed professional development sessions, presented forums addressing literacy issues and urban school administration. She has also provided reading intervention for schools. She is an author of several books: (1) Genesis II, the Re-Creation of Black People; (2) Mtoto House-Vision to Victory: Raising African American Children Communally; (3) A Principal’s Tale: Life in 31 Days, and (4) A Principal’s Tale: A Self-Determined Leader, and (5) Memoir of a Black Christian Nationalist: Seeds of Liberation, as well as educational articles.
Dr. Shelley is the Chief Executive Officer of Child Focused Consulting Company, LLC whose vision is a society in which all are afforded their civil right-to be highly proficient in reading. The mission is to aggressively improve the reading skills for children and adults to make them highly literate and capable of meeting academic and life demands. She resides in the State of Michigan.
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