- A kindergarten teacher described the name activity with which the year begins each September. Each day one student is selected to share the story of his or her name, how the name was chosen, and what it means. The name activity is paired with a discussion of skin colors, including sorting through colored papers to find the exact shade of each child's skin.
What a positive and powerful way to start the year! These are just a few of the benefits I imagine as a result:
- Each child has the experience of being individually welcomed and celebrated.
- Everyone in the class learns how to pronounce each name correctly.
- A level playing field - a sense of "all of us"- is set up by having each name, each skin color, treated with equal curiosity. No one is singled out as being the different one.
- The children have been given permission and language to express their observations about difference, and the teachers have signaled that this exploration will be safe and welcoming.
- A father shared his strategies for expanding his five-year-old son's ideas of who plays which roles, by gender, race, or even species! Joining in his son's games with legos or action figures, he sometimes picks a non-traditional character to be the active one, the rescuer, the hero, the villain, etc. There's no need to impart lessons, but simply to have fun, imagining new possibilities together: "What would happen if ...?" "Wouldn't it be funny if ...?" This kind of play also provides opportunities to discover what ideas children are absorbing about difference.
- A parent who is Sikh talked of the importance of not just sharing diverse books with children, but connecting them with real live difference in the community. Look for stores, libraries, medical offices and playgrounds where children can interact - and observe adults interacting - in everyday ways with people of different races, different religions, different languages, and different cultures.
She described the impact of a presentation on the Sikh religion which she and her husband gave at the school. Previously, their child's classmates didn't make any overtures to these differently-dressed adults, but after the presentation, these middle school students greeted them warmly by name. (The students also visited houses of worship throughout the city where they were welcomed by practicing members of each faith.) This kind of genuine human connection can break down all kinds of barriers.