KIRSTEN COLE, DIANDRA VERWAYNE
Vol. 73, No. 2
At the beginning of the year in Ms. Verwayne’s kindergarten class, the children are working on an All About Me project. They begin by drawing pictures of themselves based on observations of their reflections in a mirror. Next, the teacher provides them with sentence starters asking them to describe their hair color and texture, their skin color, and their eye color. In this racially and ethnically diverse class, the children learn a variety of vocabulary words they can use to describe these differences.
On the playground after school, some of the parents chat about the project. One White mom, Ellie, tells the other parents that the project made her feel a little uncomfortable. She explains, “Since this is the beginning of the year, shouldn’t the kids be doing things that help them see what they have in common, rather than emphasizing their differences?”
Many parents and teachers of young children share Ellie’s concern that children should be shielded from learning explicitly about race and racial differences. Adults often worry that introducing these topics too early could be harmful (Husband 2010). Early childhood educators who wish to make space for learning about race and racism in their classrooms may feel unprepared to approach these complex issues (Vittrup 2016). Shaped by their own experiences with issues of race and racism, parents and teachers may hold differing views regarding the appropriateness of teaching about this topic in the early childhood classroom.
Research demonstrates that children’s awareness of racial differences and the impact of racism begins quite early (Tatum 2003; Winkler 2009). Multiple studies document the ways that young children take notice of racial differences and note that as early as preschool, children may begin excluding their peers of different races from play and other activities (Winkler 2009). Many argue that creating safe spaces for children to explore these topics is more important than ever, given the current political and cultural climate, where these issues are highly visible (Pitts 2016; Harvey 2017; Poon 2017). As such, parents and teachers have an obligation to teach and learn with children about these critical and complex issues (Delpit 2012; Derman-Sparks, LeeKeenan, & Nimmo 2015; Ramsey 2015). This article documents how one kindergarten teacher, Diandra Verwayne (the second author), worked with the parents in her classroom to grow together in their understandings of the role we all must play in talking with young children about race and racism. Additionally, this piece offers curricular and pedagogical resources for adults who are committed to engaging with young children in this crucial work.