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Helping children understand stereotypes

  • 1.  Helping children understand stereotypes

    Posted 07-12-2019 09:51 AM
    I'm very aware that children are taking in bias and stereotypes from a very young age.  It seems important to help them understand stereotypes early- so that they can understand what they are facing.  I also know that children are pretty conditioned not to talk about race and other "sensitive" topics so I can't always wait for teachable moments.  It's hard to find the right moment though. Do you talk with young children about stereotypes? How and when do you bring them up?


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    [Meg] [Thomas]
    [Early childhood consultant
    [St Paul ] [MN]
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  • 2.  RE: Helping children understand stereotypes

    Posted 07-13-2019 12:14 AM
    Hi Meg, I have a whole music and story program that I do just for this purpose called "Different Is Not Dangerous."  I think that when we address bias and stereotypes from the direction of emphasizing that we do not need to be the same, that there is nothing wrong with being different, that variety is cool, that uniqueness is natural, that the world is full of difference etc etc we are subtly reinforcing that curiosity about difference is totally cool and okay.  And when we bring up the topics we are giving them the message that it IS okay to talk about what they are conditioned not to.  I find it opens the flood gates and all those teachable moments are just popping up everywhere.  So I do it through teaching easy preschool songs in different languages at circle time throughout the whole year.  The Southern Poverty Law Center has a whole program that is free to schools about teaching about bias, and there are now entire booklists of picture books for preschool about bias that are great as well, not heavy handed about it.

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    Joanie Calem
    Columbus OH
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  • 3.  RE: Helping children understand stereotypes

    Posted 07-13-2019 12:02 PM
    We can help children understand stereotypes by developing their neural pathways that reinforce and value differences, uniqueness, and curiosity.  I agree with Joanie's comments.  A very concrete way to do this with preschoolers is to have a "Question of the Day" such as "Are you wearing red today?"   This question is on a large sheet of paper with simple pictures to help children de-code the words and with a 'Yes" and "No" column.  As they come into the classroom in the morning, children sign-in with their name in whichever column is appropriate.  During group time, the teacher presents the chart, counts the numbers in each column, and talks about the results.  This is where the opportunities appear for rich discussion on differences, stereotypes, and uniqueness.   Is it okay to not wear red shoes?  Is it better to be wearing or not wearing red shoes?  What if you are the only one wearing all red shoes?  What if you're wearing sandels and not shoes?  What is you have on old shoes that are falling apart?  Everyday there is a different question (What color is your hair?  Did you walk to school today?  Did you drink milk this morning?  Do you have brown eyes?  Do you have a pet? etc, etc).    Everyday the teacher has a built-in opportunity to discuss differences, uniqueness, and stereotypes.

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    John Gunnarson
    Consultlant
    Woodacre CA
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  • 4.  RE: Helping children understand stereotypes

    Posted 07-13-2019 10:03 PM
    This popped up in my emails today.  It's really a great article about being proactive about teaching kindness.
    https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/53917/kindness-vs-cruelty-helping-kids-hear-the-better-angels-of-their-nature

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    Joanie Calem
    Columbus OH
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  • 5.  RE: Helping children understand stereotypes

    Posted 07-14-2019 12:46 PM
    Hi everyone,
    Thanks so much for all the replies.  You all have so many great concrete strategies.  I just finished my second year back in the classroom after more than 20 years of teaching adults , training and curriculum writing.  It's interesting to see how hard it is to translate what you've been teaching back into practice.
    I agree that it's really important to have frequent, relaxed discussions about differences.  A favorite activity of the class I had last year was for me to describe each child while the rest of the class guessed who I was talking about.  I talked about skin color, hair, height, families, favorite activities, first letter of the child's name, languages spoken at home and more.  It was great to see children make connections about who else had two houses (divorce) or spoke two languages.  We also had quite a few spontaneous conversations about gender stereotypes, usually connected to boys with long hair or a boy wearing a skirt.  I introduced the word stereotype at that point.  We read Amazing Grace, Jacob's New Dress and Red, A Crayon story.  We talked about how you can't always know about who a person is, just by looking at them.
    It wasn't till the end of the year when a friend of mine came to visit that I got a glimpse of how small my efforts were in comparison to the power of some of the stereotypes the children were exposed to.  A friend of mine who is a black man came by my classroom to visit.  He was warmly greeting the 6 children I had with me at that moment, when I realized that there were only 5 children in the group clustered around him.  The 6 child had fled to a distance and was clearly contemplating a full out run.  On the way into the building I talked with him.  He was clearly frightened and told me that my friend was brown and wouldn't like him (the child) because he wasn't brown.  When we got inside I started our activity, reassuring the frightened child that this was a good friend of mine- who liked me and would like this child as well.  The child huddled under a pile of coats for several minutes, then finally came out and took the chair furthest from my friend.  This is a child who typically greets strangers at the door with questions and long stories about whatever he is interested in at the moment.  After my friend left the child told me again that he thought my friend wouldn't like him because he isn't brown. He repeated this idea in more detail to his parents at home.    In the two days remaining of the school year I read more books about black and white children being friends, and we talked more- but the whole incident reminded me of how important it is to lay the foundation to help children understand the powerful stereotypes they are exposed to every day.
    I'm so pleased about the ideas emerging from this group.  It's great to have more and more ideas in my tool kit.  I'd love to hear more- both ideas for talking comfortably about differences and for directly talking about stereotypes and helping kids understand that sometimes grown ups think they can know all about someone just by looking at them and  act like things are true (like black men being scary) that aren't actually true.
    This group is such a wonderful resource.

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    [Meg] [Thomas]
    [Early childhood consultant
    [St Paul ] [MN]
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  • 6.  RE: Helping children understand stereotypes

    Posted 07-13-2019 01:55 AM
    I agree that the discussion around stereotypes should be ongoing throughout the school year.  Using strategies and lessons proposed by Louise Derman-Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards provide teachers with practical ways for incorporating these difficult lessons and discussions into their daily routines.  I recently co-facilitated an assembly for middle school students around the topic of bias specifically related to race.  The N-word had been used to describe an African-American student where African-Americans make up only 5 percent of the student population.  We used information from Derman-Sparks and Edwards along with useful strategies from Teaching Tolerance.  Both of these resources provided us with guidance on how to engage fourth, fifth, and sixth graders around a topic that is difficult for most adults to discuss.  It is crucial that early childhood teachers provide children with ongoing opportunities to explore race and other kinds of difference.  Perhaps, when they get to middle school, they will understand the connection between bias and stereotypes.  These conversations need to start happening more frequently in majority white early childhood centers and schools.

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    KEVIN MCGOWAN
    Assistant Professor
    Bridgewater State University
    Boston MA
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  • 7.  RE: Helping children understand stereotypes

    Posted 07-14-2019 08:29 AM
    Hi Meg,
    I agree with others that helping children understand stereotypes is an ongoing process woven throughout each day. One way to do that is to engage routinely in media literacy inquiry. It allows you and the children to address the stereotypes they are likely picking up from media while not demonizing the media that is central to their cultural (and perhaps family) lives.
         One way to get started is guide children in careful observation and analysis (i.e., asking questions about) something familiar, like toy or food packages that are already in your room or their homes. What colors are featured and why? Do some girls like to play with pink toys? Do all girls like to play with pink toys? Do some boys like to play with pink toys?, etc.... Or use cameras or stories to show children how to look at something from someone else's point of view. They can even think more deeply about the books or stories they already know. For example, guide them in an analysis of the Three Little Pigs. Explain how the nests or homes or dens where people and animals live are made to match their habitats and Invite them to use clues in the story about where the author probably lived. (The answer is likely someplace cold and probably in a city, because brick houses aren't actually best suited for every environment and people all over the world who aren't lazy live in homes made of materials like straw. That means the book conveys stereotypes about those people.).
         In terms of reading, I've drawn inspiration from NAEYC's essential Anti-Bias Curriculum, Vivian Vasquez's work (e.g., Critical Literacies in Early Childhood), and Vivian Gussin Paley's You Can't Say You Can't Play.
         And if you can find old episodes of "The Puzzle Place," those are great, too. I know that some have been posted to YouTube. Lots of other PBS Kids shows address specific aspects of stereotyping. You might also want to search their website for shows and topics that meet your needs.


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    Faith Rogow
    Media Literacy Education Maven
    Insighters Education
    Ithaca NY
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  • 8.  RE: Helping children understand stereotypes

    Posted 07-14-2019 03:20 PM
    This is a great thread! @Faith Rogow, thanks for the resource recommendations-- I had never heard of The Puzzle Place or Vivian Vasquez's work, will look up both. That's also a really important critique of the Three Little Pigs that I had never thought of before, thanks for sharing. @John Gunnarson and @Meg Thomas-- I like both of these concrete strategies you mentioned, the "Question ​​of the Day" and the "Who am I thinking of?" game. As I think about trying them in my classroom with 3-5 year olds, I have a question pertaining to both of these-- when you're talking about specific children in your classroom, how do you negotiate bringing up their differences without putting kids on the spot, outing or embarrassing them, when the information you're drawing attention to positions them in the minority within the classroom? For example, Meg, as you are describing a child, have any of them reacted like "this is private information that I don't want you to be sharing about me"? We play a similar game, "bug under the rug," where children describe clues about the "bug" while a guesser is out of the room, and then they hide under a blanket and the guesser gets clues about who it is. We usually stick to superficial things like what they're wearing, and, hair, skin, and eye color, but I like the idea of bringing in more home culture information. John, does your "Question of the Day" game also cover social identities, or do you stick with less loaded territory like the examples you mentioned?

    A few things I think about often-- following the "80/20" rule of thumb, where my teacher-initiated conversations, discussions, storytimes, songs, etc that address bias & stereotyping have roughly 80% positive/uplifting content, and only 20% digging into the negative. (I learned the 80/20 rule from Olivia Higgins at queerlyelementary.com but I think it's an older concept.) The reason is that too much focus on teasing, bullying, excluding, shame, etc, unintentionally reinforces those reactions with whatever the subject matter is--race, gender, ability, etc. This is why I wouldn't read a book like Jacob's New Dress, which focuses on the teasing and conflict that results when Jacob wears a dress to school (the authors originally wanted to write the book without any teasing, but their publishers wouldn't let them). Instead I use books like I'm Jay Let's Play and Unico Como Yo/One of A Kind Like Me to celebrate boys wearing dresses.

    I also think often about a quote from Julie Olsen Edwards, one of the co-authors of Anti-bias Education-- she said something along the lines of, "If a day goes by and I haven't reinforced the key message, 'we all share things in common, and we all have differences, and aren't these differences wonderful?' then I have failed in my teaching that day." By which measure I am failing quite often... but which I aspire to.

    Some strategies that have worked well in my classroom include many of the ones others have mentioned, including pointing out stereotypes when we come across them, asking questions and starting conversations about them. I've also had a lot of positive response from the kids to persona dolls. Storytelling is a big part of my program's curriculum, and staff have a lot of conversations about interrogating our story choices and introducing a diversity of characters. Another thing the kids enjoyed last year, we we sang a modified version of the sesame street song "We all Sing With the Same Voice" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYXJlfcfFKU) which has a picture book version too (changed it to "We All Sing With Our OWN Voice" and added lots of categories-- skin color, what we like to wear, gender, languages we speak), and then over the course of a few months we re-wrote the song about our own classroom community, and then made it into a book.


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    Encian Pastel
    Richmond CA
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  • 9.  RE: Helping children understand stereotypes

    Posted 07-14-2019 05:00 PM
    Hi Encian,
    Thanks for all your questions and thoughts.  To answer your question about the guessing game, children always seemed pleased when I shared details about their lives.  As a general rule, I only shared things that children had shared with me in front of other children or were apparent on first knowing them.  In terms of talking about something that might single someone out- that's been a tough one to learn to navigate.  The guess who game has been helpful that way, as the game seems to help all the children notice that  every child in my group has physical,and family characteristics , skills and likes and dislikes that set them apart- that's part of the fun of the game.  So if only one or a few children have darker brown skin- I have to find ways to talk about many children's skin and to also notice attributes that that child shares with many children. So N has brown skin and curly brown hair- immediately followed by noticing several other children with curly hair and noting another child's light brown skin with a little pink.   I watch children's body language pretty carefully to see if any child seems to feel set apart by the game.   Other things- like particular special needs- I don't bring up that way, because the child doesn't usually talk directly with me about them, but make sure to talk about matter of factly when they do come up - "Yes, sometimes it's hard to understand what E is saying.  Some of us have an easy time talking clearly, some of us have to work hard at it.  But E knows a lot about ____, or E is a really good friend, so it's worth listening a little harder to know what she's saying"   I've found in the last two years that if I don't do those matter of fact explanations, children with obvious special needs are often marginalized in my group.
    Thanks for that 80/20 rule.  I really like that.  And thanks for that thought about Jacob's New Dress.  That helps explain why I feel so much more comfortable reading it with adults - where it starts great discussions, than with children.
    warmly,
    Meg

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    [Meg] [Thomas]
    [Early childhood consultant
    [St Paul ] [MN]
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  • 10.  RE: Helping children understand stereotypes

    Posted 07-14-2019 06:09 PM
    I realized that Lynn had messaged me separately about some of the resources I was mentioning, but that others might find them useful as well....so here is what I wrote her:
    Here is the link for Teaching Tolerance, the education branch of the Southern Poverty Law Center: https://www.tolerance.org/
    Here is their course about teaching young kids about bias: https://www.tolerance.org/classroom-resources/film-kits/starting-small
    Here is their whole classroom resource page: https://www.tolerance.org/classroom-resources...there is tons here, and some of it used to be free to classrooms, but I'm not sure if it still is.
    My workshop Different Is Not Dangerous is not online yet, but I'm in OH, so right next to PA, and if you think there is interest at your school I could certainly come do the workshop.  I've attached my flyer....
    And Colours of Us is my favorite: https://coloursofus.com/the-50-best-multicultural-picture-books-of-2018/

    Meg I love how you deal with the issue of kids with special needs.  This to me is just as important as stereotypes and racial bias, because special needs are often harder to pin down as something that the person has rather than how the person is.  I do a lot of work with teacher training on Sensory Processing Disorder, and as important as teacher training is, building an inclusive classroom culture is just as important.


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    Joanie Calem
    Columbus OH
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