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Creating Environments that Reflect a Positive Image of Children of Color

Since 1976, February has been officially designated as Black History month where, as a nation, we dedicate attention to making visible and celebrating the achievements of African Americans. It’s unfortunate that it’s necessary to make this designation, but due to our country’s history of inequality, injustice, and systemic racism, we are not at a point where such recognition, celebration, and honor of Black history is integrated seamlessly into our educational system or society in general.

The following quote by Tamisha Williams was circulating on social media as February approached:

“It’s almost Black History Month. That means many teachers will be crafting lessons about Black pioneers. That’s great, but I challenge you to go beyond that. Take this month to do some self-reflection and critique your teaching practice through a critical race theory lens. Examine the commitments you made to racial injustice this summer. Ask yourself: “What are you doing to counter anti-Blackness in your school’s environment? How are you amplifying the voices of your Black students, parents, and colleagues? How are you going to keep teaching Black history (which IS U.S. History) throughout the year and not just the shortest month of the year? What are you doing DAILY to make sure Black and other students of color feel valued and affirmed in your spaces?”

Her statement of: “Examine the commitments you made to racial injustice this summer” reminds me how my response, in the face of all the protests last summer, was to elevate my knowledge around institutionalized, systemic racism against African Americans in our country. I continually read and listened to podcasts and began filling in the holes in my base of knowledge. She reminds me of the importance of making this an ongoing journey of learning, reflection, and taking action.

Her question of, “What are you doing DAILY to make sure Black and other students of color feel valued and affirmed in your spaces?” is a reminder to us as early educators to evaluate our environments and materials to make sure we are supporting the positive development of all children’s identities by providing “mirrors” for the children and families of color, which can also serve as “windows” to white children, importantly normalizing diversity. This can take many forms in a classroom. Here are just a few:

  • Literature – Guide to Choosing Anti-Bias Books and Diversifying Book Collections – 7 Pitfalls provide good guidelines in the quest to update one’s school library. In addition, here are some book suggestions: Baby’s first books: 11 African-American board books for babies 30 Picture Books Featuring Black Male Protagonists, and Black History Month Books for 3, 4 & 5 Year-Olds. Two books that I’ve recently discovered and recommend are Jabari Jumps, a story of a dad supporting his son in being brave in the face of fear, and Mae Among the Stars, which was inspired by the life of Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space. Both these books act as beautiful mirrors for black children in terms of positive character traits and at the same time, give white children the chance to positively identify with and realize how similar they are to, characters who are black.
  • Puzzles – As you review your puzzle collections, I’m guessing you’ll find most represent vehicles or animals or food, and when they do include people, diversity most often occurs in a token manner. One Black-owned company that was started for the purpose of positively representing Black children in puzzles is Puzzle Huddle. They offer simple floor puzzles for ages three and up. Another lovely feature is that many of their images also counter female gender stereotypes. Here’s a sweet video of Puzzle Huddle creator, Matthew Goins reading Mae Among the Stars to his two little girls.
  • Music – Children’s music performed by people of color receives less recognition and publicity in our society. Consider expanding your musical repertoire and Spotify playlists for your classroom. Here’s a place to start: 27 Musicians Making Music for Black Kids and 13 BIPOC Music Artists for Kids. For those unfamiliar with the term, BIPOC stands for black, Indigenous, and people of color.

Over the past two decades, for the first time, young Black children have seen themselves reflected back in the faces in the highest office of the land – as president and now, as vice president. The power of this reality on young Black children cannot be understated, and yet, there is still so much to do. We as early childhood educators must continually challenge ourselves to make sure our environments reflect a positive image of children of color so that they feel valued and affirmed in our spaces, EVERY day.

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