Category: Diversity and Inclusion

June 13, 2022 by Dana Stewart 0 Comments

Celebrate Freedom While Introducing Your Child to Challenging Ideas This Juneteenth

With Junteenth (a.k.a. Freedom Day) approaching, parents, teachers, and caregivers have the opportunity to celebrate freedom while opening children’s eyes to some of the toughest topics in American history and society.

Juneteenth raises topics — including race, racism, slavery, segregation, and discrimination — that are hard to discuss for adults AND with  children. But these are topics worth discussing. As a mom, teacher, and school leader, I can assure you that the more you have these conversations, the easier they become. 

At two-years-old, my own daughter is still too young to understand many of the big themes Juneteenth raises like racial differences, bias, and U.S. history. She has not yet begun to develop Theory of Mind — the understanding that every individual has their own thoughts, ideas, feelings, beliefs, etc. Without this, she isn’t ready to grasp the idea that someone can believe something that is objectively false (e.g., that people with browner skin are inferior to people with whiter skin). For now, my focus is on helping her get to know many different kinds of people and teaching her words to describe and talk about people through books, music, and interactions with friends and neighbors. This way, when she IS ready to start thinking about big ideas like slavery and bigotry, she will have the words she needs to talk about these (and other) challenging topics, and she’ll know that I am open to the discussion.

When can you talk about racism with your child?

You know your child best. Typically, around age 4 or 5, children start to understand that someone can hold false beliefs about objects, people, or situations. Around this age, children also become very interested in “rules” and “fairness.” They will start to be able to play rule-based games, be very motivated to make sure everyone is following the rules, and talk about things that they perceive as “fair” or “unfair” (“Hey! They got more cookies than me!”) These are good indicators that your child is ready to start thinking about concepts like bias, discrimination, and racism. 

Do I really need to start talking to my child about racism this early?

By the age of 4, your child has likely taken note of some of the many ways that racism, discrimination, and bias influence our lives. In a yearlong study, researchers found that children as young as three, “used racial categories to identify themselves and others, to include or exclude children from activities, and to negotiate power in their own social/play networks,” (Van Ausdale & Feagin, 2001). Talking about inclusion and exclusion, bias and racism will help your child start to understand the societal patterns that they see and help them recognize and call-out racism when they see it. Talking about bias and racism openly is a first step toward raising children who are not biased or racist and will help move society forward.

How do I even begin this conversation?

Before starting a conversation, it is great to find out what your child knows or thinks they know about race and/or racism. Picture books and other media can help parents to create the opportunity to bring up skin color or race. You can also look for relevant moments in your child’s real life, like a child being excluded on the playground or noticing the skin tones of dolls at the toy store. Try saying, “I noticed that most of the dolls at the store have light skin and blonde hair. What do you think about that?” Listen to their ideas without judgment and ask further questions that invite them to say more.

Your child might also raise the topic on their own. The way that you react matters. If your reaction to your child’s questions about race or skin tone sends the message that the topic is taboo, harmful, or shameful, they are less likely to ask again. Instead, think about affirming your child’s observations: “Yes! You noticed that the woman’s skin is different from yours. That’s true. People come in lots of colors. Isn’t that cool?”

Answer any further questions honestly, but resist the temptation to turn it into a lecture. And remember, it’s always OK to say, “You know what, I want to talk about this with you, but let’s finish talking later,” if you need time to gather your own thoughts. Just be sure to circle back when you’re ready.

What are some books that can help parents who want to start the conversation?

Thankfully, there are now many fictional children’s books that feature characters of color, talk about ethnic diversity, and deal with topics around inclusion and kindness. I encourage you to add some (or many!) of these titles to your library to help your child “get to know” people who are different from them and help them think about these big ideas. In addition, there are also several non-fiction books to help young children start to think about race, racism, and skin color, and learn about related American history as well. Here are some of my favorites for 4 and 5 year olds specifically.

  • Our Skin: A First Conversation About Race by Megan Madison, Jessica Ralli, and Isabel Roxas
  • These Colors are Bananas by Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin
  • A Kids Book About Racism by Jelani Memory
  • Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport and Bryan Collier
  • Children of the Civil Rights Movement by Paula Young Shelton and Raul Colón
  • We March by Shane Evans

May 20, 2022 by Winnie Cheung 0 Comments

Parenting With a Big Heart: Using Stories to Deepen and Broaden Children’s Perspectives

In a bustling elementary school hallway in Queens, NY, a fellow six-year-old asked me: “Are you Chinese?” 

“No. I’m ABC!” I replied. I was proud to be ABC, American-born Chinese. The term “ABC” is one I’ve heard other kids use and it was an important part of my identity. Growing up in a diverse neighborhood, there were a lot of Asian people in my life — Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Korean, Pakistani, Taiwanese, Toisanese, mixed-race Asian; the list goes on. I loved the term ABC because it encapsulated who I felt I was, both American and Chinese. To be honest, I didn’t want to be only Chinese, despite being surrounded by other Asian Americans like myself. 

The benefits of being considered American were clear to me. I learned about heroes in American history in school. I saw movies and TV shows with American people being class clowns, princesses, and superheroes. America was the country that provided opportunities for my grandmother and parents and they reminded me often how lucky I was to be American. We were living the American dream and culture. And yet, I didn’t see myself or the people that looked like me in American history or in the TV or movies I watched. 

Do Asian American Children See Themselves in Children's Media?

I’m now a proud mother of two young kids and am so excited to see the increase of representation in Asian American stories since I was a child. However, there is still work to be done. 

Affirming how I felt about representation, in Nickelodeon’s Shades of Us study, conducted from 2019 – 2021, focusing on understanding race, identity, and the American family, about half of Asian kids shared that it is important to be represented in media. But many (40%) disagree with how they’re portrayed in movies and TV shows currently. The research also found that across top performing shows in kids TV shows, Asian American characters are not frequently supporting characters and even less likely lead characters. This has an impact on Asian American kids. When asked who they would cast in a role of an Asian American character, they chose “nerd” or “sidekick” for themselves, casting white characters as a lead — showcasing an internalization of the stereotypes they see. 

There is an opportunity to tell more stories showcasing Asian American characters as complex and full of nuance, so all children can see those opportunities for themselves, outside of stereotypes. 

Michelle Sugihara, executive director of CAPE, writes in a recent Geena Davis Study: “For the past 30 years, we have fought for Asian and Pacific Islander (API) representation in film and television, because what we watch on our screens should reflect the world in which we live and project a better one.”

In another recent study, Nickelodeon gave kids free range to share stories about themselves, with a prompt to take their “culture” (whichever it may be) into consideration, and they shared beautiful stories centering themselves, sometimes doing mundane things (a Native Hawaiian preschooler wanted to create a show about garbage trucks) to intimate cultural moments (an Indian-Pakistani Muslim 12-year-old wanted an epic tale about celebrating an Islamic wedding and wearing salwar kameez). 

I want my children — and other American children — to read, watch, and experience these stories and more like them. 

We Need to Share Both Vertical AND Horizontal Stories

As I think about ways to honor AANHPI (Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander) Heritage Month, I am using stories to deepen and broaden my children’s perspectives. There are two main types of stories — and I am using both with my children this month: 

  1. Stories that provide an in-depth look into cultural experiences (these are called “vertical stories”) 
  2. Stories that incorporate characters into stories of daily life without overt cues or a sole focus on their ethnicity/cultural background (these are called “horizontal stories”) 

I love both types (and when they overlap) because, as a parent, I can show them to my children to give them a broad spectrum of Asian American stories. Learning stories about specific Asian American heroes and parts of Asian American cultures helps my children (and all children) gain context and imagine what they could accomplish. And seeing Asian Americans doing everyday things — going to school, playing in the park, etc. — normalizes the Asian American experiences to help Asian-American kids develop a sense of identity and belonging. For non-Asian kids, these stories illustrate a shared experience to build empathy.

How Can We Use Both Types of Stories With Young Children

Here are a few ways vertical and horizontal stories help:

  • Instilling pride: One of the things that connects Asian American culture and many other cultures is food. I love the series of books by Little Picnic Press that celebrate food, language, and cultural diversity. 
  • TV shows/movies with characters that normalize seeing Asian Americans as lead: A favorite show of my 4-year-old is Blue’s Clues and You with Josh Delacruz, a Filipino-American actor, dancer, musician, and singer. He loves finding clues as much as counting bananas to help Blue make Josh’s lola bibingka. Another example of “horizontal” stories is the book Let’s Do Everything and Nothing by Julie Kuo. This story conveys everyday experiences of a mom and daughter with beautifully illustrated scenarios, from climbing a snow-peaked mountain to lying in bed. The cultural nuances of zhuyin books and a rice cooker are in the background and subtle, but present enough for someone who has a similar lived experience to “feel seen.”
  • Stories that feature cross-cultural experiences: I’m always looking for stories that include mixed race/multicultural kids because that is what my family looks like today. My kids have so many mixed race/multicultural kids that are in their lives, either with friends, family, or in their school. I Love Us! is one I appreciate because it showcases all different types of families, getting ready for school, feeling sick, catching a train, and getting tucked into bed. I also seek out books, TV shows, and movies that are outside of Chinese American culture, so my children can get a glimpse of all of the amazing diversity that exists in our world. A great example of this is Noggin’s Celebrate Our Differences video featuring diverse kids.
  • Stories about trailblazing Asian Americans in American history: Analiza Wolf’s Asian Americans who Inspired Us is the “vertical story” I needed as a child to know that Asian American history is American history. It is just as important to learn about Neil Armstrong as it is to know Ellison Onizuka, the first Japanese Hawaiian to go into space and bring with him Kona coffee beans. Now, every time my son sees a spaceship he says “It’s Ellison!” 

As we continue to expose our kids to celebrate and honor Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders in our history and our lives, we can also use media as jumping points to start conversations. 

I like to tell my kids they are completely Chinese and completely American. And maybe as they get older, they will  decide to identify as American-born Chinese like me.

February 4, 2022 by Dana Stewart 0 Comments

We Need to Talk About Race With Our Kids. Here’s How You Can Start. 

As a long-time educator and new mom of color, the subject of race in early childhood education is one that I’ve wrestled with for years. I’ve been asked by many students in my (predominantly white) preschool about my skin color, my dreadlocked hair, or the shape of my lips. These questions used to make me incredibly uncomfortable. 

It’s time for me — and for all of us — to move past the discomfort. Why? We need to talk about race with our children. 

Racial disparities are baked into all aspects of our society and our children’s amazing little brains are hardwired to look for — and make sense of — patterns in the world around them. Even if parents don’t consciously or unconsciously express race-based bias, children are like little computers, collecting data, adding it up, and drawing their own conclusions about what they see. 

Our Kids Are Spotting Patterns, Crunching Data, and Drawing Conclusions

Children are noticing, for the first time, trends that their grown-ups often take for granted, like the fact that people of color tend to work in certain jobs and live in certain areas. Children notice that the main characters in the books available to them are more likely to be animals (27% of books published in 2018) or white humans (50%) than people of color (source). They also notice the language we commonly use that tends to associate positive things with whiteness and negative things with blackness. Research tells us that children do make the connection between these ideas and the people around them (Katz, 2003; Tatum,1997).

We know that children are busy gathering this data and using it to help them understand the world. So, it is not surprising that children as young as 3 years old can express race-based bias. 

A recent study that aimed to revisit the historic Doll Test from the 1940s found that preschool children, regardless of race, still exhibit “a great deal of bias” in how they play with racially diverse dolls. 

“Numerous studies show that three- to five-year-olds not only categorize people by race, but express bias based on race (Aboud, 2008; Hirschfeld, 2008; Katz, 2003; Patterson & Bigler, 2006). In a yearlong study, Van Ausdale & Feagin (2001) found that three- to five-year-olds in a racially and ethnically diverse day care center used racial categories to identify themselves and others, to include or exclude children from activities, and to negotiate power in their own social/play networks,” Dr. Erin Winkler, an Associate Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, wrote.

In other words, children can develop race-based bias by living in a racially biased society. 

So yes, we have to talk about race. If we don’t, we allow assumptions and biases to persist.

When we assume that young children are “colorblind” or that they are too young to talk about such an important topic, we leave children to draw their own conclusions to explain the patterns that they see in the world. Silencing the conversation doesn’t make the questions go away. 

By talking openly about race, you will let your child know that they can come to YOU with questions, and then you have an opportunity to change the narrative. 

Where to Begin?

We all know it might not be easy to begin this conversation with the kids in your life, no matter your race and regardless of whether you’re a parent or an educator. So where can you start? Here are four ideas:

  1. Prepare yourself. When you talk about skin with your child, use simple language. Think ahead about words you could use to describe skin tone: dark brown, medium brown, sandy brown, tan, peach, peachy pink are all good descriptors of skin color. 
  2. Books are a great way to start the conversation. Select books that your child will enjoy that also feature diverse characters. As you’re reading, comment on how your child is the same as and different from the characters in the book. Bonus points if you select a book that features a main character of color who overcomes adversity!
  3. Create opportunities for your child to interact with children of different races and ethnicities. Try to visit playgrounds in new neighborhoods or visit restaurants to taste new foods. Interactions with people who are different from him or her will help them learn to see the humanity in everyone. We all are different AND the same.
  4. If your child asks you why a person’s skin is a particular shade, you can take the opportunity to talk about melanin — everyone has it and the more you have, the darker your skin is. Melanin helps to protect skin from the sun.
Talking About Race Can Become as Easy as Talking About Other Differences that Make People Unique

As an educator, implementing these strategies helped me feel more confident in addressing children’s questions in an age-appropriate way and enabled me to respond to their inquiries with questions of my own that pushed their thinking and understanding. In fact, their curiosity often led to an emergent curriculum on the subject. I found that the more we talked about race, the easier it became. 

Talking about the hair texture, skin tone, and facial features of different people can be as normal and as easy as talking about differences in gender, height, occupation, skills, and anything else that makes people unique. 

Tackling this tricky conversation is one way to help move society in a new direction. 

If you’re still nervous, don’t worry! Your child will not mind if you fumble a bit with your words. The important thing is to open the door to conversation. You might even learn some new things, together.

July 4, 2021 by Becki Last 0 Comments

Friendship Starts with Kindness: 5 Books For Your Home or Classroom Library

Friends

Do you remember how you met your childhood best friend? Not where or when you met them, but how you met them?

Did you bond over a favorite crayon or say “hi” at the swings? Maybe they invited you to their lunch table in the cafeteria? As with any relationship, friendships start with kindness.

Where do children learn these important life lessons?

Children mimic what they see IRL, but books are also a great resource to help model important qualities of friendship like kindness, compassion, generosity, and self-esteem.

First Book’s mission focuses on educator support to provide equal access to education; however, many of our resources also support families. Our guides and resources support a variety of topics, including friendship and emotional development. These books would be a great addition to a classroom or home library.

First Book's Friendship Book Picks

To celebrate July’s Big Heart World Friendship theme, our title selection team has hand-picked five picture books that are ideal for children in pre-kindergarten through second grade.

Eligible educators, supporting Title I schools and organizations, can shop this collection on our Marketplace for brand-new books at a reduced cost. Families can shop these titles and support First Book through Bookshop.org.

Friendship Starts With Kindness!

June 2, 2021 by Makeda Mays Green 3 Comments

How to Reintegrate Kids into A Diverse Post-Pandemic World

Makeda Spaking

The Covid-19 pandemic unleashed a global health crisis and exposed racial disparities, which, in many ways, heightened ongoing conversations about the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Now — after an unprecedented year marked by physical distancing and social unrest — parents are wondering how to effectively help their children return to a sense of “normalcy” and reconnect with others. As parents work to support this return, what’s “normal” has shifted: the national discussion of what matters is significantly different from pre-pandemic.

According to a recent social discourse analysis that my team and I conducted at Nickelodeon, concerns about children’s social and emotional health during Covid-19 is the second leading topic of conversation among parents of 2- to 5-year-old children (more than 130% higher than last year). This topic is only eclipsed by diversity (which grew by 2022% year over year), with an emphasis from parents on what they can do to raise awareness. That is not a typo — parents’ conversation about diversity has grown by more than two thousand percent.

Helping Children Leave the Family Bubble and Build Diverse Relationships

With the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement and a growing national focus on bias against the Asian American and Pacific Islander and Jewish communities, parents flocked online in the past year to learn more about how to raise their children to be more racially sensitive and accepting. Our research showed that white parents, in particular, are invested in ways to teach their children about racial diversity. Parents of color, meanwhile, are invested in looking for resources that showcase empowering portrayals of people who look like them.

Overall, parents across racial and ethnic groups are expressing a general interest in helping their kids develop healthy relationships with diverse individuals. As families physically isolated during the pandemic, kids spent more time with people of shared backgrounds and perspectives. As social restrictions now begin to lift around the country (albeit at different rates), parents say they are looking for rich opportunities to foster inclusivity and celebrate similarities and differences.  

Black Lives Matter
Help Your Kids Get Ready to Rejoin Our Diverse World

Based on my experience as a researcher and a mom, here are five ways to support children’s social and emotional development and help to reintegrate them into the diverse world in which we live:

  1. Try meals from different cultures

Visit ethnically diverse restaurants, or search for recipes of meals typically served in different countries to try authentic cuisine inspired by culinary traditions from around the world.

  1. Visit cultural museums

Take trips to local and national museums that introduce children to cultural icons and influences. For example, consider visiting the National Museum of African-American Music in Nashville, TN, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center in Washington, D.C. or the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, CA. (If you’re still visiting museums virtually, there are many ways to explore art and culture online. Google Arts & Culture is a great place to start.)

  1. Read diverse books

Visit the library and select a variety of material (e.g., graphic novels, comic books, fiction, and nonfiction) about people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives to give children a well-rounded view of the many people and places that make up our world. First Book is sharing tips with Big Heart World on how to build a more diverse and inclusive home or classroom library and is sharing some titles that you might consider

  1. Attend art festivals

Spend time at outdoor festivals to experience paintings, sculptures, music, and dances that celebrate different cultural events and traditions.

  1. Support international kids’ film festivals

Attend kids’ film festivals that feature uplifting storylines and empowering portrayals of diverse characters, including BIPOC leads, in short and long-form films. If there aren’t any kids’ film festivals near you, curate your own at home using titles from other recent kids’ film festivals like this.

Children Reading
June 2, 2021 by Becki Last 0 Comments

First Book Tips for Building a Diverse and Inclusive Home or Classroom Library

Reading Together

The end of the school year and the start of summer is a great time to spruce up your bookshelf and evaluate if your home or classroom library celebrates and explores different identities and lived experiences. 

Sprucing up the books on your shelves can create welcoming environments for learning. If you’re in a classroom, that means you’re welcoming ALL students to develop self-awareness, confidence, and pride. If you’re at home, you’ll help your child learn about the similarities, differences, and expand his or her appreciation of others. 

Britt Hawthorne, an anti-bias, anti-racist educator, writes that these questions can help to evaluate a library: “Who is being recognized, represented, and affirmed? Who is being ignored, silenced, and pushed out?” She says “library evaluation” is an important annual activity  that ensures titles are inclusive and represent ideas that help teachers, parents, and caregivers facilitate important conversations about similarities, differences, friendship, race, upstanding, and more. 

Evaluating Your Bookshelf

Many educators in First Book’s Network have shared how they turn bookshelf evaluation into a full classroom activity, allowing students to choose books that appeal to them. Parents can conduct the same activity and ask their children to find books that highlight similarities and differences between people.

When we listen to children, we can more easily spot gaps in the stories on our bookshelves and adjust to fill those gaps. 

For educators who are still in a primarily virtual classroom, you can evaluate your bookshelf independently using tips from FirstBook’s Empowering Educators: Guidebook on Race & Racism. On pages 29-31, you’ll find recommendations for using an anti-bias and antiracist approach to selecting books.

Explore the Storyline

Sprucing up your bookshelf is not a pass or fail test for a book collection. Of course, you should strongly consider removing books that perpetuate harmful stereotypes or invisibility. But there are many fine books that you might consider removing if they don’t contribute to the right overall mix of stories. 

  1. Here are some questions you might consider asking as you evaluate the books in your home or classroom library:Does a single story or narrative about a group dominate? For example, books that feature Indigenous or Native American people should include more than folktales from the past, and books that feature African Americans should include more than stories about overcoming oppression.
  2. Do we have stories that take place in different geographical settings?
  3. Do I have books that celebrate different religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, nonreligious traditions, etc.)?
  4. Do we have books with main characters from different countries?
  5. Do we have books about Black, Indigenous, or people of color that promote self-love and joy?
  6. Do we have books that include a variety of family structures, e.g., nuclear families, blended families, multigenerational families, single-parent families, same-sex-parent families, and childless families, etc.

Please note: If you’re at HOME and not at a school, it’s good to know your gaps so you can think about books to consider buying or checking out of the library in the future. 

Start Cleaning and Restocking Your Bookshelf

As with any sort of clean-up process, getting started is the hardest part. You can do it!

Once you’ve cleared your bookshelf and you’re ready to shop for new, more inclusive, anti-racist titles, eligible educators can visit the Marketplace to discover diversity and inclusion titles as part of FirstBook’s Stories for All Project™. To help you get started, we’ve identified five special edition books educators teaching in Title I schools and programs can add at a reduced cost. (Learn more about these on our list of book recommendations.) 

  1. Bilal Cooks Daal, written by Aisha Saeed and illustrated by Anoosha Syed
  2. Mommy’s Khimar, written by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and illustrated by Ebony Glenn
  3. Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story, written by Kevin Noble Maillard and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
  4. Drawn Together, written by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat
  5. Alma and How She Got Her Name, written by Juana Martinez-Neal (also available in Spanish)

You can also shop by culture, religion, special needs, language, and more. FirstBook’s collection is designed to help educators engage students in effective, courageous conversations about race and social justice. 

If you aren’t an eligible educator teaching in a Title I school or program, you can still purchase these titles while supporting First Book through our Bookshop store, with 10% of your order donated directly to First Book. You can also explore more featured titles and collections via our other Bookshop collections.

FirstBook

Founded in Washington, D.C., in 1992 as a 501(c)3 nonprofit social enterprise, First Book is a leader in the educational equity field. Over its 29-year history, First Book has distributed more than 200 million books and educational resources, with a retail value of more than $2 billion. First Book believes education offers children in need the best path out of poverty. First Book breaks down barriers to quality education by providing its Network of more than 500,000 registered teachers, librarians, after school program leaders, and others serving children in need with millions of free and affordable new, high-quality books, educational resources, and basic needs items through the award-winning First Book Marketplace nonprofit eCommerce site. The First Book Network comprises the largest and fastest-growing community of formal and informal educators serving children in need.

For more information, visit firstbook.org or follow the latest news on Facebook and Twitter.