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A dictionary defines the word racism as the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race which makes them inferior or superior to another race.
How do we deal with the topic of racism in a preschool classroom? Children are born free of thoughts such as these. Little ones assimilate behaviors from the adults or older children around them. The best way you can teach acceptance and tolerance of all people is to be a good role model for your students. Be fair, tolerant and loving to all students in the classroom. Be mindful of comments you make to other adults when you think the little ones aren’t listening.
Teaching with picture books is a great way to open a dialogue when teaching kids about prejudice and discrimination.
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Resources: Book List
There are several good picture books that deal with prejudices and discrimination. Here are a few listed in the order of best use in your classroom.
All the Colors of the Earth by Sheila Hamanaka; Here is a simple book with beautiful two-page illustrations. It will show your little ones that children come in all the colors of the earth. A person’s hair can be curly like that of a bouncy lamb or straight as if it is flowing in the water. In all the illustrations the children are active, smiling and sharing friendship with those of many colors.
Compare your arms with others in the classroom. What color of the earth are you? Do you have freckles? Scars? Hair? Does your color make you feel different?
Whoever You Are by Mem Fox; Like the previous book, this book shows preschoolers that there are children of many colors all over the world. With its bright two-page illustrations and simple text, this book takes the theme a step further. It reminds each child that even though other children may have different skin color, kinds of homes, schools, lives and languages, they still have hearts, smiles and laughter just like you. They have hurts, worries and they cry. We may seem different but we are the same in many ways!
Can you name some other ways that we are like children in other parts of the world? We eat, play, have families, etc.
The Hating Book by Charlotte Zolotow; This may not be specifically about racism but it is about senseless hating. Two girls say they hate each other and finally realize that they don’t know how it all started. It takes a long time before one makes a move to find out why the hating started. They find out that it was just a misunderstanding.
Often we have bad feelings about another person or group of people and don’t really know why the hating started. Facing it head-on and asking why the hate exists, may turn hate into caring. Turn a negative into a positive.
Discussion: Have you ever been mad at someone but you don’t know why? What should you do?
Can I Play Too? by Mo Willems; An elephant and a pig decide to play catch. A snake asks if he can play also. The snake is different. Should they let him play? Will he be able to play?
Did the animals do the right thing and try to make the pitch and catch game work even though the snake was different? Sometimes compromises have to be made to include everyone. Different is not bad, it is just different.
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When teaching kids about prejudice and discrimination, try teaching with picture books to open the conversation. Do a theme on tolerance or have books ready when a specific problem pops up. The most important resource is you, the teacher, as you use teachable moments to demonstrate tolerance and acceptance.