Ideas for thoughtful learning at home: Discussing difference

By Kate Weibezahl, Tarana Khan, Ph.D.

The last couple of weeks have been hard. Your children likely have questions about the protests, civil unrest and continued health crisis they see on the news and across our Southern California community. This week, the education team wants to share resources that touch on the idea of difference and to create opportunities to have positive conversations and moments of learning about your children’s identity and the diverse identities that exist in this city, country and world. We will share activities that cultivate empathy, share the value of traditions and history, and help your children to learn and process how their experiences may differ from the experiences of others.

Two girls with fist raised pay their respects at the makeshift memorial for George Floyd
Two girls with fist raised pay their respects at the makeshift memorial for George Floyd at intersection in front Cup Foods where Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer on Monday, June 1, 2020 in Minneapolis , Minnesota. | (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

If you are looking for resources and support to have more direct conversations with your children about race, civil disobedience and civil unrest, please read these articles on how to talk to your kids about what is happening in our country and how to be anti-racist.

Ideas for Early Learners (Pre-K–3rd grade)

CREATE

The Anti Defamation League (ADL) has some great suggestions on how to think about social justice through crafts and conversations.

Creating self-portraits (see #4 in the ADL article or this PBS KIDS for Parents self-portrait guide) can be a great way to reflect on the physical aspects of our identity. Make sure that the paints or colored pencils are capable of reflecting the variety of colors and complexions that represent your eyes, hair and skin tone. Have a discussion about the portrait: How does your self-portrait reflect aspects of your identity in terms of race, ethnicity and other identity characteristics? How do you look similar and different from your friends or your family?

READ

Reading together about sensitive issues can be a great way to start important conversations, especially with early learners. Check out this list of children’s books about race and diversity recommended by PBS KIDS for Parents.

And here are a few other books we recommend:

  • “The Skin I’m In: A First Look at Racism” by Pat Thomas encourages kids to accept and be comfortable with differences of skin color and other racial characteristics among their friends and in themselves (age: 4-7).
  • “Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness” by Anastasia Higginbotham is a picture book about racism and racial justice, inviting white children and parents to become curious about racism, accept that it’s real and cultivate justice (age: 8-12).
  • “Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice” by Marianna Celano, Marietta Collins and Ann Hazzard follows two families — one White, one Black — as they discuss a police shooting of a Black man in their community. The story tries to answer children’s questions about traumatic events and help children
  • identify and counter racial injustice in their own lives. The book includes a note to parents with guidelines for discussing race and racism with children (age: 4-8).
  • “We’re Different, We’re the Same” by Bobbi Kates features beloved Sesame Street friends teaching us that we may all look different on the outside, but it’s important to remember that we are all very much alike and that it is our differences that make this world an interesting and special place (age: 3-7).

PLAY

Learn to appreciate diversity through play. In this game, children can explore similarities and differences between themselves and others while learning how to appreciate everyone’s unique interests.

A red and pink Muppet play together
Even though Elmo and Abby are different, they love to play together. | PBS.org

WATCH

When upsetting or scary things happen in the world around us, young children may pick up on feelings of stress at home, even with minimal exposure to the media. Our friends on Sesame Street offer some advice in this helpful clip on how to talk to your children about violence in communities.

Abby and Elmo describe the ways in which they are the same and different. This video may help children understand how to appreciate differences among their friends and classmates.

Ideas for Older Children (4th Grade-12th Grade)

CREATE

Read and write poetry. Poetry can help young people express emotions  and learn about the experiences of others in a new way. Introduce your children to poetry written by diverse authors. You can explore age-appropriate poems on the Poetry Foundation Website (such as “to the notebook kid” by Eve L. Ewing) or check out these diverse novels written in verse. Then, encourage your children to write their own poetry:

  • Create an acrostic poem. Have your kids vertically spell their name on the side of the page and use each letter of their name to describe a part of their identity. This is a good opportunity for your children to reflect on their identity and how that impacts their experience in the world.
  • Austin Kleon is an author and artist known for his “Newspaper Blackout” poems. Have your kids make their own Newspaper Blackout poem. This can be a way to to start conversations about what they see in the news and what questions they may have.

The ADL also has great suggestions for older children to think about social justice through crafts and conversations. It is important to check in with loved ones during this time, and making cards or friendship bracelets to send to friends and family can be an opportunity to create something positive. The messages can be about identity, hope for the future, or what your child values about the relationship.

Make a family recipe with your family. Explain the history of the recipe and how it’s been passed down. This can be a moment to explore your own family’s history and story, and create the space and time for further conversations.

EXPLORE

Learn more about African American history by exploring collections from the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Listen to podcasts and learn about the experiences of others. NPR’s Code Switch podcast talks about race and the ways that it impacts every part of society. Southern California’s NPR station, KPCC, explores Muslim identity in the podcast Tell Them I Am. The series tells universal stories about moments that define who we are.

Explore questions around the First Amendment using Newseum ED’s collections of artifacts.

WATCH

Have a family movie night where you watch a film that explores the theme of empathy.

TED Talks are a way for older children to address some of the questions they may have about the historic and present systems of racism in this country, as well as learn about experiences outside their own. There are talks on dissecting cultures of hate, and we also suggest Bryan Stevenson’s talk, We Need to Talk About Injustice, and Clint Smith’s How to Raise a Black Son in America.

Explore social justice through food with Chef Roy Choi in the KCET (SoCal PBS) Original series Broken Bread. Got PBS Passport? Watch No Passport Required, a show that explores the diversity of immigrant cuisines in American culture.

Here are several PBS Digital Series that explore identity, race and social structures:

  •  “Say It Loud” celebrates Black culture, context and history. The show explores the complexity of Black experience and finds joy in the many ways the Black community has influenced American life.
  • Prideland,” hosted by Dyllón Burnside, explores LGBTQ+ life in the U.S.
  • Above the Noise” tackles some of society’s most contentious debates, such as school policies like affirmative action, how social media may affect us, as well as conversations around free speech, and breaks them down in an easy to understand way.

READ

Common Sense Media curated lists of Books that Promote Tolerance and Diversity and Books About Racism.

The School Library Journal has lists of librarian-approved books for kids of all ages, here are 15 titles to address inequity, equality and organizing for young readers

More Resources for Parents

Four children hug each other.
Teaching children to love their differences boots self esteem and understanding. | PBS.org
  • Have you been wondering if your kids are too young to talk about race? According to this handy guide, research-based evidence depicts how children think and learn about race from birth to seven years of age, making conversations at an early age essential so that children do not draw their own conclusions.
  • Check out this guide of expert advice on how to teach kids of different ages how to reject intolerance and prejudice: “Beyond the Golden Rule: A Parent’s Guide to Preventing and Responding to Prejudice” by Dana Williams.
  • Author and filmmaker Raquel Cepeda explains in this short clip how she has talked to her kids about race at different ages in “The Talk – Race in America.” The full film can be watched here.
  • This resource from Zero to Three provides guidelines for talking about complex issues of racism and equality in age-appropriate ways with children aged two to five years of age.

This article was originally published on PBS SoCal’s At-Home Leaning initiative. 

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