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Of course you have questions! 

Questions are a healthy part of any conversation, here are a few common questions and answers from the First Conversations authors.

Why is it important to talk about
topics
like race with young children?

Often young children will start these conversations before their grown-ups are ready--which means they may get shut down or delayed. But when we don’t discuss these topics, we miss a critical window when young children are forming a foundational understanding of their world. It can be daunting for parents and educators to know where to begin, and many are afraid to say the “wrong thing.” But, young children will come to their own conclusions if we don’t facilitate these important conversations, and many of their conclusions might be stereotyped or racist since those are the prominent messages in society. 

 

Our social movements for racial, economic, gender and social justice will be so much stronger when we are able to partner effectively with young children. We need their imagination, their vision for how the world could and should be. We need their wisdom about love and relationships and restorative justice. We need their clear sense of fairness. We need their courage. Young children are a critical part of building the world as it could, and should, and will be. That can’t happen until we’re willing and able to talk to them about these complex topics in ways that make sense to them. 

 

Here are a few resources that dig into the research on how and when young children start learning about race:

Are these books developmentally appropriate for young children?

Yes! Check out NAEYC’s Position Statement on Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP). Fun fact: Megan was actually on the team that worked on the most recent revision! 

 

One thing to keep in mind is that DAP isn’t static or universal. Rather, what is developmentally appropriate is the outcome of an intentional decision-making process on the part of the educator, within their particular context. That process is informed by what we broadly know about child development, what we know about individual children more specifically, and everything we know about the context in which the learning process is taking place.   

 

Therefore, we can’t say that these books are developmentally appropriate for all children, in all contexts, at all times. We simply don’t know what’s developmentally appropriate for your particular child or children; you’re the expert in that. And we trust that expertise.  There are so many factors to consider!  What we do know is that the topics addressed in these books are appropriate for many, if not most, children in the United States aged 2-5 years old. We have lots of research evidence that, on average, young children are ready for conversations with the grown-ups they love and trust about race, gender, consent and bodies. As early childhood professionals, we did our best to apply what we know from research and experience to develop text and illustrations that can support the conversations that so many young children are eager and ready to have. 

As a teacher or librarian, I am worried about pushback
from parents and caregivers if I share these books.
What is your advice? 

Every community is different and you know your community best.  But no matter where you are, we think it’s reasonable to expect some questions or pushback. And it’s also pretty reasonable to expect some support and encouragement. One of the reasons we wrote these books is because there is both a great hunger for resources like this from people who are ready and willing to engage in these conversations with young children, and also a great deal of misinformation in our society. We do believe that these books are for all kids and families, every community in the United States, and we know that the harmful ideologies that these books push back against are dominant and powerful in our society. Pushback is to be expected. But we’re not scared. We are firmly grounded in our professional and ethical responsibilities, and we know that we have the skills and resources we need to engage in tough conversations with love and clarity.

 

One strategy we recommend is talking to your colleagues and communities about these topics early and often. That way, by the time you’re sharing these books, it shouldn’t be a surprise to your community that these books are aligned with your educational approach, and the reactions and perspectives of your community shouldn’t be a surprise to you. For some guidance, there is a great chapter in Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves on building anti-bias relationships with families. Educator and activist Laleña Garcia recommends looking to your school or organization's mission statement. If it talks about equity, building community, or social justice, then sharing these books and ideas are directly tied to that mission. And librarian Jessica Anne Bratt started a storytime at her library called Talking About Race at Storytime, and created resources for librarians facing pushback from patrons. 

 

Finally, as an educator of young children, it can be helpful to remember that it’s part of your job to give children the resources they need to learn about and affirm their own identities, to discover and celebrate the diversity of their communities, to recognize and talk about unfairness and injustice, and finally to learn how to collectively act against injustice. Take some time to read the 2019 Position Statement on Advancing Equity in Early Childhood Education released by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

 

Some general tips include: 

  1. Before the conversations, get clear about what you believe and why so that you can communicate that clearly, calmly, and concisely.

  2. Start the conversation by getting curious. Genuinely inquire about caregivers’ concerns and questions. Listen. Then listen more.  Try to understand the underlying fears, beliefs and values that are being communicated.  

  3. Be flexible, creative, and collaborative about finding solutions while also holding firm to your boundaries and professional obligations.

  4. Make space and get support. Try to remember that these are ongoing conversations. Change does not happen in one conversation or with one read-aloud. If you can, try to make some more space for the conversation and reach out to get support.  You cannot do this work alone. We all need and deserve support.  

  5. Let go of perfectionism. Try something. Debrief. Then try again, incorporating what you learned. 

 

And know, no matter where you are, we’re cheering you on with love and gratitude. The work you’re doing matters. Every single day.  

What if I’m really uncomfortable having these conversations?

That’s so great!  Sounds like you’re already practicing the important skill of noticing your emotional state. One thing we try to do when we notice we’re feeling uncomfortable is to slow down and give that emotion a little space to breathe. Then, once it’s not acute, we do a little reflection. Why am I feeling uncomfortable? How does my discomfort relate to my own positionality (my role, my identity, etc.)? What am I afraid of?  How likely is that to happen? What would I need in order to feel ready to be brave and act in spite of my fears? How can I make a plan to meet those needs?

 

Usually, after some reflection, we decide to lean into that discomfort. Especially for members of privileged groups in our society (white people, men, cisgender people, etc.), that place of discomfort is where the transformational change can happen. It’s ok to feel uncomfortable. It’s ok to make mistakes. It won’t be a perfect conversation, and you have more than one chance to do it! Talking about racism and patriarchy and bodies and consent can be really hard (especially if you don’t have much practice or strong models to emulate), but it’s like a muscle. It gets easier and you get stronger the more you do it. Changemaking isn’t easy work and it involves taking risks. That’s why we’ve compiled a bunch of resources to support you (link). And we really, really recommend building a supportive community around you. 

How do I continue these conversations as my child(ren) get older?

What a fantastic question!  We’re so happy you’re already recognizing that these conversations are lifelong.  Because each of the First Conversations books are rooted in the framework of Anti-Bias Education (ABE), we recommend using the Social Justice Standards from Learning for Justice (formerly, Teaching Tolerance) to support ongoing conversations Kindergarten-Grade 12.  Their website also includes a plethora of resources like lesson plans, professional development, and publications to support these ongoing conversations as your children get older.  

 

But, most of all, we want to encourage you to build a community around you to support you in the long-term work of nurturing conscious young people who know who they are, are able to engage with others who are different from them in healthy and equitable ways, identify injustice in their communities, and work together to build a better world.  In order to effectively support children in their lifelong anti-bias journeys, we need to be engaging in our own developmental journeys ourselves.  None of us can do this alone.  Please don’t try.  Check out our “Community” page for some ideas about how to connect to existing communities or to start building one of your own.

Are there people and organizations you recommend? 

We can’t do this work alone and neither can you. These are some trusted friends, collaborators, and inspirational folks and organizations we’d like to share with you:

 

Our Co-Conspirators

 

Organizations for Educators 

 

Organizations for Parents & Caregivers

 

Membership Organizations, Communities & Collectives