A Focus on Identity: What Makes You, You?

Diversity work is an important aspect of the mission at Packer. Not only do we strive to bring all types of diversity to our community, we actively engage the children in diversity work discussing varying aspects of identity, such as gender, socio-economics, language, race, ethnicity, ability, religion, learning style etc. While opportunities to discuss the diversity of our community and the world at large emerge on a daily basis, there are also times throughout the year where we more purposefully introduce and plan curriculum to engage children in anti-bias work. With our youngest learners, diversity work is both proactive and reactive, addressing themes that your children are naturally thinking about. Diversity work is not always easy. It is highly emotional, and can at times, generate feelings of discomfort and uncertainty. We believe it is social imperative to engage children in anti-bias work. As children process the world around them, whether we like it our not, they develop bias, have questions and draw conclusions. Planning thoughtful and meaningful diversity curriculum, allows us as educators the opportunity to equip your children with knowledge about the human experience. These discussions provide them language and facts, foster empathy and empower them to be social activist.

Every other year, Packer dedicates a week to school-wide diversity programming. This year’s theme is Intersectionality. By definition, “intersectionality is the study of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination or discrimination.” This week we started discussing identity. With your children we defined identity as the different things that make all of us individuals. “The things that make you, you and me, me.”

As your children shared, identity is…

“Things that are a part of your body that you live with.” – Carmen

“You have stuff that makes you feel like you” – Jake

“Identity is when you see things, and you write your face, and do the things you do…” – Jalen

“What you do by yourself” – Lucia

“Identity is when people sometimes have different color skin.” – Alex

“When you say who you really are.” – Pearl

“Identity is what makes you, you.” – Charlie

We launched our discussions by reading the book, “Everybody is Different” by Todd Parr. When reading, we tried to unpack Parr’s language asking the children to share what they knew about the different identifiers that were being described. After the read aloud, we introduced the children to the idea of intersectionality, describing it as “the many different things that make us who we are and make up our identity.” The teachers then shared different aspects of their personal identity, specifically focusing on the following identifiers: socio-economics, race, ethnicity, language, food preference, gender and gender expression, family structure and religion. Below are very simple pictures of the visuals we used to make the concept more evident to your children.

Delving deeper into our identity work, over the past couple of days we have been discussing race. In both English and Spanish, Erica and Denisse read the book, “All the Colors We Are; Todos los Colores de Nuestra Piel,” by/de Katie Kissinger, Photographs by/Fotographias de Wernher Krutein. This book explains how people acquire their skin color, differentiating race from skin tone. We talked about how race is a categorization of people who share similar physical characteristics – specifically these grouping are: White, Black, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American/Alaska Native and Mixed Race. We talked about how even though some people are referred to as white or black, white and black are not actually skin tones. In “All the Colors We Are,” the author explains how a person gets their specific skin color. 1. “from our parents and from relatives who lived long ago, called ancestors; 2. from the sun; 3. from something called melanin.” The Beavers learned that “if you have dark skin, the melanin in your body is very active, and if you have light skin, the melanin in your body is not very busy.” Throughout the read aloud, we asked the children to share some of their theories about how they got their skin color.  The following are some of their sound bytes during our conversation.

Alex: “Race is the color of your skin.”

Ruby: “[Race] means black but black is not a skin color, that’s why it’s called ‘race’.”

Jalen: “I think I have lots of busy melanins.”

Charlie: “I think mine are not very busy at all. I think my family from long ago must have lived somewhere without a lot of sunshine because my skin is so light.”

Vivian: “In the summer, I have more freckles from the sun.”

Pearl: “My dad is black and bald and my mom has light skin.”

Ezra: “My mommy has dark skin too.”

Asher: “My skin is from sunburns.”

Jake: “Puz you can’ t just be all white, your skin is not just pure dove all white like bones, your skin is half of white, but not really white, it’s a little more dark.”

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During Choice Time, we then worked to mix paint to make a color that was just right for our specific skin tones.  We asked them first to find a color that most closely matched their skin. We painted their arm to see if we needed to do further color mixing. The children mixed and dabbed to make it lighter and darker. When they finally created a shade that was just right, they proudly announced, “This is the color of me!”

Over the next week or so, in conjunction with our Identity Study, we will be making “Paper Doll Self-Portraits.” As we explore varying physical identifiers (i.e. race, physical attributes, gender expression and clothing choices reflecting ethnicity and culture), we will add to our self-portraits to reflect our physical identity. Today, the Beavers used their personalized color to paint their paper doll. As the children worked, there was a distinct buzz and energy. When Alex invited Vivian over to the Paper Doll Self Portrait table, she excitedly announced, “Hey, Viv! Come make your YOU!” The celebration of their individuality was already evident.

We also read the book “Black is Brown is Tan” by Arnold Adoff, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully.  In this book, the author discusses a family whose skin reflects their unique race.  There is “Brown-skinned momma, the color of chocolate milk and coffee pumpkin pie, whose face gets ginger red when she puffs and yells the children into bed. White-skinned daddy, not white like milk or snow, lighter than brown, with pinks and tiny tans, whose face gets tomato red when he puffs and yells their children into bed.”  The story details the everyday happenings of this mixed-race family, in their house full of love.

Over the next couple of weeks we will continue to engage your children in what we hope will be rich, meaningful diversity work. As your children process these often lofty themes, we ask for you to continue the discussions at home. In our blog posts we will make an effort to share the “teacher language” we are using to support our explorations; as well as, provide you direct quotes from the students to share their thinking and questions. Your children have already shown immense empathy and openness. We are looking forward to continuing this empowering, inspiring work.

Since our focus this week was on race, we are providing the following articles as resources: Teaching Tolerance: How White Parents Should Talk to Their Young Kids About Race, To the White Parents of my Black Son’s Friends, and Children Are Not Colorblind: How Young Children Learn Race. We know that as parents you also come with a wealth of knowledge and personal resources. We’d love for you to pass along any article or book that you have found helpful when processing these important discussions.

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