Helping young children understand the differences and similarities between their families strengthens their sense of identity and helps them grow into empathetic friends and classmates. At the Early Learning Center, we find many ways to help children talk about their families and to foster inclusivity and belonging.
As part of our retreat before school began, the ELC faculty created book boxes to represent their home and members of their immediate family in preparation for their work with their students. Faculty brought photos of their families and images of their front doors. At face value this project seemed simple, but we quickly realized there were many interesting problems to solve – some photos were bigger or smaller than the box the teacher had chosen, how to represent the door – drawing, collage, mixed-media? One teacher chose to put her door on the inside of the box to represent that all are welcome in her house. Others turned their box on its side and one teacher created slits in the back of the box so that her photo could slide in and out. (See photo)
This project helped us share a bit of ourselves with one another and with the students in the spirit of strengthening our relationships and connections. The day ended with a spontaneous sing along to “Our House” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. We were more connected at the end of the day than when we came together that morning - a good example of how powerful this work can be.
Some of the ways we have continued this work with the children in the classroom include:
Reading books representing different family configurations and discussing how the families are different or the same as their own.
Students brought in photos of their own families and shared with their class.
The children learn that in some families everyone has the same skin color and in other families, parents have different skin colors. Some families have one parent and others have two! For some of our friends, home can consist of one place or for others it consists of two. Students see that some families have one child and others have 4 or 5, or more! Through these experiences, children come to understand that some families have a mom and a dad, and others have two moms or two dads, or that children live with grandparents. In all of this work we are helping to broaden each student’s concept of what makes a family so that when they encounter another person whose family is different than their own their familiarity, surprise and potentially hurtful reactions can be minimized.
Overall, we are strengthening each student’s own identity while increasing their comfort with those that may differ from them. This is how we build the foundation for respectful relationships and strong connections between our students.
Additional suggestions for reading together at home: