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About Caitlin Lynch

Lead Teaching Artist & Coordinator for Young Child Programming

Everyday Anti-Racism with Young Kids

Inspired by the book, Ron’s Big Mission and the discussions that followed, Wonder School students draw pictures of upstanders they know. Drawings include historical figures such as Harriet Tubman, their own grandparents and even themselves

In the previous post from our on-going series about about anti-racist teaching with young children, we shared a snapshot of what anti-racist teaching looks like in our mixed age (3 to 5 yrs) classroom at Wonder School. Because every context and kid is different, I  also wanted to take a moment to pull out a few common themes and approaches that have been useful when talking about racism and other tough topics with kids. (Note: while this series and the examples we share are focusing primarily on anti-racist teaching, these approaches work when talking about all kinds of injustices, from ageism and ableism to environmental justice and beyond.)

Start with relationships. While we make race conscious choices in all aspects of our classroom set up from day 1, we hold off on initiating potentially heavy conversations until after we have a chance to build trust with families and get to know our kids.

Know your kids- individually and as a group: Every kid is different, and every group of kids is different. In our pilot year, for example, the group as a whole loved big, juicy group discussions, meaning a lot of our most important conversations happened during group times. The following year, even though we had many of the same kids, the whole group dynamic was different. It took several failed big-group discussions to figure out that the best time to have meaningful conversations was in small groups on the fringes of play during free-choice time.

All the research, all the time: You do not need to be an expert, however, it is important to dig deep both before you get started and as you continue the investigation. This includes not just facts, but also when sourcing picture books (more about that later), photos and other materials.

Work as a community: If a teacher: plan with other teachers, reach out to teachers in other schools, keep communication with your families open/ask for their thoughts, concerns and ideas. If a parent or caregiver: find friends and fellow parents who are interested in the same work to offer their own feedback and support. This is not work to be done alone. (If White, though, be mindful that when you reach out to friends who are Black/Indigenous/people of color that you’re doing it in a way that is not asking them to do more emotional labor for you)

Keep some kind of record of learning: Whether it’s a quick picture snapped with a phone,  notes, videos, audio recording or just taking time to jot down important points at the end of the day, find some way to capture the children’s words as well as your own. Doing so allows you all to look back and build on ideas.

Start with where your kids are at: Rather than assume you know what your kids know, ask questions, then sit back and listen- you might be surprised and it will help you better able to plan entry points

Support (don’t suppress) big feelings: A big part of the “work” of early childhood is to learn how to process feelings in healthy ways. Racism, and the history of how racist policies and attitudes have hurt people, is awful. There will likely be confusion, anger and even tears. As best you can, validate whatever feelings come up (“It makes me sad how unfair that rule was too.”) and show children that you are a safe person to have strong feelings around. This also goes for your own feelings as well. Racism is ugly, and dismantling it is hard, emotional work. and It’s okay for your kids to see you working through your own feelings.

“Nothing Without Joy”: Allowing space for big, hard feelings does not mean you all have to stay stuck in them forever. Whenever you can, point to moments of resilience, resistance and creativity. Oppressed people and their allies have a long history of transforming trauma into beauty and liberation. Celebrate that, and fill your world (whether it’s home or the classroom) with joyful and wondrous stories and art featuring BIPOC protagonists and white co-conspirators doing things like going to birthday parties, having adventures and raising dragons.

This post is part of an ongoing series of blog posts unpacking each of our main strategies behind anti-racist teaching with young children. In each we will share resources, including documentation from the classroom, picture books, artwork from the collection and links to resources that have been invaluable in our own efforts.

Talking to Kids About Racism: Stereotype, Representation and Identity

Kids are excellent observers, noticers and rememberers (Anyone who has said something regrettable in front of a child knows what I am talking about). In the last post in the series, we shared some of the ways we try to acknowledge difference in an open and celebratory way. This is important, but it’s not enough. Consider this; If we stop here- acknowledging that people are different and difference is great, but don’t also acknowledge the well-documented fact that is visible to children (whether we like it or not) that the way the world works currently is unfair to people with Black and brown skin, our children are faced with a mental dilemma. Either, the world as it is (racist), is as it should be, or the world is wrong and something must be done to fix it. How children make sense of this depends in large part on how we- parents, teachers, caregivers acknowledge injustice and empower our children to make change. 

It can be intimidating to talk about the darkest parts of our country’s past and present. Fear often holds us back; we worry we will say the wrong thing and inadvertently implant racism in the mind of the child. We know that, like so much about nurturing children, “doing it well” is hard. However, like peek-a-boo, covering our eyes does not actually make the thing go away. Young children are aware of, and demonstrate, racism as early as their toddler years (like to other blog/research). Avoidance of ugly topics enables the ugly thing to persist. Fear of the discomfort of talking about white supremacy supports its perpetuation. Parents, teachers, caregivers – We do scary and hard things every day because we know they are important. We want to protect our children, but concealing an on-going threat is not protection. Moreover, our choice not to talk about our country’s racist history erases the efforts of amazing people like Ella Baker, Jo Ann Robinson and the countless students and youth who have fought for change – and whose examples can inspire children as changemakers in their here-and-now. Of course, with young children you should proceed thoughtfully and carefully, but you must proceed.

There is a wealth of resources online with great, general tips about discussing racism with children. But if you’re like me, you may be asking, What does this look like, sound like, and feel like? That’s why we are sharing a few stories of learning from our Wonder School classroom. These are meant to be examples not exemplars – and not a “to do list.” We are delighted to elevate the voices of these thoughtful children, and we are also happy to share some places where we struggled, and some of our “oops moments.” Learning and growth require struggle.

Some of this you will be able to use wholecloth (and if so, please do! Let us know what you learn!) and some will need to be modified to fit your kids, your context. Names have been changed to protect children’s and families’ privacy, and each story is greatly condensed (We removed, for example, the many times our discussions got derailed by emergency potty breaks), but otherwise this is a collection of direct quotes* and honest reflection.

This first story follows an investigation of Native American representation- specifically, how some of the stereotypes we held at the beginning of the year came to be replaced with real knowledge gained through picturebooks, photos and conversation. Not only was this one of the first, planned, in-depth anti-racist/anti-bias projects we undertook as a classroom, it ended up being incredibly personal journey of identity for one family in particular. 

“I Don’t Want to be a Native American, I Want to be Normal”: Stereotype, Representation & Identity.

This post is part of an ongoing series of blog posts unpacking each of our main strategies behind anti-racist teaching with young children. In each we will share resources, including documentation from the classroom, picture books, artwork from the collection and links to resources that have been invaluable in our own efforts. 

Introduction: Talking to children about racism

** In case you’re curious- audio/video recording, transcription and note taking are a part of our daily practice as a Reggio-inspired classroom. For more information about what this could look like, see our Making Creativity Site.

– Caitlyn Lynch is CMA Lead Teaching Artist & Coordinator for Young Child Programming including Wonder School, an arts-rich laboratory preschool launched in 2018 in collaboration with Columbus State Community College, Columbus Museum of Art, and The Childhood League Center. Wonder School fosters purposeful play, critical inquiry, and a collaborative community approach to education—for children, for their educators, for a more creative and compassionate society.

Young Child Studios at Home


Looking down on top of a wooden table, on which are a sheet of paper and cups of water in different colors- red, yellow, green and blue). A child’s hands with light skin are seen reaching from the top of the photograph to place a plastic dropper into a cup of red water.
  
          
This time of year, as days get shorter and colder, many of us take time to pause, take stock of the year, and express gratitude. To say that 2020 has been a wild year, would be a massive understatement. Like all of you, my reflections over the past year are filled with moments of true grief. At the same time, there have been moments of joy and plenty to be grateful for. One thing I continue to be grateful for is the community of early childhood educators, who continue to do the exhausting and important work of raising the next generation of kind and compassionate humans. This includes both teachers who work in preschools and childcare centers around Columbus AND it includes the caregivers inside homes- parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, friends, etc who are a child’s first teachers. 
    
As an educator and a parent, I know first-hand how hard this pandemic has come down on working families. As someone with enormous privilege, I know that as hard as it has been for our family, it is nothing compared to those folks who are without a co-parenting partner, or without flexible employers, or who may be navigating the cascading crises brought about by an unjust society, including racism, food and housing insecurity or violence. 
   
When thinking about all the challenges families with young children are facing today, we at the Columbus Museum of Art realized 3 things. The first, is that creativity is absolutely necessary- now more than ever. The second, is that while we can’t fix food insecurity or the injustices that create wealth disparity, we CAN provide ideas and resources for families about how to cultivate and practice creativity (in both grown-ups and children) in accessible ways. In doing so, we’re all doing our part to make sure the next generation has the creativity and compassion needed to find solutions to the world’s thorniest problems. The third, was that ‘many hands make light work’- to do this work well, we needed the help of community partners.
   
PNC has long supported early childhood initiatives at CMA, from classroom visits, to family workshops to providing high quality professional development for preschool teachers. This year, we are so grateful for their support of our Young Child Studios at Home program. YCS at Home has three goals:
   
1. To provide families with young children experiencing material poverty with materials to create high-quality, inquiry based opportunities at home.
2. To support already overburdened caregivers with ideas for easy to set-up independent play. 
3. To offer ideas for whole-family creative exploration using materials that are easily accessible.
    
To meet these goals, CMA educators have begun to create 1000 boxes of supplies, including a wealth of print resources to support families. All materials are available in English, Spanish, Arabic and Somali. Our partners at PNC are helping to connect the museum to the amazing staff at early learning centers throughout the city who will make sure each kit ends up in the hands of a family in our community. While 1000 may feel like a large number, we know that it’s truly just a drop in the bucket. For this reason, we’re also offering digital versions of all printed resources for free to our entire community (see links below for download)
  
In addition to the financial support from PNC, this program could not happen without the heads, hands and hearts of our other partners. These include the various museum staff and Cristo Rey high school interns who helped to assemble the kits themselves, our friends at Farhat Interpreting who helped to make our materials more accessible, Columbus-based artist Bryan Moss who helped make our materials more beautiful and the staff at the early childhood centers who are helping to distribute the kits. And, of course you! Whether you’re a member or just a fan, your support of the museum helps to support the work we do and in turn helps us to be better neighbors in our community and stewards of our resources. Thank you.

English Creativity Resource

Spanish Creativity Resource

Somali Creativity Resource

Arabic Creativity Resource

Additionally, below is a link to a YouTube playlist to help inspire you during your creative moments!

 

Caitlin Lynch is CMA Lead Teaching Artist & Coordinator for Young Child Programming including Wonder School, an arts-rich laboratory preschool launched in 2018 in collaboration with Columbus State Community College, Columbus Museum of Art, and The Childhood League Center. Wonder School fosters purposeful play, critical inquiry, and a collaborative community approach to education—for children, for their educators, for a more creative and compassionate society.

 

Explicitly naming race and talking about difference in a joyful way

“We’re all the same!”

“There’s more that unites us than divides us”

“I just don’t even notice difference.”

As adults, we are often quick to point away from difference and towards “sameness.” We shy away from difference because many of us received the message- through our families, middle school bullies or just living around media that portrays only a narrow (young, thin, white, able-bodied,etc) view of beauty- that to be ‘different’ from the group is the absolute worst thing. But research is showing us that diversity- that is, having a wide array of differences, whether it’s genetic material or lived experience, might be initially less comfortable, but leads to greater creativity, innovation and empathy in the long run. Difference isn’t the problem, it’s the way we talk about it that is.

When children point out the physical differences they see (often loudly, in public and without using the most gentle language), we are quick to shush them and move along, making sure we loudly chastise them for being rude. While it’s true that talking about a person rather than talking to them can be unkind, often that subtle message is lost and what kids hear instead is “difference is bad- so bad we can’t talk about it.” We’d like to pretend that if we don’t talk about race with our children, the problem of racism will go away, but actually the opposite is true. Even if your child isn’t making loud proclamations you wish they wouldn’t, they notice physical differences such as skin and hair color as early as 6 months old and are often filled not with shame or fear, but pure curiosity. Rather than shut it down or pretend that the differences they notice don’t exist, we need to nurture this curiosity, give children words to express this curiosity in a kind way and help children to understand physical difference in a joyful way. Doing so not only helps to develop anti-racist attitudes, but actually helps kids build the skills that allow them to see, acknowledge and appreciate differences of all kinds, including those that are more abstract and less visible, such as differences in viewpoints and beliefs (much in the same way that learning to count is foundational to learning algebra.)

One thing that makes difference more comfortable to talk about (at home or at school) is to create a shared vocabulary. All the Colors We Are is my favorite place to start when talking about race with children. Not only does it frankly acknowledge that human skin comes in a variety of shades, but also gets into the science of why (melanin, ancestors, etc) in a clear, totally age appropriate way. During our first year of WS, we began our investigation into race with this book and a challenge: how many beautiful shades of brown could we mix at the art table? Doing so gave us a natural opening to talk about the variety of shades that existed between all of us and the people in our lives.

Another book that was invaluable in creating a space to face difference in a celebratory way, was Jess Hong’s Lovely. Through a few words, some fun plays on opposites and inclusive illustrations that include joyful depictions of unibrows, prosthetic legs, and people with wrinkles, grey hair AND facial piercings, this book opened some of the most interesting conversations that allowed us to reframe different, moving from “weird” to “unfamiliar” to “interesting and wonderful.” 

Developmentally, children between the ages of 3 and 5 years old are curious to make sense of the world by constructing “containers” into which the world’s many pieces, parts and people can fit. In talking about physical differences as something to be sought after and celebrated, we help to make those mental containers more varied, numerous and encompassing. Doing so enables our children to be better equipped to feel comfortable with diversity when they inevitably live in it and more uncomfortable with injustice when they encounter it. 

This post is part of an ongoing series of blog posts unpacking each of our main strategies behind anti-racist teaching with young children. In each we will share resources, including documentation from the classroom, picture books, artwork from the collection and links to resources that have been invaluable in our own efforts. Next up: how to talk about injustices (and how to disrupt them) in an age appropriate way. See below for links to previously published blog posts.

– Caitlyn Lynch is CMA Lead Teaching Artist & Coordinator for Young Child Programming including Wonder School, an arts-rich laboratory preschool launched in 2018 in collaboration with Columbus State Community College, Columbus Museum of Art, and The Childhood League Center. Wonder School fosters purposeful play, critical inquiry, and a collaborative community approach to education—for children, for their educators, for a more creative and compassionate society.

Talking to Kids About Racism: Self Reflection and Self Education About Race

There is no “too young” to start talking about race and racism with children. But with something as big and heavy as racism, where do you even begin?

Our approach to anti-racist work with young children at CMA is to begin with ourselves—with some honest self reflection and ongoing self-education. The more your own anti-racist work is grounded in self-reflection and knowing/understanding the forces behind systemic racism, the more comfortable and confident you will be in approaching every conversation with the children in your care, whatever your context. Before going further, I do want to offer a few very big caveats: because self-reflection is by definition personal, because my own life has been lived as a White person, and because White privilege allowed me to live most of my life without thinking about racism, a lot of the resources I will be sharing will be especially relevant to White parents and educators just getting started. I feel okay about this for two reasons—one, I can only ever be true to my own experience and two, systems of oppression are for the oppressor, not the oppressed, to dismantle. In other words, racism is a White people problem.

Did that last sentence make you feel a bit uncomfortable? Good! THAT is the place to start—by reckoning with your own privilege and unearthing how White supremacist thinking shows up in you. White supremacy isn’t something “those bad people over there do,” It’s in the air and water and laws and systems that make our daily life. While there are countless resources that could work for you, here are the three that helped me make sense of my own position and complicity within the systems of racism:

While you do not need a PhD in history to have honest and thoughtful conversations about race and racism with four year olds. It is, however, helpful to have some context. Knowing a bit more about what came before now can also help you find quality picture books (more on that in a later post) and find exciting heroes like Ron McNair or Claudette Colvin to share with children. Some of my favorite history resources include:

In the midst of all this self education, which can at times feel so heavy, take some time to learn about and savor the beauty, joy and resilience found in non-white cultures. Seek out and try new recipes from different communities, read poetry and fiction by/about Black/Indigenous/People of Color. Doing so will not only feed your own heart and allow you to stay in this for the long game, it will also help you to see BIPOC as fully realized and complex humans (Fellow sci-fi and fantasy nerds- anything by N.K. Jemmison and Octavia Butler is tops). 

Finally, I want to end this post with a warning and a word of encouragement. If you are White person, and especially if you are new to working/thinking/speaking in this way, you will likely feel up to your ears in guilt, shame, overwhelmed and exhausted. This is normal— these are sad things to think and talk about, and many of us have lived lives with the privilege of not-seeing. If you are there, remember: one function of White Supremacy is to convince you that you are fragile, that you can’t do this, but you can! You can do hard things! Not only that, but at a certain point, anti-racist work will become another lens through which you live. The work will still be hard and often sad, but there is also joy to be found in meeting your edge, seeing that you are tough and, most importantly, doing so in service of the children who will inherit the world after us. 

Over the next few weeks, we will continue to share a series of blog posts unpacking each of our main strategies behind anti-racist teaching with young children. In each we will share resources, including documentation from the classroom, picture books, artwork from the collection and links to resources that have been invaluable in our own efforts. These strategies include

  1. Self-reflection and self-education
  2. Explicitly naming race and talking about difference in a joyful way
  3. Talking in a developmentally appropriate way about injustices- both from the past and present.
  4. Being intentional in choosing picture books that both feature Black, Indiginous, People of Color characters AND that are by BIPOC authors/artists.
  5. Supporting and fostering imagination, as a powerful tool for radical social change. 

– Caitlyn Lynch is CMA Lead Teaching Artist & Coordinator for Young Child Programming including Wonder School, an arts-rich laboratory preschool launched in 2018 in collaboration with Columbus State Community College, Columbus Museum of Art, and The Childhood League Center. Wonder School fosters purposeful play, critical inquiry, and a collaborative community approach to education—for children, for their educators, for a more creative and compassionate society.

Star-Gazers #MyCMAStudio Challenge

For as long as we have been humans, we’ve been story-tellers and star-gazers. For this week’s #myCMAstudio challenge, we’re inviting you to join in the grand, creative tradition of looking up at the night sky, connecting the dots and telling a tale about them.

Your constellation can be big or small, simple or complex. Your story can be a grand epic tale pulled from mythology from around the world, or a silly story about your lost sock. You can literally go outside at night and look up, or you can choose an image from NASA’s collection as your starting point. You could work alone. You could work with a friend- maybe each make a constellation, then trade and create the stories for each other. You could work with a whole group of friends to create a new set of zodiac signs (“I thought I was a Taurus, but it turns out I was born under the sign of My Cat George Begging For Treats! How about you?”).

As always, we encourage you to use whatever medium is your jam—draw, write, collage, photograph, choreograph, etc. Share your creations on social media by tagging #myCMAstudio.

As always, we encourage you to use whatever medium is your jam- draw, write, collage, photograph, choreograph, etc. Need Studio supplies? Pick up or let us ship to you directly our Studio in a Box with all the supplies and materials needed to aid you in our weekly challenges.

Find a CMA Studio Challenge that speaks to you and thanks to everyone who has participated. Share your creations on social media by tagging #myCMAstudio.

Cat Lynch is an artist educator at the Columbus Museum of Art where she works with children 5 and under and their grown-ups. Cat is also an artist whose work focuses primarily on collage, story-telling, interaction and environment. She finds the two worlds support and complement each other beautifully.

Open Studio is a drop- in program hosted on Saturdays and part of CMA’s JPMorgan Chase Center for Creativity Studio to explore ideas, solve creative challenges, and collaborate with friends and family. We look forward to inviting you back to Open Studio and other CMA experiences when we reopen to the public.