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About Caitlin Lynch

Lead Teaching Artist & Coordinator for Young Child Programming

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.

Field Guide #myCMAStudio Challenge

For this week’s #myCMAstudio challenge, we’re inviting you to harness the power of observation to discover wonder in the mundane by creating a field guide to someplace familiar (varying degrees of accuracy and whimsy encouraged). The location is up to you- it could be your living room, your backyard, a park, an alley or even someplace conceptual- an exciting dream or beloved memory, or someplace you’ve only visited through google maps. 

Once you’ve chosen your site, spend some time there watching, listening and noticing. What kinds of plants do you see? What kinds of living creatures? You can look up scientific names OR invent your own. What sorts of non-living elements are there? Are there any smells or sounds that are particular to that place? Once you’ve spent some time noticing, collect some of those noticings in some way to share with others. Your field guide could be an epic, handbound tome, or a simple, pocket-sized pamphlet. You can organize the entries in your field guide by scientific class/genus, by color, by how much you would or would not want to eat them- it’s up to you!

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 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.

 

Talking to Young Kids About Racism

Talking to young kids about race

Notes from our conversation posted on the bulletin board outside the classroom at 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.

At Wonder School, and all of our early childhood programming at the Columbus Museum of Art, anti-racist teaching is at the heart of what we do. While we in no way consider ourselves “experts,” we do feel comfortable sharing some of the approaches we’ve used and continue to use. More importantly, as educators, we feel it is our responsibility to not remain silent.

The first thing we all need to acknowledge, if we haven’t already, is that there is never an age at which children are “too young” or “too innocent” to talk about racism. The world as it is is deeply unfair toward people with Black and brown skin. Research has shown that children are excellent observers from birth and concrete thinkers trying to make sense of the world. Studies show that by preschool, many children already hold racist stereotypes and show bias against children of other races. Unless we explicitly name the unjust system (racism), and call it out as unfair, we risk children growing up thinking that the way the world is is the way it should be.

talking to kids about protest

Notes from the bulletin board outside the Wonder School classroom.

The second uncomfortable truth that we as parents and educators (especially those of us who are white/white passing) need to get comfortable with is that this is life-long work. As artist, author, researcher, and founder of Mosaic Education Network Dr. Melissa Crum says, in the same way we can’t visit the dentist once a year and never have to think about oral hygiene again, we cannot have just one conversation or read just one book and “cure” ourselves or our children of racism. Instead, just as we help our children brush their teeth every day, we need to make peace with the idea of having regular ongoing conversations about racism and other injustices with our children.

Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing 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, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) characters AND that are by BIPOC authors/artists
  5. Supporting and fostering imagination, as a powerful tool for radical social change 

In the coming weeks watch for more resources for talking to young kids about racism.

– 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.