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  • Writer's pictureAmy Utterback

Courageous Conversations

Updated: Jun 4, 2020

From Leigh Pappalardo ...

Like so many others, amid a global pandemic that has claimed thousands of lives, I am shaken by the currently escalating social unrest and what I can do to make a meaningful contribution to working towards lasting change. The societal upheaval that is occurring challenges me to think and do more. The raw emotions of so many people that continue to speak out against senseless acts of racism and inherent bias is being displayed once again all over the country. My teenagers have questions, feelings, and opinions about what they are seeing on social media and news outlets, so I am doing my best to let them lead the discussions at home. My goal in parenting them is to allow them to see, hear, and feel things for themselves without imposing my views upon them first. I feel a responsibility to DO something to lead by example, but my question to myself continues to be what do I do?

This is not a light subject to navigate with children of any age, especially when you are faced with a preschool age child who has questions about what they see and hear in the adult driven world around them. Our preschoolers are building their social-emotional skills, just learning to identify and label their own feelings and trying to recognize the feelings of others. They are looking to us with eyes wide open to be an example. I have been missing my preschoolers with a visceral sadness since the day we abruptly shut down in March. I find myself thinking of the innocent and curious little souls that enter the halls and classrooms of Galilee each September and how they will view and understand the current events around them and how it will affect them long term. Again, what do I DO to help? How can I contribute to the effort to make this a PAST issue for the children, not a present issue.

After much thought, I do see and feel that as a preschool teacher perhaps I am already in the best position to effect change by working with these children. Each year brings a diverse group of children to Galilee and I truly feel lucky to work with such a kind and dedicated group of teachers that promote kindness as they grow with each class. Like so many preschools, we start our academic year with an All About Me theme. We draw pictures of our families, our homes, our pets, ourselves. Over the years, I tried to incorporate as many age appropriate and organic opportunities to highlight and celebrate the uniqueness of my preschoolers. Like all the teachers at Galilee, I strive to provide a variety of learning experiences. Since I discovered the book The Skin You Live In, by Michael Tyler, I have had the most touching conversations with innocent 4 year olds about the way they view themselves and see others. One of the earliest skills we teach our youngest is color recognition. We eagerly quiz them on the colors of the rainbow. But how do they see skin color? Do they notice differences? How do we address their questions? We discuss all our attributes, and sometimes graph them; who has green eyes, who has brown hair, who has curls? If we can recognize and discuss these different attributes so freely, how can we come to a comfort level with beginning conversations about race in the framework of equality and kindness? I found one answer in the pages of this beautiful picture book.

The illustrations in The Skin You Live in depict children of all cultures and skin tones

enjoying simple universal activities such as getting tucked into bed in pj’s, swimming in the ocean, catching bugs, and even giving hugs. These are activities that our children understand. This book address social concepts that are crucial to child development such as friendship, self-esteem, and diversity. The author describes the skin colors of the children in the book as they are happily engaging in these childlike activities. I use this book as a jumping point to a discussion about how we all are capable of having similar interests no matter what we look like! Our skin does not define us, it enhances our uniqueness. My favorite two pages from the book read:

“It’s not dumb skin or smart skin, or keep us apart skin, I’m right and you’re wrong skin.

Nor she skin or he skin you’re better than me skin; I’m lesser than you skin, it’s me against you skin.”

WOW. Powerful yet simple prose geared to our youngest audiences.

If you feel stuck when your child recognizes and questions a difference, you could channel this book by acknowledging differences but also highlighting similarities. “Yes, you are right. That child has darker skin than you do. Children from different families may look different, but how neat that she likes to kick a soccer ball like you!” I passionately believe that if we acknowledge a child’s observations, validate them, and provide a kind and positive message highlighting similarity rather than pointing out differences we are onto something pure.

My goal is to continue to listen and learn as much from the children as they do from me; to let children see all of the colors and describe them in their own words. These are some of their words and they are beautiful.

“I have chocolate chip cookie skin.”

“I have lemonade skin.”

“I have potato chip skin.”

“I have marshmallow skin.”

“I have cloud skin.”

“I have cotton candy skin.”

“I have popcorn skin.”

“I have strawberry ice cream skin.”

“I have graham cracker skin.”

”I have chocolate skin.”

“I have coconut skin.”

From Amy Utterback ...

We want our children to understand, respect, and value persons different from ourselves, for we all have a valuable story to tell. We also want our children to know how to listen to another’s story or point of view and be able to empathize. We want our children to be compassionate, perceptive, reasoned, and strong.

It is never too early to begin talking about ways in which we are different, ways we are the same, and how to support and stand up for others.

Here are a few books to help you start the conversation in your home.

The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler

One Big Heart by Linsey Davis

Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry

Happy In Our Skin by Fran Manushkin

Whoever You Are by Mem Fox

Mixed: A Colorful Story by Arree Chung

Lovely by Jess Hong

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold

Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev

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