Teaching children about racism, prejudice and diversity isn’t easy. We are told that kids don’t see color but they do. Kids aren’t colorblind they just don’t have the societal baggage behind the observations that they make. It’s okay to notice differences, it’s ok to ask why someone has a funny hat or why someone’s eyes look different from theirs, it’s not ok to hate or to treat people differently because of the differences we notice and that is the lesson I set out to teach my son.
On Friday night I told my son the story of Martin Luther King Jr. , his amazing dream and tragic death. I showed him a video of the march on Washington and he heard Dr. King’s amazing address for the first time. I am so glad he got to see it before he got a chance to read it, nothing compares to seeing the original footage . I love the internet and that I could show him that snuggled in a dark bedroom on my iPhone.
Many questions were asked and the next day we sat down to make these paper dolls. We talked about how they were holding hands just like the children in Dr. King’s dream .I know that the very best way to teach children to avoid prejudice, embrace diversity and fight racism is to lead my example but for a hands on experience this was a fun way to reinforce your everyday lessons .
- Gather your materials. You will need a sheet of paper, scissors, crayons in various skin colors, markers in various colors of eyes and hair and a bright red one for lips. You will also need a 2nd piece of paper and 3 containers. You will also need some heart stickers, or cut out hearts and double stick tape.
- Start by fan folding your paper .
- Cut the paper dolls by cutting out the body shape , leaving the arms connected by the fold. If your child is able have them do the cutting, this would frustrate my son to no end and stop the lesson in it’s tracks so I took care of it and had it ready for him.
- Write out all different combinations of physical attributes, cut out and place in the 3 containers. I did light, medium and dark skin. Blonde, brown, black and orange ( red) hair , brown, green and blue eyes.
- Welcome your child and explain how people are all the same on the inside. We added hearts to each person with double stick tape – although stickers would be perfect. If you make larger dolls and have a child with a longer attention span you could even add more of what is inside people both the physical and less tangible things like love, hope and dreams.
- Flip over. Start drawing each physical attribute. We did random drawings to show that no one chooses their outsides, it’s random and only our shell not our heart. Color the skin, hair and eyes whichever color you draw from the containers.
- We had fun making predictions and taking turns drawing the skin, hair and eye color and coloring the dolls.
- I loved the end result of 4 unique looking people connected to each other on one side and 4 connected hearts on the other. We have been talking a lot about celebrating our differences but connecting to our similarities is equally important.
Whoever You Are by Mem Fox. I had the absolute pleasure of writing a unit of study for Itty Bitty Bookworm using this book as the base. I often feel sick of the books we use for curriculum after reading it thousands of times, brainstorming lessons and activities. Not this book, every time I read it I get goosebumps. The book is simple and talks about the differences of little children all over the world, but focuses on what they all have in common. Children of various cultures are shown , smiling, laughing, crying and the reader can see that even if the clothes , or houses or food are different the insides are the same. I always choke up reading this book because it’s so beautiful and a great reminder for all of us that while we so often focus on what we see as different most of what we have is in common.
The Colors of Us by Karen Katz. You are probably already familiar with this author/ illustrator who I have featured time and time again for her lift the flap board books that both my children love. This is not a board book or right for babies or toddlers, the text is long and the message is great! The story follows a 7 year old budding artist who like many children depicting people in their art is looking for “skin color”. On a walk with her mom she reflects about the colors she sees and the shades of skin in all the people around her. I always point out to my son how our own family has all different shades of skin, and this book taps into that message that there aren’t just a handful of skin colors but a range of endless shades.
Little Blue and Little Yellow is a profound book with underlying commentary about race relations while the surface story is about little blobs of color who when squished together turn into one green blob! You’ll be surprised by how easily your preschooler will pick up on the connection between the two. In my PreK class I had more than a few kids make the connection all on their own.
If you are looking for a great books about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I highly recommend My Brother Martin by Christine King Farris for children 5 and older. For younger children The Story Of Martin Luther King Jr. by Johnny Ray Moore is fantastic .