Sunday, January 31, 2021

Why are we skipping this?

Earlier this month, a teacher friend called me to check on their read-aloud of the marvelous Martin Luther King, Jr. book, Martin's Big Words by Doreen Rappoport (and beautifully illustrated by Bryan Collier), and wondered

Is this appropriate for three and four year olds?  

Short and easy answer - YES!! 

What makes Martin Luther King, Jr. unforgettable, 
always revered, and celebrated,
is his message of 
love conquering hate, 
solving problems with nonviolence, 
equality for all regardless of skin color, and
taking action to make this world a better place. 

There can be no better message for our youngest learners to hear, I think. And not just around the third Monday in January! I hope these precepts are woven into all our early learning programs, throughout children's education.

What about the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. - should this be shared? Yes, you should read the book as is, honor the writing and the beautiful images. I wonder if tension about this is something only White teachers experience? Am I right? We should ask ourselves - why do we want to gloss over Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death? Are we protecting our children or protecting ourselves? Why would we skip it? Remember, the goal of the book is not the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The point is to not make his death the story, though it cannot be denied. His life was shortened, taken by another in anger; he died before he should have. Yet, there is extraordinary beauty and hope in what continues to live on, what Martin Luther King, Jr. shared with us - what is his legacy.

Black families and educators have long taught Black history to young children, to all children. White teachers and families need to get on board with this same approach. It is OUR history. We need to love our kids, protect our kids, and share in developmentally appropriate ways about our history. Yes, there are difficult things to share, and there are many positives, many true heroes to tell about. 

One simple tip - it is always a good practice to read books to yourself before reading them aloud to someone else, even if it's just your child, to be certain that you are comfortable and familiar with what is written. (I still wince about my unprepared reading of the book Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, alongside my eight year old son - oh my! How I fell apart when a character died unexpectedly!) There are times when I have softened language in developmentally appropriate ways, or emphasized certain words, cut sections short, and even paused some books and continued them later, when I sensed that I lost children's attention.  

There are so many great books to share! Here are some excellent book ideas and resources, from Teaching for Change.

Let's be honest with our children.
Let's cultivate caring citizens.
Let's create a better world.  

This week is Black Lives Week of Action (February 1 - 5, 2021) and I am missing being in the classroom, sharing special activities in celebration of this week. I hope that early childhood teachers and families are embracing this call. Our recent history, with the Capitol riot, shows how we can no longer afford ignorance.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

How do we go on?

when our nation seemed to fall apart at its seams,
when an angry mob stormed the U.S. Capitol,
so many horrifying images flashing across the screen,
my granddaughter Frog was here for her ritual Wednesday at NanaPoppa's, sound asleep for her afternoon nap.

I am reminded of the blessing of children, the extraordinary gift of their presence.

When she woke up,
in the midst of the insanity,
we turned off all the news and gave 100% attention to this sweet two year old child. We kept her world safe and tender, we renewed ourselves. 

Yes, it was time to turn on music, get out the playdough, and make muffins. We found a big piece of scrap paper and drew pictures, everything Frog loved ...she directed me to draw a Christmas tree, a jack-o-lantern, holiday lights, an angel, a dinosaur. We read books. Soon we noticed that the sun had set, so we went for our 'night walk' - a tradition that has evolved since the days have become shorter...coats and hats on, camping lantern in hand, we hold hands and walk our neighborhood block, to see what we can see. Yesterday was FREEZING, despite our warm jackets, and we didn't last long. We noticed that some holiday lights were no longer up - but we saw our neighbor's silly dragon with the Santa hat and that was fun. Back inside, it was time for dinner, a slow and meandering buffet of her favorites, including of all things, frozen blueberries. What is it that delights her about these? So funny! Then, it was time for a long bubble bath, reading books, and saying our good nights at bedtime. Frog fell asleep easily and joyfully. That's all that really matters to me.

Guess what, the news was waiting for us.
We didn't miss any of the horror.
It's always there.

Children are life-giving. To be in their midst, to truly hone in and escape through their magical presence, is to take the very best care of oneself.

I am reminded of a wall plaque my mother-in-law gave to me when our first child was born, which says:

Babies are God's way of saying the world must go on.