Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Using Imagination and Building Positive Identity: What Color Do You Call Your Skin?

A new book in our classroom, Happy in Our Skin, brought a lot of excitement this past week as we continue to learn about how we get our skin color and what function skin serves for our body.  The book’s depiction of families with many different colors of skin gave us pause as everyone remembered the discussions we had around All the Colors We Are the previous week -- we talked about skin color as something everyone is born with and that we inherit from our parents, which they in turn have inherited from their ancestors.  We have discussed the role of melanin in protecting our skin from the sun, and about how the level of melanin activity in humans looks different in very hot, sunny places versus cooler, milder ones.  As we work with the children to understand the reasons behind different skin colors, we reinforce the idea that there is no "default" or "superior" skin color -- everyone's skin has an incredibly important job to encase and protect us and it is unique to each of us, based on who is in our family and where we are from geographically. 

While reading Happy in Our Skin, we paused as a group and invited everyone to describe their own skin using any words that came to mind.  There were many exuberant shouts of “Mango!” “Banana!” “Chocolate!”  Some took a moment to consider before offering their ideas, while others seemed ready with spontaneous labels that felt exciting to suggest.  As everyone shared words enthusiastically, many children added to their list of descriptors, repeating two or three words that felt especially suiting to them.  

We truly enjoyed this discussion that ultimately felt like a celebration of everyone’s skin and identity.  As we talked, I was struck by how excited everyone was to think of their own skin as something unique to themselves, and something that they have the power to describe. No one corrected each other when a child "mislabeled" their skin -- everyone simply delighted in finding words that felt exciting to connect with skin color. As we continue to do this identity work in small groups and as a whole, we trust that each child will explore their own skin color and identity in the way that feels right to them -- just as we don't rush to "correct" a child who misidentifies a number or letter, we follow their processing and meet them exactly where they are, trusting that their learning will guide us to just where we need to be as an inclusive, loving community.

We look forward to fostering more of this celebration: reading books, making art, and encouraging conversation that reflects our strong belief as a community:

Difference is valued.  We are each worthy, whole individuals, deserving of respect and celebration!

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