The Misconceptions We Reinforce When Talking to Children about Disability, and Solutions

Itzel and Javi Last school year my youngest daughter befriended a young boy, Jonathan in her class with Down Syndrome. A few months into the school year she and my older daughter were having regular conversation about playing with Jonathan. Throughout that stretch of time I was met by periodic questions and comments about why Jonathan. Why doesn’t Jonathan say words? Why does Jonathan have different rules than other children? Why does Jonathan have his own teacher? Many times the questions came across as rhetorical. It sounded like the came out of a conversation that the teachers had with the students. The questions were more about receiving confirmation from me, a former early childhood special educator and researcher of high-quality inclusive education. But I wasn’t confirming what other adults were telling them. Most often, I was clarifying misconceptions.

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Is There a Brown History Month?

When my eldest discovered that this month is Black History Month her first question was “Is there a Brown History Month?”

My initial response was a mental, “Ummm.”

I then said, “I don’t know. I’m sure there are months set aside to recognize the histories of other racial populations, but I’m not sure when they are.”

“Is there a Chinese History Month or Mexican History Month, because I am Chinese and Mexican and I think there should be a month for us?” She proclaimed.

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How to Raise a Socially Conscious Child

maya angelou quote

Since developing this website and speaking on behalf of it, I periodically hear variations of: “This is not as simple as you make it sound. Make me a believer and I will be totally on board.”  I get it, and all the more reason for the slogan of this website: “Listen, Speak Up, Engage and Unite.” I can’t promise this blog post will make you a believer, but it should give you a better idea of how we have been working to raise socially conscious children.

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Because There Aren’t Enough Black Fairies

IMG_0301 (1)Until today, my posts have been about experiences with my older daughter.  This is the first post specifically about my younger daughter.  For years she has been by our side while I talk with my older daughter, but this is the first time the conversation was just the two of us.  It may have helped that her older sister was gone for the morning.

My younger daughter celebrated her fifth birthday last weekend.  One of her gifts was a small white plaster fairy.  The gift came with paints and a paintbrush with instructions for personalizing the fairy.  The illustration on the box was a fairy with fair skin, very similar to her skin tone.  After setting up the fairy and paint on top of a paper bag with a cup of water I walked to the sink to wash dishes.

After five minutes I returned to her side to observe the progress of her masterpiece.  I immediately noticed that the porcelain white arms of the fairy’s arms, legs and face had been painted black, the dress was blue and the mushrooms surrounding the fairy were a variety of colors with spots.  Continue reading

Generalizing Abstract Concepts of (In)justice and (In)equity

Elk meatPrejudice and discrimination have been a topic of conversation for my older daughter and me for about two years.  It started with the advent of wall building, carrying on through all types of topics that almost always include the words prejudice and discrimination.  I’m happy to say that there is clear evidence that she has learned to incorporate these abstract concepts into her everyday routine.  However, of late she has taken it a little too far for her mother to tolerate. Continue reading

Why Don’t We Ever See Children With Disabilities at the Playground?

Don't call me specialAbout a week ago, I was supervising my daughters as they played on a playground.  This was a new playground for us.  It was pretty typical.  A ground cover of wood chips, slides, bars to climb across, walls to climb up, etc.  They also had six swings, two for babies and toddlers, two traditional and, less common two adaptive swings.  These swings are typically blue or red, look like an upright reclining chair, and have four chains connecting them to the cross bar; two in the front and two in the back.  They are designed to support children who do not have the size, core strength or muscle tone to sit on the other swings. Also rare for playgrounds were the rubber walkway/ramps that wove through the wood chips.  Each ramp lead to a piece of playground equipment.  I took brief notice of these features, but I didn’t consider them something worth pointing out to the children.  I was wrong.

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Stereotypes, Bias, Prejudice, and Discrimination: Explaining “Normal” to a Seven Year Old

Separate is never equal

A few months back, after reading the book Separate is Never Equal, my daughter, Addi asked me:

“Daddy, why are the white people so rude to Sylvia’s family?”

My initial thought was, “that’s an easy one.  We’ve talked about racism and discrimination so many times.  I can reference back to many of our previous conversations.”  However, the answer that came out of my mouth was a little more nuanced than usual. “Because Sylvia’s family does not like what is normal for their school district.”

As I moved throughout the rest of my evening, and for several months to follow, I asked myself, “what is normal?” My goal was to advance Addi and my conversations about prejudice, discrimination and inclusion as well as develop a better understanding of the social world she/we live in?

What unfolded over time was the creation of the Cycle of Normal…and a daughter who is more aware of prejudice and discrimination.

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Do all Muslim Women Wear Hijabs?

MalalaMy daughter’s favorite book for the past two months has been “For the right to learn: Malala Yousafzai’s story.” So it wasn’t all that surprising when, on our way to the grocery store this afternoon she asked, “Do all Muslim women have to wear a hijab?” Continue reading

Rights Versus Privileges, No Chipoltle!

I have the right to be a childI was at my favorite bookstore a couple weeks back when I was introduced to the book, “I have the right to be a child.”  This book is an amazing conversation starter…and awesome to reference right before a tantrum.  I now reference it more often than “Have you filled a bucket.”  It became particularly handy this afternoon when the children were begging to eat dinner at Chipotle. Continue reading

Supporting a Child Who Wants to Become Woke: Engage!

The term “stay woke” was originally coined by musician Erykah Badu in her 2008 song Master Teacher. In the song, Badu sings, “Baby sleepy time, to put her down and I’ll be standin’ round until sun down…I stay woke.” I was introduced to this song last March on an episode of the highly recommended podcast, Code Switch.

At the time, I was sitting on a bus riding through downtown Denver. My destination was a regional conference where I was scheduled to deliver a presentation titled: Facilitating a Developmentally Appropriate Conversation on Social Justice and Equity with Young Children. The presentation was built around my personal experiences growing up, talking with my daughter, Addi, and reflections from my twelve years as an early childhood educator. At the core of the conversation was how Addi and I work to be woke. This second of the three blog series outlines three lessons I have learned. We must Engage!

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