Celebrating Skin Tones: A Piece of Racial Identity Development

Young children notice differences and make meaning of what they observe. They internalize messages about skin color and race whether we engage in conversation with them or not. We can influence the way children think about skin color and race by openly talking with them and nurturing the three C’s: curiosity, compassion and critical thinking.

White adults often make a few mistakes when it comes to considering race with children:

1) We think it’s problematic to talk about and notice differences. In an attempt to be “color blind,” we say that people are all the same, but children see for themselves that people look different. In reality, the problem is not noticing physical differences, rather it’s in making false meanings out of those differences– often based on misinformation, stereotypes or prejudice. 

2) We get uncomfortable, and even shush children, when they share their observations about skin colors, rather than taking it as an opportunity to thoughtfully engage them and help shape a positive association with all skin colors. When we silence children, we give them the message that there is something wrong with whatever they’re noticing; we stigmatize it; and we force their questions to go underground, causing confusion.

3) We, white folks, see ourselves as the norm or standard while we see people of color as having a race. In this way, we uphold white privilege, and skip over noticing our own whiteness–both our skin color and white culture.

  • Children compare their own skin to the baby doll’s skin, putting their name by the doll that most closely resembles their own shade of skin.

To interrupt these hurtful ways of being that perpetuate white privilege, white supremacist culture, and racism, we make a concerted effort at HFP to help children notice their own skin color and place it in a broader context. As part of our commitment to anti-bias education, we’ll make it clear that everybody has a beautiful shade of skin– one more unique physical characteristic along with their other features (hair, eyes, size, etc).

Our classroom is currently made up primarily lighter skinned children. We are taking the time to notice our skin tones and the broader range of skin tones that exist. In doing so, we are helping cultivate a climate of interest and appreciation for the varied colors of people.

  • Children compare their own skin with a range of spices. They sniff spices and get to notice the richness of the scents along with learning a new name for their own skin from ginger to curry to nutmeg.

  • Children each get a lotto card with a child’s face on it. During a circle time activity, they’re invited to place that card by the hand color card that most closely resembles that child’s face- from sunlight to peachy to rosy to raven.

  • Children play a matching lotto game with pictures of children’s faces. Adults encourage children to take a close look at each child pictured to notice specific traits. We use mirrors to notice similarities or different to our own faces. 

Susan will be leading an early childhood workshop discussion “Working Toward Racial Equity” on Feb. 26th, sponsored by the Portland Metropolitan Chapter of ORAEYC (Oregon Association for the Education of Young Children). More Info HERE

Thanks to Katie Kissinger, author of “All the Colors We Are/Todos Los colores de nuestra piel” and “Anti-Bias Education in the Early Childhood Classroom:Hand In Hand, Step By Step” for her inspiring work. 

Suggested Reading: “Why Talk About Whiteness: We Can’t Talk About Racism Without It”– Emily Chiariello

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