Speaking Up for What’s Right

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I had the great fortune of seeing and hearing writer, activist, teacher and poet Clint Smith at Reed College’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Engagement yesterday. I find Clint’s honesty, bravery, grace and power deeply inspiring.

The Danger of Silence by Clint Smith

As we adults consider the power of our words, I continue to think about how we can nourish our children to use their voices for good. I think about how we can help build the foundation for young children to become change-makers. Children are clearly following our modeling, so we can take our daily actions most seriously; we can remember that young ones watch what we say and do, and they notice our silence and inaction. 

At HFP, we teach children to use their words to solve problems and to speak up for what is kind, inclusive and fair. On Friday, we shared a variety of children’s picture books depicting people who are using their voices and abilities to stand up for what’s fair. W, who is newly loving to write, makes signs that echo these sentiments: “No!, Stop, Enough, That’s Not Fair.” I laminate the signs and adhere them to our Family Share on the next day of school. I add the prompt “When something is not fair, people can say ‘no,’ ‘stop,’ ‘that’s not fair.’ People use their powerful words to make change and make things kind and just for those who are not being treated right. What do you say when you don’t like what is happening?” 


During class, we have follow-up conversations about situations children have experienced that don’t feel good or right;  and I share stories that highlight some societal issues of injustice and those taking action against injustices. More children make signs and laminate them. The laminating steps seems to be a key step in making it clear that we take these words seriously.  Later at circle,  we hold up our signs. We use our bodies as we say “No,”  and shake our heads, and we put out our hand, spreading out our fingers and say, “Stop.” 


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

Pizza Party

Sometimes the best teaching involves changing plans. In this case, the change included an impromptu field trip to our neighborhood pizza place.

We took advantage of our small class grouping and made plans for Pizza Parties– some pizza play in our classroom and then a walk to HotLips Pizza.

In anticipation of the outing ahead we had a pizza party which morphed into a “pretend birthday party/dance party.” Children called in pizza phone orders, dressed up for the festivities, requested dance music for the party and made invitations for friends to attend. 

We donned our field trip badges, heading to HotLips Pizza. On our way, we took turns playing I-spy, listened to our echoing voices in the Safeway garage, and tried some body challenges (such as jumping jacks). 

Once we finished our slices, we gathered in small groups for a couple of our favorite games including “Hoot, Owl, Hoot” – a cooperative game in which we try and get the owls safely back to their nest before the sun rises. We also enjoyed variations of the card game, Uno.

At pick-up, parents joined with younger siblings for lunch and to try out the pinball games.


Welcoming Winter with Pajama Days

Reading in Bed

At HFP, we’ve got a wide array of amazing picture books. We rotate in new books from the Multnomah County Library each week, seeking to include diverse characters, representing stories similar to those of families in our immediate community as well as stories that differ from our children’s experiences. What could be more fun than cozying up with a buddy to read a new book? Snuggling in bed with a stack of books! We transformed our book area into a giant bed for pajama days.


Painting with Toothbrushes

As we consider bedtime rituals and routines, we chat about the importance of dental hygiene. And then, we include a funny tool for painting–toothbrushes! Using toothbrushes varies the feel and brush-marks on paper, creating an interesting kinesthetic edge to a daily activity. 

Pajama Day Songs at Circle

Breakfast for Snack!

Children loved choosing cereal options. We munched and crunched and munched some more.

All of our usual activities, of building, puzzling, and scultping playdough “cookies” are that much more fun when wearing cozy pajamas.

Honoring Hanukkah Reminds Us To Shine Bright

“As the light of our menorah shines brighter with each additional candle, may our commitment to standing with displaced people around the world grow even stronger and shine even brighter.” – Rabbi Rachel Grant Meyer, Director of Education at HIAS

I plan Blue Week to coincide with Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights. Although Hanukkah isn’t a major Jewish holiday, for some it’s an opportunity to claim Jewish heritage and be visible as Jews. For me, it is an act of reclamation and resistance honoring my own Jewish grandparents who emigrated from Russia to the United States when they were children to escape pogroms (anti-semitic violence and massacres). I introduce Hanukkah and menorah-lighting to preschoolers as “a reminder to be loving and to work for justice –what is fair and kind.”


Including Hanukkah in our classroom supports the Jewish heritage of those in our community by honoring the traditions of our people. At the same time, we broaden non-Jewish children’s knowledge of a holiday, play and rituals, making it harder for the seedlings of anti-Semitic prejudice to take root in our children’s minds. We provide a bit of connection to a culture and religion of a people that are sometimes marginalized and targeted.

We play dreidel and build a menorah puzzle. At circle, we sing, “Hanukkah, Oh, Hanukkah” while children take turns lighting our toy menorah. We also sing “This Little Light of Mine,” naming the value of shining our lights to be friendly and loving. 

Amidst pictures of blue whales, skies and oceans, we build with blue blocks and sculpt with blue play dough. We wear shades of blue and use the Family Share to consider blue things we like: water, ocean, eyes, blue jays, blueberries, robin’s eggs, the sky and more! We indulge in blueberries, blueberry smoothies and blueberry muffins and we gobble up delicious homemade latkes (potato pancakes). 



During Friday’s pre-K class, we invite children to make “peace puzzles.” We revisit what it means to be a friend, to be inclusive and to make peace. Each child gets to choose a word and a picture to map out what it is to be friendly and/or a peacemaker. We assemble our puzzles and bring them to the play yard to create a puzzle scavengar hunt.

 (The laminator machine is thrilling to use and coats our puzzles for safe keeping).

“The Hanukkah story is the story of an oppressed people triumphing over tryrants who sought to take away their freedom. It is the story of light triumphing over darkness, of a people overcoming seemingly impossible odds.

This is the Jewish story of people fleeing persecution, seeking asylum in our nation.Thousands of years later, Jews continue celebrating this holiday as we commit ourselves to rooting out hatred with love. We stand with those who are still oppressed today, those who still search for safety and welcome.

This Hanukkah, as the light of our menorah shines brighter with each additional candle, may our commitment to standing with displaced people around the world grow even stronger and shine even brighter.” – Rabbi Rachel Grant Meyer, Director of Education at HIAS