Ruby Bridges: You Belong Here!


HFP’s social curriculum and emphasis on being friendly and inclusive provides the foundation from which to notice and speak up when things are not kind, friendly or fair. After learning a bit about MLK Jr. and the civil rights movement over the past few class sessions, we introduced the story of Ruby Bridges, the first African-American child to desegregate the all-white Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana school in 1960. We looked at pictures of angry white-skinned people who held signs that did not want Ruby to join the school and we checked out pictures of mostly black-skinned people who  held signs in favor of desegregating. We invited parents/adult caregivers to model the way with the morning’s family share prompt: “If you were there when Ruby was walking into the school, what could your sign say to welcome Ruby? ”

Ruby, come play with us!  * We are with you!    Please join us, Ruby! You are an important part of our school. * Ruby, let’s play and make art together. *Bienvenida! Quieres jugar conmigo? (Welcome! Do you want to play with me?) * You belong here! Can’t wait to meet you!

Once in the classroom, we played and discussed the story of Ruby Bridges and invited children to make their own welcoming signs they could later carry in our march.




  Learn More: This 3 minute video about Ruby Bridges might be a good one to share and discuss with your children.

Celebrating Blue Week, Hanukkah and Peace

Our last week before winter break is a special one. We host a blue-themed week and share a bit about Hanukkah. This is an opportunity to take a break from the pervasive red-and-green Christmas decorations in public spaces, Christmas  tunes on the radio, and the general assumption that Christmas takes center stage for all people– and to honor an aspect of Jewish culture. While we do this in a light and playful manner, this is a somewhat revolutionary act. It is an effort to make space for a marginalized group of people–Jews– to maintain connections to our history and heritage, rather than succumb to the pressure to assimilate in a Christian dominated culture. I am grateful for the opportunity to embrace my own Jewish heritage, to honor the practices of other Jews in our school community and to share a bit about our people with other children and families at HFP.

While many adults wish other “Peace on Earth” during this time of the year, we’ll continue to consider what peace means to us. In many ways, our tiny preschool community practices peace on a regular basis, as we uphold the importance of being kind, caring and inclusive in our classroom. I introduce a peace song I made up  to the classic folk song “Bingo.” I remember “Bingo” fondly from my own childhood and am tickled to extend the excitement of singing and clapping while replacing the traditional, fairly meaningless lyrics about a dog and it’s name, with rich lyrics that encourage cooperation and consideration of others.

We indulge in blue-themed snacks, emphasizing blueberries. We paint, play and build with shades of blue.





2160p from Hawthorne Family Playschool on Vimeo.

A special thanks to the talented Michelle Alany, O’s aunt, for joining us at circle to share some lively music with us. Michelle Alany plays violin and sing in traditional styles inspired by the folk music of Mediterranean, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, especially including klezmer and Sephardic music. You can check out her recordings here.
This post is dedicated to my beloved Jewish grandparents, Sadie and Harry, who immigrated to the United States to flee pogroms when they were both young children. May their memory be a blessing.

Marching for Climate Action

 “Indigenous peoples have been on the frontlines of the climate crisis, and we know how to live in balance with the Earth. And so, when we’re talking about solutions, we have to include indigenous peoples in the conversation. So, let’s protect our indigenous peoples, their rights, their communities, their way of life, because that’s what we’re going to need when we go into this battle.” – Tokata Iron Eyes

This past Friday, millions of protesters around the world joined their voices together to demand action on climate change. Parents and children of the Hawthorne Playschool were inspired to see so many people taking action together for a better planet.

Big topics like climate change can be scary to young minds, so teacher Susan engaged the children in a lighter way: with an invitation to consider ways we care for animals, people and places we love. We talked about how each of us can help take care of the Earth. Children shared their ideas to take care of the Earth, like growing food with fewer chemicals, protecting animals and recycling.

We used the family share for parents to have individual conversations with their child about protecting our Earth. Children learned the following about Greta Thunberg, the young activist and organizer at the heart of the climate protests: “Greta is a 16 year-old-girl – a big kid – who is a hero. She is called a climate activist. That means Greta tells everyone she knows that it’s important to take care of our planet Earth. She is angry that some people don’t take care of our trees, animals, air and water. Greta uses her words to remind people how important it is to take care of the Earth and all of us who live on it.”


Families were invited to sign their names if they agree with Greta and children were invited to share one favorite animal they want to protect. Later, in the classroom, children  made their own signs for a march around the neighborhood, sharing their message to protect animals, clean water and access to healthy food. This week we’ll revisit the climate march, inviting children to chant at circle and sharing photos of young activists who protested in downtown Portland last Friday. 

“B was so excited to show me how she learned to march at school today! She was proud and I was too! Her favorite things about this week at HFP were marching and learning how to care for animals. Her favorite part about marching is fighting for how she believes. Looks like we’ve got a little activist on our hands!”
– Liz, HFP parent

“With a background in social work and my own activism that flourished in college, I naturally have wanted to teach my own children ways to be change agents in our community. Last year, I brought my 4-year-old son, A, to a rally at the Oregon State Capital. He witnessed people chanting and holding signs which sparked a lot of curiosity. Upon hearing that Teacher Susan would be talking about climate activist Greta Thunberg, I used this as an opportunity to show A Greta’s Instagram page and talk to him about how she is mobilizing people all over the world. He was intrigued that such a young person was motivating so many people and he was eager to see all of her photos. He wanted to know why these marches are happening and I told him because people are not loving our planet and that she is trying to communicate to people that we need to take better care of our mother earth. I have brought this full circle by growing our own food and intentionally involving A in that process- to the planting of the seeds, the watering, and the harvesting. When we get food from our garden and eat it, we often thank the plants for bestowing us with wonderful gifts. I believe that one of the most accessible ways we can start teaching our littlest ones about activism is found in the simplicity of planting seeds and growing food. For when there is a connection to the earth, there is a connection that expands to all plants, animals, and humans, and an interconnectedness that fosters more love, kindness, and gratitude.”
– Cyan, HFP parent

“Young people of color have been doing the work to fight climate change for hundreds of years. It’s something that we are born into. We’ve lived in an extractive economy our entire lives; we come from a generation of families that have to live through this extraction and we know what it is, we know how it affects us, and we know what kind of change we want to see.”- Nyiesha Mallet, an 18-year-old artist and activist from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Check out’s catchy music video featuring a range of youth: “We’re Gonna Strike For You. Will You Strike For Us?”

Check out Raffi’s music video “Young People Marching” celebrating this recent wave of social activism in protection of our Earth.

7 Teen Activists Of Color You Need To Know Who Are Leading The Fight Against Climate Change

Meet the young activists of color who are leading the charge against climate disaster

More Info on Youth Climate Activists

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

Celebrating Holidays With Intention: Less Stress and More Fun for the Whole Family!

In our multicultural society, Christmas, although important to many people, is still not everyone’s holiday. For children and families from other groups—be they Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, pagan, atheist, or anything else—Christmas can be a difficult time. For almost all families, the commercialization of the holiday, with its pressures to buy, decorate, and entertain, adds tremendous complication to already overloaded and busy lives.” -NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children)

We relay our values to our impressionable children. This time of year poses an additional challenge as retailers, commercials, and in some cases extended family and friends, bombard us with messages about how to prepare for Christmas. Inherent in this commercial construction of Christmas underlies the misleading assumption that everyone celebrates Christmas and does so in the same way: feasts, decorations, visits with Santa and numerous gifts under the Christmas tree.

We can guide our children’s thoughts and expectations this holiday season as we choose experiences, rituals and gift-giving that are consistent with our values and let go of those that are not. As we hold true to our wishes for our families and tease those out from what’s being sold to us, we can gift ourselves a nourishing, balanced and joyful holiday season. We can reduce stress and increase satisfaction.

Emphasize Connection and Balance

Whether we are aware of it or not, there is a persuasive Christmas script that can run the show. In an effort to attain this elusive picture-perfect Christmas, we might over-commit to activities, spend beyond our means, consume more sugar and/or alcohol than we truly want, focus children’s attention on material desires and regret subsequent meltdowns, host in pristinely decorated and spotless homes, and forget the experiences of those who don’t celebrate Christmas.

There is much to treasure this season:

  • Time with loved ones
  • Family rituals
  • Annual decorations
  • Favorite recipes
  • Festive music
  • Gift sharing
  • Outdoor excursions
  • Joyful connections

Let’s pause to consider the activities that most nourish us and leave behind those that don’t bring us fulfillment. Sometimes, less is more. We can plan based on the knowledge that what our children most want is our loving attention. Let’s act in accordance to our values, rather than get swept up in what author Jean Staeheli refers to as the “Christmas machine.” *

Challenge Assumptions

Instead of narrowly defining winter celebrations, we can teach our children that there are many ways to honor winter holidays. Assuming every family celebrates Christmas is hurtful. It reinforces a false narrative that there is single experience and it keeps others’ experiences invisible.  A couple of simple shifts in language during December can help to reflect a broader range of family experiences:

  • Wish people “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
  • Call the two-week school closure at the end of December “Winter Break,” rather than “Christmas Break.”

Shifting from dominant culture assumptions takes time and practice. The more we do it, the closer we’ll come to achieving the true meaning of the holidays– goodwill to all.

Consider Families With Less Financial Means 

We can support our children’s understanding that families’ access to material wealth varies. While the holiday season offers some families luxurious social events, feasts and the exchange of multiple gifts, other families are struggling to meet their basic needs.

We can let our children know what we are thankful for (each other, our homes, heating, warm clothes, good food, etc) and we can help them understand that many people don’t have access to these things.

Consider donating to or volunteering at a food bank, donating warm clothing and/or donating some new or gently used toys. These actions will help support our children’s awareness of others and will help remind us that we can all make a difference.

Gift Ideas that Emphasize Connection Over Consumption

These gifts nourish our relationships, produce less waste and are better for the environment:

  1. Trade gently used books or toys that your child is ready to pass on. Wrap them up and swap with another family.
  2. Make a batch of homemade play dough.
  3. Purchase books that feature perspectives and experiences that differ from your child’s to help boost empathy and awareness. Some of my favorite picture books are here.
  4. Subscribe to a children’s magazine. Here are some recommendations.
  5. Activities: Rollerskating, bowling, family soccer game or card night.
  6. Coupon book: Include a night time family walk, a trip to OMSI, picking what’s for dinner, or an extra bedtime story.
  7. Crafting date: Time together to make something special.
  8. Baking date: Offer recipes and ingredients and bake.
  9. Gift Certificate for Shared Nature Adventure: Let’s take a hike! Ride bikes together! Sled! Shift the emphasis from stuff to shared appreciation of the great outdoors.
  10. Gift Certificate for Parent Play Time: A coupon for child to pick a half hour of uninterrupted play in which they dictate what you do together.  Set the timer and let the good times roll!

Here’s to a joyous holiday season!

Further Reading:

From Hand-in-Hand Parenting: “Holidays and Meltdowns Go Together like Peanut Butter and Jelly” 

*  “Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season” by Jean Staeheli