How do we teach our children about race? Children learn through play.
Play fosters a sense of adventure, imagination and creativity. Watch your child play and you can learn just as much about them as they are learning about their surroundings. They are solving problems, dealing with their emotions when something doesn’t go the way they wanted and improving their concentration skills.
In this article, you’re going to read about 3 ways to teach your children about race through play.
First, let me tell you that my husband is black, I am white, and our daughter, Hope, is biracial. We want her to see herself represented in the toys that she plays with. My mom and I spent time searching through dolls to find one that has curly hair just like her, which brings us to the first point.
I’m going to challenge you on something. Black dolls weren’t just made for black girls and boys.
Black dolls are harder to find, often more expensive. Black dolls are important for black children to see themselves represented. But it doesn’t stop there. Black dolls are important for ALL children to see black people represented.
You see, everytime my daughter kisses her baby, every time she feeds her baby, every time she changes her baby’s diaper, she is loving on a representation of a black child.
Purchase your child a black action figure that is the hero and not only the protagonist. A great example is Mile Morales, Black Spiderman. Here you can see Lyndsey Thomas’ son Asher colouring in a picture of his favourite superhero.
Children love and learn so much through books. To watch their fingers turn the pages and their eyes scan the artwork is a beautiful sight to see. Many children’s books are predominantly filled with white characters. You’re going to need to be intentional about exposing your child to books that are focused on children from other races. I’m not talking about a book that has one black child amongst all white children. I’m talking about a book that was intentionally written and illustrated with race being top of mind. There are so many beautiful books to choose from.
We love “Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes” written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury because it shows children of all races interacting and hugging each other. We love “Baby Dance” written by Ann Taylor and illustrated by Marjorie van Heerden because all of the characters are black and are shown in a positive and loving light and most of all because Hope loves to dance with her daddy like the little one in the book does. “Dream Big Little One” written and illustrated Vashti Harrison is a fantastic book that highlights black females. There’s a longer list of books that my daughter has been enjoying at the end of this post.
Let me tell you about my daughter’s friend Chedza. She is quite honestly a child genius. She is so much fun to talk to. She is black. She is beautiful. She is Hope’s friend. I’m including a photo of them playing together before social distancing was in place. Even now, they talk on Facetime. In fact, the other day, Hope said, “Che Che? Mama please Che Che!” And then Hope’s face lit up when Chedza’s face appeared on the phone. Each time we talk, Chedza asks us when she is coming back to our house. Do you realize that means she feels welcome, accepted and worthy in our home?
Your children need to play with children of other races. They will learn to love, problem solve and get along with those that they play with. They are also watching to see who you have as friends.
One thing I’m respecting is that people are getting uncomfortable. They are opening themselves up to rethinking, relearning and challenging their current and past behaviour. So this is coming from a place of love. You are going to start somewhere. It’s going to start with one black action figure or one book that includes information about black culture. But don’t stop there. Don’t just have a token black doll. Continue to grow your child’s collection.
It’s as simple as telling your friends and family something like this before a birthday or Christmas: “We really want Hope to see diversity in her toys and her books, can you help us do that?”
If you’re not a parent, chances are you still have children in your lives. So next time you need to buy a gift for a child, buy them a book that includes the beauty of race.
Creating a world and a future where black lives matter starts with us, starts with our children and, I believe, it starts with play.
List of books pictured:
“Dream Big, Little One” written and illustrated by Vashti Harrison
“When God Made You” written by Matthew Paul Turner and illustrated by David Catrow
“So Much” written by Trish Cooke and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
“Hope Springs” written by Eric Walters and illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes
“My First Book of Prayers, Jesus Loves Me” Illustrated by Lisa M Gardiner
“Please, Baby, Please” written by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee and illustrated by Kadir Nelson
“Baby Dance” written by Ann Taylor and illustrated by Majorie van Heerden
“Mama Panya’s Pancakes, A Village Tale from Kenya” written by Mary and Rich Chamberlin and illustrated by Julia Cairns
“Pecan Pie Baby” written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Sophie Blackall
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