It was interesting finding an email waiting for me this morning from a curricular resource I love to use, addressing how they provide age-appropriate election information to my kindergarten students. I have never before received this type of explanatory communication either via email or included with the materials utilized at school. "We think long and hard about what is appropriate for young learners" was part of the sender's message, which also included the resource's learning goal that students be able to understand, identify and express: "1) that in our country, we elect a President, 2) the name of the current President, and 3) the many jobs of the President." Definitely age appropriate, and illustrative of why I've been a long-term subscriber.
The content of the message was vaguely interesting in that it verified my assumption that two inauguration issues are prepped each election cycle, with only the correct issue printed and distributed once election results are finalized. The possible reason behind the email is what I find notable: curricularly, much about our President-Elect isn't appropriate content for inclusion in resources marketed to elementary schools and young children. The publisher, trying to ensure that teachers don't worry about the inauguration issue, or consider not renewing their subscription in the spring, is telling.
Veteran teachers are likely experienced enough to know how to teach kindergartners about the job and histories of the presidents of our country. Quite a bit of readily available age-appropriate presidential curriculum includes character traits of presidents such as Washington and Lincoln (honest and caring, fair and brave), stories to enjoy, and crafts we often do in February or in January of election years. My students have many opportunities to express their likes and dislikes, and vote for preferred learning activities, validating their right to feel the way they do and to express their tastes and opinions. They've been learning what fairness means, and are encouraged to be safe, kind, and helpful. Young children face and survive disappointments both big and small, building the resilience of which many adults often forget we're capable.
The President of the United States when I was in kindergarten was Richard Nixon of whom I knew nothing about, thanks to my age, my mother's discretion, a notable lack of media saturation, and the distinction between adults and children in society: kids were protected from and generally uninvolved (and uninterested, to be honest) with the political world. As I grew, I wondered why President Ford tripped and fell so often, and liked President Carter because he was a peanut farmer: I loved peanuts on my tin roof sundae from Farrell's Ice Cream Store. I was living in Barrow, Alaska when a man tried to kill President Reagan, and I remember how my sixth grade teacher cancelled our learning activities for the afternoon, having me and my classmates rest our heads on our desks while he listened to my mini-radio.
In my youth, I was allowed to be a kid and build the necessary social, behavioral and academic schema that made it possible for me to become at the very least, a contributing member to our society. As a teacher of young children, I purposely design my classroom to be a respite from the information overload, sensationalized, entertainment-as-news environment to which many of them are exposed, in an attempt to separate the curricular wheat from the chaff and meet their needs. I did not/will not show my students news footage of 9-11. I encouraged families to wait to listen to news reports after bedtime or when my students were at school with me after 9-11 and Sandy Hook. After this blog post in 2009, I never thought I'd have to consider whether it would be appropriate to watch a presidential inauguration in real time with my students, but... here we are. Unlike my own kindergarten experience all those years ago, it's quite possible that many of my five and six year old students already have a significant opinion of our President-Elect because of their exposure to content experienced away from school. Much of that content is shared and delivered widely without regard to an audience that now includes a large proportion of children, and many students unnecessarily parrot and worry about both political facts and propaganda.
Education content publishers, we're navigating this election minefield too.
Friday was our last day of kindergarten until 2017, and like many of you, December was such a busy month for me and my Super Stars that I'm only now able to share some photos. I spent Saturday vegging out (my brain was able to do little else, really), and yesterday *finally* putting up our Christmas decor at home.
Needing to clean up my laptop, I came across photos of some of the December fun we enjoyed in kindergarten- take a peek!
End of the quarter assessments were completed little by little each day, but we very much wanted to decorate for Christmas! Tearing red, white, and green paper to create candy canes was a fun fine motor activity during center time.
We reviewed plane shapes while creating classroom decor...
... and AB patterns with paper chains as we counted down the days to Christmas.
What would December be without one of our favorite story characters, or frankly, MANY Grinches, arranged into a Grinchmas tree?
Rudolph, with your nose so bright, won't you guide my sleigh tonight? These crafts helped us to attend to, remember, and create as we followed directions in sequence. We also strengthened our finger muscles by ripping paper for Santa's beard.
Graham cracker "gingerbread" house construction was a tasty STEM activity...
... and we made some snowy friends that will greet us when we return to school in January!
Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Kwanzaa, and Best Wishes for a Joyous New Year!
This post was originally published last year and is worth sharing again as the debate regarding costumes and cultural appropriation make their annual appearance prior to many schools' Thanksgiving plays and feasts.
After reading through a debate regarding a parent's complaint about pre-k students making construction paper feather headbands in November, I came across this post at Education World, "Are You Teaching the 'Real' Story of the 'First Thanksgiving?'" The article and debate made me realize how lucky I am to have been brought up the way I was as the child of both native and non-native parents.
Born in Kentucky and raised for the first ten years of my life in Texas, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to be immersed in Inupiat culture, and live for over two decades in a state where Native peoples' values, history, songs, beliefs, mythology, subsistence lifestyle, and art aren't merely on display for one month out of the year: Alaska. I learned about the good, the bad, the historical cruelties suffered by, and remarkable achievements of Indigenous Peoples. I have been a witness to the prejudices that remain and feel pride in the accomplishments and contributions of my Native family and friends today. Endurance, strength, resilience, community, love for family, pride, skill and artistry are all traits worthy of being shared, respected, and celebrated, no matter a person's ethnic or cultural background.
To develop empathy, children must be encouraged to walk a mile in another's shoes, to imagine how they might feel when meeting strangers for the first time, when deciding who and HOW to trust. Young children try on the clothing and garb of others every day, from their mom's high heels to their dad's Army cap, to sister's riding boots and brother's varsity jacket, developing their personal identity by trying on the markers of others. They also emulate family members, friends, sports heroes, celebrated musicians, actors, historical figures, community helpers and those blessed with a special talent or gift.
Can children create feathered headbands without the kitsch or racist connotations that instantly pop into their parents' minds upon viewing? Absolutely, but it's up to the teacher to share culturally relevant and accurate information about the earning of feathers (or wearing of a blanket, mask, or story belt) with students AND families. It's also a family's responsibility to try to understand the intentions behind a lesson or activity before rushing to judgment and labeling a teacher as racist or insensitive. Do I find it offensive if children emulate respected chiefs, warriors, healers, or shamans, just as they do ballerinas, astronauts, painters, singers, veterinarians, or teachers? No. Just as teachers, family and society expose children to other professions and roles worthy of respect through literature, history lessons, field trips, guest speakers, arts and crafts, so too can we teach children about Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples. Native AND non-Native teachers need quality non-fiction materials and resources, or know how and where to find them. It's also up to teachers and parents to be aware of what's not only culturally sensitive, but developmentally appropriate for young children.
Three, four, five and six year olds do not need to be exposed to and master the vocabulary of genocide because of the gut reaction of the adults around them. Rather, children should be gently guided as they broaden the scope of their universe from their immediate selves and family to their neighborhood, community, state, nation, and world.
Yesterday was a physically and emotionally lethargic day for me, thanks to the combination of too little sleep, our election plot twist, and the energy draining combination of not enough Midol and too many "Teacher-teacher-teacher-teacher" demands. I only encountered one adult who thought that my classroom was the best place to share her relief that "our country will be getting back to the way it used to be now," the rest of my colleagues (regardless of how they voted) too professional, too busy, and likely too tired to bring that can of worms into the building, much less open it. I was grateful that none of my students came in parroting their parents' political jubilation or fear- many colleagues across the country didn't have it so lucky.
After painting my nails red and getting almost seven hours of sleep, I woke up, had some coffee, stole a pack of The Fifth Grader's Pop Tarts, and sat down to surf social media. Twitter, Yahoo News, CNN Breaking News updates, and FB friends and family made for an interesting and concerning mix.
Visceral responses don't bother me: I cry, shake, shout out in jubilation, laugh, and dry heave just like everyone else. I seek out like-minded educators and creative, inspiring, humorous souls, with whom I feel a sense of belonging, fulfilling the same human need that so many others have. Unlike a significant portion of fellow citizens however, I don't believe I'm entitled to inflict my beliefs upon others through threats, attempts at intimidation, or violence. Reading that in reaction to the results of the presidential election, former Super Stars were facing threats of violence or unwelcome wink-wink pats on the ass from their colleagues and employers, I found my disappointment turning to exasperation.
Too many of us have forgotten the lessons that we learned in kindergarten, and too many schools, districts and communities have allowed data and calendars mapping the timeline of academic rigor to fill the days of young children and their teachers. "Don't hit," "be fair, share," "apologize and ask if the other person is okay," "help, don't hurt," "wait your turn," "be a good listener," and "use manner words" are all lessons that are only turned into intrinsic behaviors with time and daily opportunities for young children to learn and practice. These necessary skills and behaviors make sharing spaces and places with diverse community members possible, just as much as reading and math acumen. Diversity is the rule, not the exception, no matter how "icky" that apparently makes many Americans feel.
Please keep your hands, feet, and objects to yourselves.
After the news last night, my Teacher Brain woke me up this morning, reminding me that Scholastic's Let's Find Out fliers have an election edition, featuring this year's presidential candidates and a duck.
I'm seriously considering not sending the flier home with my students this year, because the only developmentally appropriate approach to take with my kindergartners about whether or not a woman, a duck, or a bully could be president, would involve much too much discussion about what my Super Stars have overheard or absorbed by osmosis from the social media that permeates much of their lives. Equal rights and the affirmation that we have the opportunity/responsibility to elect someone highly qualified to one of the most important positions in our country are worthwhile lessons and discussions to have, even with five and six year olds. Young children understand hope, change, fairness, kindness, safety, possibilities, right and wrong. Many of their parents have described bullying to them as an example of some of the most inappropriate, unkind, unsafe and untrustworthy of behaviors. No one should aspire to be a bully, and no one should tolerate one.
Five and six year olds won't understand the significance of email servers, foreign relations, or political double-speak, but they DO understand a man joking (?) about hurting their mommies, aunts, and sisters, and making their diverse friends move away or live on the other side of a wall. Those fear and confusion-inducing topics are not welcome in my classroom, no matter how much his supporters try to gloss over or spin them.
My professional judgment requires I advocate for the emotional well-being of my students, determining which content is informative and necessary, and which might be harmful. It's very possible that the simple photograph that is featured in "A Duck Can't Be President" will ignite uncomfortable feelings in some or many of my students, depending on the information and parental opinions they have likely overheard at home and out in public. I prefer to introduce and educate my students to the voting process itself, something photos numbered 1-4 in the flier do nicely. Perhaps this problem can be remedied by a simple trip through a paper cutter for the oversized teaching poster that's included with the pack, while the fliers themselves find their way into the recycle bin.
The only other time I've chosen to not utilize a take home flier from Scholastic was blogged about here. How do you decide what content is appropriate for your students? Do you decide as a grade level?