For the past few years, SEEC has been offering our Positive Sense of Self workshop, but now, more than ever, we see this work as not just important, but necessary. Politics aside, there is no denying that we have a population of young learners who are diverse and, in order to support them and their academic success we need to help educators learn how to create a supportive and inclusive learning environment.
Why the early years?
The importance of a child’s early years has become widely accepted. Educators and, more and more, policy makers recognize that providing families with affordable, high quality early education can have profound and lasting impacts on a child’s academic success and overall well-being. Quality early education can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, but one essential component is social emotional learning. The work of early learning professionals today includes helping children communicate their feelings, work successfully as a group, and try to understand and respect others. Embedded in these concepts, is the idea that children should see a variety of perspectives represented – those reflecting their own identity and the identities of others. The Smithsonian is in a unique position to use our objects and resources to support teachers in their own understanding and educational practices about race and culture.
Race and Culture
Research has proven that even very young children recognize physical and cultural differences and often display their own biases towards these differences. SEEC, and its partners, would posit that it is better to address these factors rather than ignore them. The truth is, young children do notice differences in skin color, clothing, and speech. Celebrating our differences can help children have a broader world view and instill pride in what makes them and their communities unique. At the same time, displaying our commonalities can demonstrate to young children how much we share.
Positive Sense of Self
This workshop that SEEC, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the National Museum of the American Indian, hosts will aim to help educators support a positive sense of self in ALL of their students. We know that children benefit by seeing themselves represented throughout their educational experience; through books, objects, art, play, and content educators can create an environment that honors all children.
We will begin our first day by recognizing our own bias in a safe environment and use this understanding of ourselves to help us become better educators. We will also examine the role stereotypes play in education and how, as educators, we can look past those stereotypes and use museums, their objects and resources, to create a more diverse classroom.
The second day of the workshop will feature several techniques for supporting children in their understanding of the themselves and the world. We will examine how to use objects (both every day and museum objects) to teach and, identify developmentally appropriate ways to talk about race and culture in the classroom. Participants will create collections that encourage children to embrace differences and acknowledge our shared humanity. We will also work in NMAAHC’s art galleries to model how looking and thinking routines can encourage young children to stop, look, think, and inquire. In this section, we will help educators respond to potentially awkward questions and remarks and support the notion that we don’t have to have all the answers – even if we are teachers. We will conclude the day by examining some common pitfalls used in preschool settings and provide participants with a chance to curate a learning environment using the techniques and resources that we explored during the workshop.
We hope you can join us in this important work.