Today is National Adoption Day and I have invited my niece to share with us her unique perspective as a mom who has experienced the thoughts and concerns many adoptive families have as their child enters the early childhood classroom.
By Renata Sledge (Clara’s mom)
A couple of months ago, Clara came into the kitchen with two of her dolls. I was cooking dinner and trying to keep Clara busy without turning on the TV. I asked her, without really thinking, what the dolls names were. Clara thought a minute and said, “Blackey and Whitey.” I stopped. I giggled a little at the innocence of children and stumbled. I wasn’t expecting this so early. I expected this to start around 3 or 4, not 2 and a little bit. A couple of days later, Clara and I were playing in her room and she pointed at her hand and said, “brown” then pointed at my hand and said, “pink.” I thought about these events for a couple of days and tried to figure out where this came from. I did not have a feeling attached to the wonder, I just wondered why this, why now.
Later in the week, when I picked Clara up from school, I noticed two things. As this was “All about you” month, the classroom was decorated with pictures of the students and descriptors of the students; things like eye color, hair color, favorite toy, pets. There were charts and kids drawings and other evidence of what I already know; her teachers are thoughtful and intentional in all that they do.
The other thing I noticed was all week the class was talking about things that match; colors, shapes, baby animals to adult animals, etc. This is the miracle of early childhood education, at the same time Clara was developing self awareness, basic math skills, basic science skills, pre-reading skills and an understanding that we are all different.
This made me wonder what would happen when Clara translated her learning of matching to people. In other words, you can’t match people or families in the same way you match shapes. Taken individually, Clara’s family doesn’t match (though together, we look like we belong together). I wondered how her understanding of matching would impact her self-concept, racial, and personal identity. I wondered if Clara would feel she “matches” with anyone at school and what criteria she would use to “measure a match.”
When I came back the next week to pick up Clara from school, I stood back and looked around the classroom. I noticed Clara’s classroom is pretty diverse; half of the children were Caucasian, and the other half were other races or ethnicities. Some children are raised by adults similar in age to Rory and me; some children have older parents or grandparents raising them. A couple of the children have same-sex parents; a couple of children were from bi-racial families. Our family looks like the only transracial adoptive family. These are just the differences I could see; there is likely even more diversity in education, religion, health, socio-economic status, and parenting styles-though the list really is endless. I also noticed that the teachers and students were all interacting with each other way that demonstrated respect and even love. I breathed deeply but still wondered.
I wondered if Clara’s teachers have thought about diversity. I wondered if they have intentionally chosen dolls of different colors and different types of clothes to dress them in, or different dress-up clothes, or books with diverse families or main characters. I wondered if the teachers stumble on children’s honesty as I did with Clara or if they help their students explore the diversity around them in a safe and meaningful way.
My hope is the teachers are intentional in their exploration of diversity. My hope is the teachers still have moments where they giggle at the honesty of children, but help promote a positive sense of self awareness. My hope is that Clara’s teachers understand that embracing diversity in the early childhood classroom is not:
- A political statement.
- A single activity, lesson plan, day, or month
- A restriction on activity or celebration
- An individual responsibility
I hope Clara’s teachers understand that embracing diversity in the early childhood classroom is:
- A chance to teach and demonstrate to your students that they are o.k. just as they are
- An opportunity to help kids explore their natural curiosity of other people
- A chance for teachers to learn about new books, new community organizations, and new resources for continuing education.
- A chance for teachers to refresh familiar activities.
- A chance to ask yourself, “Have I given all my students a chance to learn about a new part of their world?” “Have I given all of my students a chance to identify with an activity in the classroom this week?”
- An opportunity for parents, teachers, and administrators to collaborate
A couple of weeks later, Clara and I were playing with her two dolls. I asked her again what the dolls names were, and she answered, “Blackey and Whitey.” We talked about the skin on the dolls. We compared their hair, their eyes, their noses, their fingers and their toes. We had a tea party where the “dolls” shared their favorite movies, their favorite toys, and their favorite song. Based on their favorite movie, the dolls were renamed “Simba and Nala.” After Clara started putting her dolls to bed, I stood back and breathed deeply. I said my thank you’s for the grace of children, for the opportunity our family has for learning, and the careful, thoughtful, and loving care she gets at school.
Renata Sledge is a licensed clinical social worker at a dialysis center in Illinois where she focuses on helping patients and their families adjust to the life changes that come with dialysis. As a social worker, Renata has also worked with children diagnosed with severe mental illness and exposed to trauma and abuse. As a music therapist, Renata worked with children who were hospitalized with a variety of illnesses and conditions. She has also worked with adult cancer patients and families affected by cancer.
Renata’s most important role is being a mother to Clara, who was born in May, 2010. Renata and her husband are thankful every day for the honor and gift of being Clara’s parents. Renata is hopeful that sharing her family’s experiences and Clara’s experiences with early childhood education will be helpful to teachers and parents.