5-years-old seems really young to explain to a child about racism, prejudice, inclusion and exclusion. Yet we know that even at that tender age our kids are already barraged by images and messages on TV and media and have possibly already experienced being left out or made fun of for being different themselves.
Just ask Ryan, who’s overweight, or Samantha who doesn’t quite know how to socialize—because of a developmental disability, or maybe not. Kids know when they are different, but do they know how to make others feel included?
In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day my mom, a 40 year veteran of teaching Religious Education at two reform Jewish congregations, asked me to be the “guest speaker” last weekend for her kindergarten class about the legacy of Dr. King.
I had 20 minutes, and they were 5. In the world of “coulda, shoulda, woulda” could I have prepared more? Should I have included more biographical information on Dr. King? Would it have been better for her to have selected someone else?
Sure, but here’s what I say. 1.) Put your money where your mouth is. If someone asks you to volunteer to speak about something about which you feel passionate (equitable society, combating prejudice, etc.) you say yes, and 2.) If adults will only remember three things that you tell them, kids will remember one.
The Government was denying people rights because of their skin color. That was wrong. Dr. King acted and fought for what was right.
Alright kids, what does Judaism say we are obligated to do when we see something wrong in the world? “Fix it!” they shouted. Lesson learned? Hope so. Lesson lasting? Hope so too.
Here’s what we did in 20 minutes or less:
ACTIVITY 1: “Same and Different”
EQUIPMENT NEEDED: None
ROOM SET-UP: Helpful to have two to three distinct corners, tables, or ‘bases’ within room where kids can go.
LEARNING OBJECTIVE: We really don’t know anything about a person or what we might share in common with them, just by physical appearance. Getting to know someone is what shows his or her character. Judging before knowing is called prejudice, and might prevent a child from making a good friend.
HOW TO: Select 4 to 6 questions that will allow the kids to self-select based on things called out by the leader. Examples might be “boy or girl;” “oldest, middle, youngest, or only child;” “food preferences, such as liking fish or chocolate.”
“If you are the oldest child, go to table 1. If you are the youngest child, go to table 2. If you’re the middle child, table 3”
“If you are a boy, got to table 1; if you are a girl, go to table 2”
“If you are Jewish, go to table 1.” (Also good to show that just because we are all the same, Jewish, doesn’t mean we all like the same things.)
“If you like to eat fish, go to table 1. If you don’t like fish or you’re a vegetarian, go to table 2.”
Each time the kids were told to look at who was in their group. Sometimes kids were similar or different based on physical characteristics. Sometimes all the kids were the same. And sometimes kids found things in common with each other that they didn’t know just by looking.
“So what can you tell just by looking at someone?” “Nothing!” answered one child.”
“How can you tell if you might be friends with someone? “By what’s inside,” said another.
ACTIVITY 2: Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes (VERY truncated version derived from hearing about the original experment)
EQUIPMENT NEEDED: None
ROOM SET-UP: Helpful to have two to three distinct corners, tables, or ‘bases’ within room where kids can be in the same room, but separated.
LEARNING OBJECTIVE: Recognizing Institutional Bias and standing up against it, just like Dr. King.
“Everyone with blue eyes go to table one. Everyone with Brown eyes go to table 2.”
“Now, what if the teacher said I’ve got lots of juice, but today only the kids with blue eyes can have more juice. There’s no juice for the brown-eyed kids, even though I have plenty. Is that fair?”
“NO!” shouted the kids.
“Well that’s exactly what happened with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In his case it was actually the United States Government, not just the teacher, who was being unfair and not sharing everything that was available with all of the people.”
“And what does Judaism teach us that we have to do if we see something wrong in the world?”
“We have to fix it” said Emily, “just like Martin Luther King.”