At Twin Parks Montessori Schools we are working to change the conversation from “diversity,” which is looking at differences, to “inclusion” and helping to make everyone feel a part of something larger – the Twin Parks Montessori School Community (TPMSC). We are preparing our students to be part of a global society. We are creating a safe space that is welcoming, supportive and safe for every unique individual within our school. This space will be safe for people regardless of color, ethnicity, gender or other unique abilities and characteristics.
“… Raising students to live in a bubble — a white bubble, a black bubble, a Latino bubble, whatever type of bubble you want to call it — is not to your benefit in a global society.”
— Derrick Gay, New York Times
Our students make sense of their environments by sorting the objects, people and experiences in their world. For instance infants go through phases of stranger anxiety. They meet a new person who does not fit into family member, caregiver, or teacher category, and turn away or become upset. Toddlers and Early Childhood children sort by shape, color, texture, sound, taste and appearance. For example, children may sort their classmates by length of hair, gender, or by skin tone. Yes, they do see the differences. It is our job as adults to help them see the similarities of all human beings. We all have hair, we all have eyes, ears and noses. We are all fabulously unique and similar in so many ways. Children learn prejudice from prejudice, not from learning about human diversity (Sparks and Edwards, p.4) From the moment we are born we are inundated with messages, verbal and non-verbal about different types of people. Children learn about stereotypes without realizing it. Adults’ tone and behaviors help children to be inclusive in their interactions with others.
Children learn to be proud of themselves and their families, and to respect human differences. Many of our classrooms display pictures of students’ families. They are a reminder of loved ones and they offer comfort for children acclimating to a new school experience. It is important for children to see themselves and their families reflected in our school. TPMSC’ families are all unique just like our students. Some families have more than one child or an adopted child, some have one parent or two and they may be the same gender, some are multi-generational with grandparents in the home, some may have family members who have a physical difference or use a wheelchair.
Our social and emotional curriculum allows for children to express how they feel to one another. This can be as basic as “I don’t like that, please stop” or, “You hurt my feelings when. . . ” Our goal is for students to increasingly recognize unfairness, and have language to describe it and understand that it can be hurtful for themselves and others. Our teachers observe behaviors and listen to conversations to help facilitate learning new words to use and actions to take.
Our first steps began at the start of the year during a full day workshop with Derrick Gay. We collaborated with Derrick to better understand our own perceptions and deepened our commitment to having an inclusive and empathetic community. Self-reflection to deeply understand our own lives is crucial to assisting children in developing to their fullest potential.
Sparks, L.D. and Edwards, J.O. 2010. Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves. Washington, DC: NAEYC.