This week, there was a book fair taking place at the school where I teach. After school one day, I volunteered to cashier during the after-school hours. In observing a mother with her two elementary-aged children (approximately ages four and six), I took note of the mother walking around with her children, pointing out various titles or characters she knew her children would appreciate or relate to. The other volunteer I was working with, Paula, is handicapped and suffers from a severe speech impediment. Upon interacting with this family for the first time by affirming one of their book choices, the little girl exclaims, “you talk funny!” Her mother instantly blushes, becomes visibly embarrassed, and tells her daughter that she is being rude and unkind. She profusely apologizes to Paula for her daughter’s behavior. Paula volunteers often at our elementary school and handles situations like this on a regular basis. Rather than becoming offended, she asks the little girl if she would like to know why. The little girl nods her head, whereupon Paula gently explains that she was in an accident when she was a little girl and was hit by a car. The mother is still very apologetic and quickly pays for her purchases and ushers her children out of the room.
Through this observation, I realized how quickly interactions like these can occur and how we need to be proactive and prepared in communicating through them. The mother reacted in a way that was based on how she was feeling in regards to her daughter’s comment, rather than responding in a way that treated the situation as a “teachable moment.” In order to make this communication more effective and affirming, this mother could have responded by telling her daughter that everyone speaks differently, just like people from different countries, who speak different languages, but that this is part of what makes us unique and beautiful as individuals: no two of us are the same.
The way this interaction was handled by her mother could have made the little girl to feel badly or as though she could not communicate her feelings based on her innocent observations. When we handle situations as such, rather than to take advantage of these opportunities to teach anti-bias perspectives, we punish and silence children’s communication and learning process. Instead, we need to cultivate a space in which children feel safe to express and communicate their feelings (Laureate Education, 2011).
Through this interaction, I realized that while I often strive to take advantage of “teachable moments” in my classroom, I have plenty of room for improvement. Often, in the context of a classroom full of five and six year olds, it is easy to ignore seemingly small interactions between students. However, I need to become even more intentional about immediately responding to these interactions in order to help build an anti-bias framework and understanding with my students. The perspective then becomes one of “consciously shifting my mind from the immediacy of the conversation to consider it from other perspectives” (Stephenson, 2009, p. 90).
Laureate Education, Inc. (2011). Strategies for working with diverse children: Communicating with young children. Baltimore, MD: Author
Stephenson, A. (2009). Conversations with a 2-year-old. YC: Young Children, 64(2), 90-95. Retrieved from the Walden Library using the Education Research Complete database. http://ezp.waldenulibrary.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=37131016&site=ehost-live&scope=site