I was recently shopping for my children's school supplies, and it dawned on me... it's as simple as a box of colored pencils! What is "it" you ask? IT is the thing some people fear and/or avoid like the plague. IT is what some people, like myself, are dying to talk more about. IT has been inescapable for the past year (unless you live under a rock). IT=RACE. Beyond the word race, I am speaking about racial equity. I'll spare you a multi-page blog about why racial equity is vital to ALL humans. At the same time, there are simple, very basic things we can do to actively take strides towards it, and it starts with a box of pencils.
Remember the good ol' box of Crayola Multicultural colored pencils/markers/crayons? I blew the dust off of these at the beginning of each year to do self-portraits with my students, and tucked them away to be used for the next year. Of course, 2020 brought a more respectful change to the product, renaming them Colors of the World! Whether you agree with the name change or not, the point is simple: the standard brown and peach crayon is just not enough. Sure, you have to buy these separately from the classic and bold colors--baby steps, y'all, but they do exist, and you should have them... we all should.
As a child, I remember the joys of coloring with markers! There was nothing like it... until it came time to color in skin tones. The peach marker always allowed you to see all features while the brown one covered up even the darkest lines. So, I chucked my brown, saving it for animals and such, replacing any person of color with my peach marker. Conspiracy? Maybe. Substituting any skin tone for peach was quite a statement I never realized I was forced to make. Fast forward to 2021. There are millions of children (and adults) who are trying to embrace their identity in a world that continues to stifle it, and a variety of media that represents the different, beautiful skin tones of the world should be standard in every household, classroom, art studio, etc. A child should not have to substitute one color for another because it doesn't represent who they are or what they are trying to create. Providing these (and any other appropriate form of representation) creates the norm, communicating to the child that s/he is the norm (and doesn't have to change who s/he is because a box of crayons says so). As so many of us move forward to face this giant of racism, we often get overwhelmed by the whole war rather than the small battles. Giants have fallen to a stone! Go forth and fight the battle, equipping your child with whatever "colors of the world" weapon, I mean drawing utensil, is desired.
*I have no affiliation with Crayola or the Colors of the World line*
This morning, I sat at breakfast with one of my children's old teachers and dear friends, Ms. Kristine. We caught up, discussing life and got on the subject of family. Kristine and I often exchange various stories about our similar-in-age girls. Something was different today... unfamiliar. As we chatted about the new challenges we see our oldest girls face, we realized that we are out of our elements. Both of us know child development 0-6 like the back of our hands, but now that our girls are 7 and 8 years old, we are in uncharted territories--and to be honest, we're scared. The good thing is that there are plenty of resources + great conversations that will help us down this next leg of the journey. More to come on this in the future.
As I drove home from my double Belgian Waffle, egg whites, chicken sausage and fruit (I thought I only ate the double waffle when I was pregnant... but I'm not and it was delicious!), I started to think more deeply about family. I thought about my own upbringing and how I used to watch tv with my parents at night: Family Matters, The Cosby Show (yikes, I know... it was still a great show), Doogie Howser, M.D., Full House, etc. I remember learning about many "older subjects" while watching these shows, feeling safe and having the support of my parents to explain, shield my ears, turn off, or do anything that needed to follow a scene. I compared this to how we watch tv with our children: they have their shows on their apps and we have ours. They watch their shows while we do our things around the house (sometimes sitting with them), and we watch our shows when they are asleep or not in the room. I thought this was the right thing to do because I can limit and monitor what they watch, deciding what would keep them innocent and protected from the things I didn't want them exposed to--#modernparenting. A few weeks ago, while watching my favorite show, Blackish, I thought to myself, "I wish I could watch this with my daughter! There are some great values that are reinforced... But no, there's bad language, and I don't want her to think she can dress like the older kids on the show, and I'm not ready for her to learn about _______..." As I drove home from breakfast with Kristine, I started to contemplate watching family shows with my husband and kids. Here's why: 1) I cannot control everything my children see and hear when they are out of the house. If I am with them in a "controlled" environment, allowing them to be exposed to more than Mighty Express and Sidney to the Max, I can do my job as a parent to navigate through the array of themes together. 2) I can help them understand that though so-and-so said a bad word, it's because s/he was mad. However, we know lots of other words that are appropriate to use when we're upset. Or, so-and-so has a cell phone (my daughter is obsessed) because their parents allow them to have one. You will get a cell phone when it is the right time for you to need one because you'll be out of the house more and need to have a way to reach us/be reached. 3) I don't want the world outside of our house to be the main source of street-smarts for my children. Open dialogs will hopefully create a space of trust and respect between our children and us (the parents). Of course, I don't want my children to partake in poor choices, but they're going to. My desire, which is something I couldn't do with my parents, is that they will have the confidence to come to my husband and me to talk about things.
So, break out all of the prime time shows! We're going to get through them all! No... We will pick and choose which shows, episodes, or parts to help our children make sense of their world, AND we will view them together. Sheltering children from real life themes, especially the scary ones, is an obstacle to their full development.
I can already tell this will be a multi-part series, so just get ready! After being in various schools for over a decade, I am now a stay-at-home mom. Talk about foreign territory! For a short period, I homeschooled my pre-schooler, only to conclude that since he was, from birth, supported by a his school social setting, he benefited more from that environment consistency (not at home with Mommy and Baby Bro). Fortunately, he now shares a school with his big sister. So, I'm left at home with the baby. Asides from maternity leave, in which I was barely coherent and more sleep deprived (than I am now), I have never spent long periods of time at home with any of my children. Oh, and my education is all weighted in 3 year-olds and up! So what do I do with an infant at home!?! The results have been pleasantly surprising.
I, unlike most stay-at-home moms, have a wealth of knowledge about Montessori infants and toddlers, having trained many teachers, set up environments, and studied countless resources. When I assumed my new at-home role, Caleb was 8 months old. He was rocking and kinda humping the floor (as babies do when they are trying to crawl but can't--I apologize for the graphic description, but you now can visualize what I mean… You're welcome). I knew he was attempting to move. Check off the sensitive period for movement box! I knew I needed to support this development by offering him space and activities encourage it. I spent hours on Amazon, looking at and finding inexpensive ideas for a bridge, incline, and other structures. Then it hit me. I was not happy with the fact that he can now move, though only in the flat tummy army crawl. I needed to give him more to encourage more movement! Hold that thought; there's more.
Caleb finally started to sit still without grabbing and eating books I read to him. Score! Check off the sensitive period language box! My older two children have enough books in our house to start a library, and I blame my husband, who always has a book in his hand! I re-organized Caleb's spaces to include books so we could enjoy them throughout our days at home. Unfortunately, many times, he lost interest or just wanted to grab the books for himself. Why weren't my attempts achieving success? He should've been able to sit through at least one reading of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Just wait one more second... I'm not done.
Order! I had this sensitive period in the bag-check! I knew so much about what babies need by setting up environments after observing them. I was in our own space and knew it would be easy to replicate this at home. I purchased a cheap floor mirror, collected baskets and trays from around the house, ordered a few essentials for his range of development, and off we went! Well, not really. He explored the works here and there as I did my thing of housework and projects. A few moments later, he would whine and cry due to what I had interpreted as boredom. I was honestly offended. Was my infant unappreciative and unamused by my awesome attempts to meet his needs? Was there too much or not enough stimulation? What was I doing wrong?
There was nothing personal about his response, though me taking it personally revealed a lot! I had forgotten him... Caleb, in the process. I had forgotten about one of the most important parts of the environment: the people in it. Though I created some top-notch Montessori spaces in my home (don't mean to toot my own horn but beep-beep), I was not there. I'd show him how to do it or lay it in front of him to explore and walk away, leaving him feeling insecure. AND my absence prevented another vital component to Montessori: observation. I wasn't there to see how he responded to his environment. What likes/dislikes were present? How did he respond to the works that were there? What other things caught his interest? I was neglecting my role in our adult-child relationship. Now what?
I have started to take more time to be fully present with Caleb. When he wants to be near to me, he comes close by. When he is focused on something, I move away slightly so he can independently enjoy the experience, engaging with him when he calls for it. I'm learning how to carve intentional, focused time (out of my busy at-home schedule... eye roll) with him. During these moments, my phone is silenced and out of the room. The television is set to Spotify on some calming, instrumental playlist. He directly has my attention while I indirectly have his. As we've been practicing this, I have made some discoveries: