Let’s Talk about Skin Color

This article was originally published in Home and Classroom magazine, published by Brightside Up.

By Debbie Markland

In 2018, in Shann Acevedo and Molly Collier’s three year old classroom in Atlanta, Georgia, amazing things transpired simply from the teachers observing that the children were noticing each other’s skin color and questioning why each of their skin color was different.  Believing in an emergent curriculum, they decided to dive deeper into what became The Skin Project.  

Why is our skin different?

Why is some skin light?

Why is some skin dark?

To dive deeper into important vocabulary that they knew would be essential to the project, as friends gathered in a meeting time on the rug, Shann and Molly asked children to look at their arms.  Hold them up.  Study them.  Compare it to the friend next to you.  Is your skin lighter?  Is it darker?  How is it the same?  How is it different?  Through this initial deeper conversation, children were learning that while we do have some similarities and that is great, and we also have some differences, and that is just as amazing!

   

During snack time, Shann and Molly passed out some M and M’s.  Yum!  They all shared what color their M and M’s were… red, orange, green, blue, yellow, and dark brown. Aren’t those all amazing colors?  Let’s bite into one!  The insides were all the same and they were deliciously good!  Shann and Molly used this as a reminder to the children- 

We can have a lot of similarities and differences in the way we look on the outside, but on the inside we can all choose kind.

On another day, Shann and Molly brought in some eggs- some brown and some white.  They too were different on the outside, but when they cracked the eggs open, they were the same on the inside.  

David noticed, “They are different colors.”

Hazel observed, “One is brown and one is white.”

Claire said, “They both have eggs on the inside.”

Cade stated, “They are both pointy.”

Sam thought, “They are both oval.”

It was now time to learn, why is our skin different colors.  After reading Katie Kissinger’s book, All the Colors We Are, the class learned that our skin color is our skin color because of our family or ancestors, the sun and melanin.  Knowing that understanding one’s own identity was important to understanding others’ identities as well, Shann and Molly read The Colors of Us by Karen Katz, and then gathered materials for children to each make their own paint that matched their skin color!  After studying paint chips and completing some fun color mixing- each child now had their own paint color.  They named their color and then started on their self-portraits.  Their self-named colors included:

Cinnamon, Mojave Sunset, Buttery Pink, Tan Sugar Cookie   , Catarina, Cozy                 Chair, Absorb Orange, Pochilla, Sweety, Suplee Chase Brown, Brown, Diaper, Pink Pink, Beige

The final result was amazing!  

Their self portraits were perfect!  As the self portraits found a place on the classroom walls, Shann and Molly noticed that their sense of community strengthened, and all the friends showed more empathy for each other.  What was realized?  Skin color should be talked about – not shushed.  Teaching children to embrace and understand their own differences helps them to understand and embrace other’s differences. If we teach children to talk about differences, and become comfortable with differences, we are on the right path to treating everyone with kindness.

 

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This was a PERFECT project for a three year old classroom when wanting to start intentional conversations about race.  Noticing differences (race, gender, ability, etc)  is developmentally appropriate for three year olds and should be talked about.  Not talking about differences only leaves children thinking that differences are not okay.  

I had hoped to follow up with some of these children to determine what they had remembered from the project three years later.  I got very few responses and from the few I received (only 3), I learned that two did not remember much and one did.  The one who did remember the lesson said to her mom, “Sun, family and melanin makes our skin the way it is- so we’re really not that different.”  I was really hoping that I would receive more responses.  

Perhaps what this means and tells us is when the children were immersed in the conversation of skin color, it helped their comfort level of talking about differences.  I wonder if we all talked about and celebrated our differences more often on a regular basis if it would become habit and more natural leading towards an acceptance of others.  We can hope.  We just need to talk about it- they are never too young.

Debbie Markland

Bio: I am a preschool teacher in Dunwoody, GA at Saint Luke’s Little Saints Preschool and an educational consultant for Learn As You Play – a website for parents and teachers of preschoolers that offers ideas, activities, courses, and a membership to aid in kindergarten readiness through play. 

          About the Author: Debbie Markland     

Hi! I am Debbie Markland, Education Consultant for Learn As You Play.  I live in Atlanta, GA where I teach 3 year olds!  I have taught for 18 years total! I have worked with age 2 all the way through middle school. I have enjoyed watching the ebb and flow of educational practices since I first taught in 1991, and being immersed in these changes enables my own learning to continue.  I like to describe myself as flexible, creative, and open-minded. I strive to continuously be building curiosity in my students!

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