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Hands On Lessons About People Colors with Elementary Students

MY LAKESHORE PEOPLE CRAYONS HAVE BEEN WITH ME A LONG, LONG TIME, along with conversations about our skin colors and representing ourselves & others. A message put out by Sesame Street last summer (2020) resonated deeply with me, prompting me to think about ways I can make these lessons more explicit (quote below). To that end, I worked on making these conversations more hands on, exploratory & experiential, especially for my littlest learners, which, as you know, is an approach I constantly strive to include in my lessons. Below are some of the activities & resources I use to make this a reality, occurring over the course of multiple lessons & throughout the year: 

Hands on lessons about race in world language classes


*STUFFIES OPEN THE CONVERSATION: I am super grateful that many years ago, when I first found my puppet, Pepita, I also bought every other bunny puppet they had! Realizing that they could be a great entry point to talking about diversity and the concept of being both unique (one of a kind) AND the same simultaneously, I pulled them out to initiate conversations with my primary grade levels (K-2). Using the approach of guided discovery, I ask my students what they notice about the group of bunnies (I arrange them in a line along my front table)-their answers can be in English or Spanish or a mix, I am more interested in fomenting observations than linguistic outcomes in these moments. (When answers are given in English, I repeat in Spanish, though!) Typical answers range from 'One bunny is white' to 'One bunny is bigger than the others' to '5 bunnies are brown', etc.  

Using Stuffies to talk about diversity & race

OBSERVING is a key piece of this activity, in my mind. Looking more closely at things is a skill kids benefit from developing, especially as we talk about peoples, cultures, similarities & differences. Noticing these & talking about them is a powerful segue to giving them tools to have conversations about race, diversity, and other areas of social justice. I see this as a foundational building block. 

I follow the prompt 'What do you notice?' with 'What is the same about the bunnies?' in an effort to draw out some overarching connections & qualities. "They are all bunnies." is the one I am most interested in teasing out, but kids come up with some other great ones, too! At this point, I rephrase to highlight both the things that make each bunny unique and what makes them the same, reiterating the concept 'we are all unique, we are all the same' (somos úniques, somos iguales). 

*OBSERVE YOUR CLASSMATES: From observing stuffies to observing classmates is a simple leap! Urging kids to look around the room, I give prompts such as 'Do we all have the same hair color?', "Do we all have the same hair texture or type?", "Do we all have the same eye color, skin color..etc?" giving them time to answer each question (no)...because we are all UNIQUE! and what makes us all the same? We are people!

*SKIN COLOR & RACE: I give full credit to a video Sesame Street created for helping me frame in kid friendly ways how to explain skin color & race (link here and the Spanish version here.) Watching this short video together, scaffolding where necessary if using the Spanish version, works really well to help kids better understand these concepts. An extension activity, if you live in a location with the autumnal turning of leaf color could be to go outside, collect leaves, and observe their variations, just as in the video-I wish the video had come out last fall so I could've done this, but am hoping to do it this coming school year!


*OUR OWN "COLOR PALETTE": Time to observe ourselves! Using small mirrors and my little people color hands, which you can find here, I give kids an opportunity to look carefully at themselves, using the little hands to find a color which is similar to their skin color. There is an ongoing incredible photography project called Humanae done by Brazilian photographer Angélica Dass which chronicles more than people and their skin tones-sharing this info with my students has been another powerful moment for them to break out of the 'peach=skin color' narrative. (yes, I speak directly to this, saying repeatedly there are so many "people colors" in the world, most especially when a kid asks for 'skin color' and they mean the peach). 
From here, handing out my Lakeshore People Crayons and my ¡Soy una paleta de colores! page (click here for the FREE download!) provides the opportunity for kids to put on paper what they have been observing and what we have been talking about. Having them observe their eye & hair color is an extension of the same conversation. NOTE: it has been documented widely that some children of color, especially younger ones, will color themselves lighter than they are due to the messages they've received in society stating being of color is "bad". I've witnessed this numerous times; you can gently ask if the color they've chosen is their "closest match", but I try not to push it. Given time and a safe space with lots of conversations around identity, this can shift. 



*MULTIPLE OPPORTUNITIES TO CONTINUE THIS CONVERSATION: I think its also important to give kids lots of opportunities to talk about skin color, race, etc as well as activities where they draw themselves and others, with the teacher prompt to remind them to observe closely, pay attention to details, and use our people color crayons to create accurate representations of ourselves & others. I have the mirrors available whenever we are doing these types of activities, which they love to use!  

RESOURCES & LINKS
Lakeshore Learning Jumbo People Crayons these are amazing quality & I love the jumbo size for little hands! They also have people colors construction paper :)
Crayonescolorpiel is a company in Argentina that makes people color crayons. Their Instagram account is fantastic for images & connections
@wokekindergarten on Instagram-a Kindergarten teacher sharing ABAR work in her classroom
La semana de la educación 2018 ¿Color piel? Un proyecto con la artista brasileña Angélica Dass

A FEW BOOKS
Los colores de nuestro piel de Karen Katz (in English: The Colors of Us)
Brown: The Many Shades of Love by Nancy Johnson James & Constance Moore
Everyone is different by Rachel Gale
Our Skin: A First Conversation about Race by Megan Madison, Jessica Ralli, and Isabel Roxas

How do you talk about people colors in your classes? Share in the comments below!

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