If you believe that others are a source of your learning, your identity, and your knowledge, you have opened a very important door to the joy of being together. We are not separated by our differences but connected by our differences. It is because of my difference that I am useful to you because I offer another perspective.
– Carlina Rinaldi, The Relationship Between Documentation and Assessment
Books for Inclusion in Early Learning Programmes
Humans have a long history of creating social boxes that categorize people. Sometimes, of course, this imbues a sense of belonging, such as belonging to a specific culture or nation, or team. But what happens when a sense of belonging for some creates a sense of exclusion for others?
In this segment of our series In Conversation with Susan Josephs, Susan explores how Hoopoe Books stories can open doors to conversations with children about otherness.
- Who am I?
- Who is ‘other’?
- Can I be different and still belong?
- Why are differences important to who I am, and who I am becoming?
These big philosophical questions are ones that research shows children are asking themselves at a very early age. Studies show that infants as young as 6 months recognize differences in race, specifically skin colour. By 2 years of age, they’re noticing and commenting on gender differences, and by 3 years children are asking questions related to their own characteristics of race, gender, language, and physical ability. Around 4 years of age they show awareness of family structure and economic status. And typically, between 3 and 5 years of age they begin to question which aspects of themselves will stay the same, and what will change.
Children Create Theories
As children try to make sense of what they notice, they create theories. By listening to their theories and observing their interactions, adults gain insights into what children believe about themselves and others. By engaging children sensitively in conversations about differences, adults can help children see and experience otherness as beautiful, strong, and valued. They can help children develop empathetic responses to those who are different from themselves.
Easier said than done? Absolutely! Conversations that explore racism with children (or any other societal ‘ism’) can feel a bit like trying to surf the ocean for the first time. How will we catch the wave of dialogue and ride it meaningfully without throwing us, children, or families into turbulent, unpalatable waters? But silence is not an option. Our silence tells children that racism is either too scary, or not important enough to talk about. If we want to raise empathetic children who find joy in learning from others different from themselves, we need the courage and openness to explore children’s observations and theories with them.
Hoopoe Books stories are designed with illustrations that feature Eastern ethnicity, dress, landscapes, as well as multiple written and aural languages. Especially in North American contexts, these elements offer adults simple places to begin important conversations with children about differences and similarities they notice and wonder about.
In this video Susan Josephs shares her insights and experiences in creating inclusive practices using Hoopoe Books. She offers specific ideas for language learners whose home language is not English. She also elucidates how these books open doors to conversations about otherness with children who identify with the dominant culture or group in their community.
As you watch this video, I invite you to reflect on how we embrace or resist engaging young children in conversations about otherness when we observe little diversity in our programmes or neighbourhoods.
Watch the next video of this series “Magical, Meaningful Story Times” in which Susan Josephs reads one of her favourite Hoopoe Books. In addition to this read-aloud, Susan shares reading strategies that educators can use in programmes, and story ideas parents can use at home.
Then check out our final segment in this series that captures the moving and inspirational ‘Power of Stories’.