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Looking for ways to approach sensitive topics? How art activities can help you talk about racism with young children. Yes, even during a pandemic.

Looking for ways to approach sensitive topics? How art activities can help you talk about racism with young children. Yes, even during a pandemic.

THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS

In less than one month it will be 12 months…

 …that the Wild One has been doing some-type-of-learning distance learning. And even though there were a couple of months when children were finally allowed to go out again, and the Wild One got to spend some time with her buddies, it still seemed as if we were stuck in a perpetual lockdown.

But we have been one of the lucky ones throughout this pandemic. We never got sick. Nobody in my family lost a job. We never had to worry about when the next meal was coming. We are lucky. Privileged even.

There’s a lot for which to be thankful.

Many of you know that during the first lockdown, there was one thing that changed the whole lockdown game for us. One day, during my doom-scrolling, I spotted the Tinkerlab Daily Art Challenge and it provided a way for me to connect more with the Wild One.

We created our “new normal” around the daily prompts, which offered opportunities to have “online” art expeditions where the Wild One learned how to draw and to paint—as she explored different techniques, art concepts, and artists. Every day we created something new, or explored a different scientific concept. While she explored and discovered, I got to be a teacher again. It gave me a sense of purpose.

A few weeks later, I was fortunate enough to be asked to become an education contributor for the Tinkerlab Schoolhouse—an online program to promote creative habits through art and STEAM projects. Needless to say, it has absolutely saved my sanity from “pandemic panic”. Since then, the Wild One and I have created so many fun memories! (Just take a look at our Instagram!)

And my favourite part?

Many of the prompts lend themselves to talks of feminism, which of course, led to explorations of aspiring *women and girls, both real and fiction. All of a sudden *Frida Kahlo wasn’t just a painter from the past, *Amelia Earhart wasn’t just a pioneering female pilot, *Ada Twist, Scientist and *Rosie Revere, Engineer, aren’t just characters in stories. 

They are representations of somebody the Wild One could one day aspire to be.

The art challenge wasn’t simply a boredom buster. It was a way to develop resilience, and to hone positive learning dispositions. But more important, it was a way to let Wild One know that she could make a difference through her creations.

Which brings me to the topic of this post…

…art can also help raise awareness of current events in the world. You can use art as a way to approach the topic of racism.

Racism is a difficult, and complicated, and scary topic. A topic that you, as a parent, may feel your child is not quite ready to tackle. But you have to trust in your child’s capacity to understand and empathise. Just. Trust. Them.

You never know, they might just surprise you!

When the daily art prompt was ‘Sign’. It was also amid the ongoing calls for support of the Black Lives Matter Movement. I had been following it on the news and followed friends who were active participants in the protests.

I saw this as an opportunity to make a protest sign and I thought long and hard about this, and about whether or not it was the right time to introduce “protest”—and all that goes with it. After all, how do you explain to a child who has never had any of these types of negative experiences that there are people in the world with so much hate in their hearts for some people simply because of the colour of their skin, or the country from whence they came?

It was extremely difficult. It would have definitely been more convenient just to push it aside.

But I decided against that idea. Convenience is not reason enough to stay silent on issues that matter. No matter how difficult. I got creative with her Elsa and Moana dolls. We talked about the differences in the two princesses, specifically their skin colour. I talked about how people have something in their bodies called melanin, and that a person’s skin, hair and eye colour is dependent on how much melanin their body produces. Then I told her in our house we celebrate these differences, and that she is a mix of someone with more melanin and less melanin. “My dad has less melanin than you. And that’s why I have peanut butter skin?” She asked. I said yes, proudly. But then I had to tell her the hard truth. The truth.

That others didn’t celebrate these differences, and that they were unkind to others because of it. I told her that she may hear people say mean things and see people do mean things. And when she does, she must stand up to them and to use her voice to defend herself and others. She thought carefully for a moment and responded with…

…“Why do some people not like other people because they are different from them?” 

It crushed me. 

This is a question I have asked all my life. From the first time someone looked at me and pulled the sides of their eyelids and yelled, “Asian invasion!”, to the time someone told me to go back to my own country and threw a wooden cricket ball at my head shattering the nerves in my eye, to the time someone graffitied a swastika all over my school bag, to the every time some ignorant person shouted, “Love you long time!” from the safety of their moving vehicle. 

I could go on. But you get the idea.

Crushing as it was, I still had to answer the question in a way that this concerned Wild One would understand and not be too upset. But maybe, it was okay to be upset? I was, after all, shattering her reality.

And it really sucked.

So, I said, “It’s because somewhere along the way somebody told them the wrong information and they just didn’t do enough research for themselves to really understand other people’s cultures.”

“So that’s why we’re making a sign? To help people understand racism is bad, right?” She replied looking determined. I could tell she understood what I was saying. She’s the child of teachers, and she is a mini scientist, and thus understands that knowledge will empower her to be less apprehensive about new things.

“Yes. Exactly that. We need to stand up against people who don’t want to know more about people who are different from them. So, that they will stop being mean to others” I replied.

Then it was time to create her own protest sign. I showed her how to mix tempera paints to create different skin tones. She decided that she would stamp her handprint using all the colours she made because she wanted it to look like they were holding hands.

Together we sounded out the letters and she wrote her message:

“STOP RACISM”

This exploration into racism, from the beginning of our play with Elsa and Moana to the end of the art exploration, probably took 20 minutes. It was short, but the lesson will last a lifetime.

At first, she was extremely sad and disappointed to learn that people can be so hurtful. It hurt to see her sad, but it was a necessary lesson. This is a conversation my parents never had with me, and so I didn’t know how to deal with it when those awful things happened to me. And now, with the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes and violence happening across the world, it’s become painfully obvious that we may have to revisit this topic again.

Unfortunately, it will be a long time before it stops—and thus, we have to continue talking about it. We must continue to educate our children and provide meaningful ways to engage them in this tough conversation. But for now, I am hopeful that when someone says or does anything remotely racist, and unfortunately, it will happen… 

…my Wild One will know exactly what to do.

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2 thoughts on “Looking for ways to approach sensitive topics? How art activities can help you talk about racism with young children. Yes, even during a pandemic.

  1. Bec, I’m deeply sorry you’ve had to endure so much hate and wish the world to be more compassionate, just, and empathetic. You’re a great mom and I loved hearing this part of your story. It’s been a huge honor to have you and your voice on the TinkerLab team.

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