Tag Archives: preschool

Can We Do Sensory Bins In Class During COVID?

I’m about to return to in-person teaching of toddlers and preschoolers for the first time in 18 months. I have many questions about sensory bins, shared toys, and craft supplies. I don’t have a lot of answers, but here’s what I’ve found.

Official Recommendations for Child Care Settings

Safest Options: Here are some recommended Sensory Ideas from King County public health. These are from May 2020, when worries about surface transmission were high, so the fact that these were considered safe then means they would definitely fit under current recommendations.

  • Individual sensory items in containers. To clean, just wipe down the outside.
    • Double-bagged ziplocks, sealed with tape. Fill with slime, gak, water beads, hair gel, etc. Kids hold and squish around.
    • Fill rubber gloves with sand, lentils, etc. Tie off.
    • Water bottles filled with colored water, oil, sequins, shells, etc. Tape or glue lids.
  • Individual sensory bins in plastic tubs. Each child has their own bin they use each week, filled with rice, beans or other material. Swap tools each week: cups, scoops, toys that can be cleaned.
  • Play-dough in individual containers for each child. For play, put them on a tray, or tape off part of a table. Give the child tools to play with – like cookie cutters. When done, put child’s playdough back in their bag, and clean tools before another child uses them.
  • Give child their own containers of finger paint. Use plastic handled paintbrushes, and clean before another child uses them.

Guidelines specific to sensory bins and shared items in childcare settings

The current recommendations from the Washington DOH (they’re supposedly releasing new recommendations soon) and the CDC, were originally developed when there was high concern about surface transmission.

DOH says (https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/1600/coronavirus/DOH-OSPI-DYCF-SchoolsChildCareGuidance.pdf)

  • “Children should have their own set of items to limit the sharing of supplies or equipment.
  • Some items cannot be cleaned and sanitized. This includes things like playdough and some items in sensory bins or tables, stuffed animals, and dress up clothes. Remove these items from the program unless they are individually assigned and labeled.
  • If using sensory materials, use items that can be disinfected or discarded and replaced between sessions…. All sensory table activities should be supervised for toddlers and preschool children. Hands should be washed before and after sensory table use.
  • Books and other paper-based materials are not high risk for spreading the virus and do not need to be cleaned more than normal.”

CDC adds “Machine washable cloth toys should be used by one person at a time or should not be used at all. These toys should be laundered before being used by another child.” https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/guidance-for-childcare.html

What is known, but not yet reflected in the guidelines

Does the type of surface matter?

Viruses live a different amount of time on different surfaces. There were studies in the NEJM that looked at half-life – how long till it’s reduced in half and Lancet that looked at how long it took before the virus was undetectable. Department of Homeland Security has a page that addresses estimated surface decay. (Here’s a plain language summary of the research.)

When first “deposited” – like if an infected person without a mask just sneezed droplets on a surface – there’s more virus there. As time passes, the amount of virus drops, till there’s no longer any detectable. (Imagine a puddle on a sidewalk – at first it might be two feet across, then it gets smaller, and then the pavement is just damp, and eventually the pavement is pretty much dry… the water is undetectable.)

When the virus was intentionally deposited on surfaces, it’s virtually gone from paper in a few hours, from cardboard in 24 hours, wood and cloth in 2 days, glass in 4 days, and steel and plastic in 3 – 7 days.

So, that’s how long some small amount of virus might be capable of living (if not cleaned with soap and water, or sanitized with bleach, or disinfected.)

So… if we had someone in class with active coronavirus, and virus was deposited on a surface and we didn’t clean it, there is some small amount of virus on that surface the next day. The question is – how likely is it that someone who is masked and washing hands frequently would catch COVID from that?

What do we now know about surface transmission?

  • In April 2021, the CDC released a brief (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/more/science-and-research/surface-transmission.html) which stated: “… surface transmission is not the main route by which SARS-CoV-2 spreads, and the risk is considered to be low. The principal mode by which people are infected with SARS-CoV-2 is through exposure to respiratory droplets carrying infectious virus. The risk of fomite transmission can be reduced by wearing masks consistently and correctly, practicing hand hygiene, cleaning, and taking other measures to maintain healthy facilities.” “… the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection via the fomite transmission route is low, and generally less than 1 in 10,000….” “Routine cleaning … with soap or detergent, at least once per day, can substantially reduce virus levels on surfaces. When focused on high-touch surfaces, cleaning with soap or detergent should be enough to further reduce the relatively low transmission risk from fomites in situations when there has not been a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 indoors.” “Disinfection is recommended in indoor community settings where there has been a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 within the last 24 hours.”

How much does cleaning reduce risk?

“From studies of cleaning focused on other microbes, a 90–99.9% reduction of microbe levels could be possible depending on the cleaning method and the surface being cleaned.”

So, if a different group of people is entering the classroom within 24 hours, then cleaning does get you a substantial reduction in risk.

The Context of Our Classrooms

Child care can look like lots of things – there are some 24 hour child cares that are back-up emergency care for essential workers – those might be more likely to have a higher load of any virus, and may be harder to clean between children. A full-time child care with unvaccinated workers might be more likely to have virus, and harder to clean between children.

In the context of my classes, things might look very different and might lead to different decision making. Here are the layers of protection we have in place to reduce the possible viral loads in our classrooms:

  • We require all adults to be vaccinated. (Also, on the Eastside, over 90% of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine.) We will ask them to do temperature checks, and symptom and exposure checks before coming. This reduces the risk that families will bring the virus to class.
  • We will require adults to wear masks and recommend that children do so. We will also increase ventilation. These practices reduce droplets and the risk of airborne transmission.
  • We will practice frequent hand-washing and hand sanitizing which reduces the risks of fomites being transferred to surfaces.
  • We have much higher adult to child ratios than a typical child care (between 1:1 and 1:5) and can provide closer supervision.
  • Some of our classrooms are only used once a week by one group of families.

Questions there aren’t official answers for

  • If an item is used by one child for a brief period of time, then put away for a week before being used again (like maracas or jingle bells at group time), does it need special cleaning?
  • Given frequent hand cleaning protocols, would it be reasonable to share materials like scissors and markers between children, or is it essential to have a system like a bin of clean markers, and then a bin for dirty markers where any marker that has been used by a child is placed?
  • If children hand sanitize before and after, is a shared sensory bin reasonable? Should it be filled only with materials that can be cleaned with soap and water and sanitized with bleach solution? Could some items (like rice and lentils) maybe be disinfected after class by stirring in alcohol? If health guidelines for child cares allow for sandbox play outdoors (they do) – what about sand in an indoor sensory bin?

These are the things I’m thinking about. If you have additional insight into this, let me know in the comments!

(Re)Adapting to In-Person Classes

This fall, many young children may be returning to in-person classes or preschool after a long time away, and some toddlers may be joining their first group activities with peers. Parents may worry about how their child will adapt. We can support the transition by: getting ourselves ready, choosing the right program for the moment, preparing children by teaching social skills and self-help skills at home plus talking to them about what to expect and what will be expected of them, then supporting them through all the new experiences in the first few weeks of class. We should expect that it will not all go smoothly and all children will have some rough days at school – because that has always been the case!

I know this feels like an unprecedented situation, and yes, COVID is unprecedented. But parents have always worried about sending their child off to school and wondered how they can help with the process. Those steps that parents have been following for decades all apply here, and we’ll throw in a couple COVID specific tips in our suggestions about what you can do to increase the chances that the transition to in-person learning will go smoothly.

Prepare Yourself

If you are anxious, your child will pick up on that, and they’ll be anxious too. So, before you start talking to them about going to classes, do whatever you need to do to build your own confidence that it will be OK. Get support from others if needed.

If you’re worried about COVID – remind yourself that even if children catch COVD, they typically have mild cases. (Yes, there are exceptions – some children who get very sick – but the chances are small.) The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a return to in-person school. You can also think about layers of protection – all the things you can do to reduce the risk for your child. [If you’re evaluating whether or not to return to in-person classes, here are factors to consider.]

If you’re worried your child won’t adapt well to being around other children, listening to other adults, or being away from you, keep in mind that children are very resilient – they often adapt to things much easier than adults do.

Ideally, you should work on your worries out of sight of your child. But, if your child notices your anxiety, then trying to pretend it’s not there can actually cause them more worry than if you just calmly say “I’m feeling worried now – here’s what I’m doing to calm myself.”

Planning for Success

Jumping from social isolation at home to a full-time program could be overwhelming for some children. Some parents are choosing to start small with a program that meets for only a few hours a week, and gradually build up to more. Some are choosing to start with a parent-child class or a cooperative preschool where they can stay with their child in the new setting to help make the transition to being with other kids and adults easier. Some will choose full-time school but simplify the rest of the child’s schedule to keep things manageable.

When looking at programs, I would consider their COVID protocols: Vaccines for the adults, masking for everyone over age 2, increased ventilation / more outside time, and social distancing can all reduce the risk.

I would also look more broadly at their approach to scheduling and rules. I would look for one that has a nice balance between providing structure with predictable routines and a little flexibility to adapt to your child’s needs of the moment. Our children really need both predictable routines at this time and responsiveness to their needs as they re-adapt.

Preparing Your Child

While returning from COVID is new, asking kids to adapt to new situations is not new. So there are a lot of things we know to do to ease transitions into toddler classes, daycare or preschool.

  • Teach self-help skills. Help your child learn how to put on their coat, take off their coat and hang it up. Help them learn how to open their string cheese or yogurt containers by themselves. Teach handwashing skills, and also practice how to use hand sanitizer.
    • During COVID, teach them how to wear a mask, how to take it off to eat, and put it back on, and what to do if their mask gets wet or dirty. (Early in COVID, many parents wondered if they could ever teach their child to do something “as weird” as wearing a mask – but remember, that’s not weird to a kid. It’s no weirder or harder to learn than how to wear pants in public.)
  • Teach and practice social skills: how to make friends, how to invite someone to play with you, how to ask to play with a toy someone else is using, taking turns, and so on. Set up playdates where your child can practice these skills.
    • During COVID, teach them about “giving space” around them rather than crowding other kids. In dance classes and sports classes, teachers have long used the idea of “bubbles” – imagine you have a big invisible bubble around you and so does everyone else and you can’t bump inside anyone else’s bubble. You can teach and practice this. Be careful not to give your child the message that it will always be dangerous / scary to be close to other people. Just say that right now with COVID we need to make extra space.
    • It always helps to teach emotional literacy skills – how you can tell how someone else is feeling. During COVID, be sure teach your child to watch for body language and tone of voice since they can’t see facial expression for people who are masked.
  • Create routines. What routines can you establish at home to make it easier to get out the door in the morning? If you’ll need to be up earlier in the morning than you’re used to, do you need to adjust bedtime? Learn about what routines they use at school and try to have similar practices at home. (For example, washing hands before snack time.) If your child will use new tools at school – like a backpack or a lunchbox or water bottle – get them early and practice.

Preparing them for Class

Talk about what to expect at their class, and what will be expected of them.

  • There are lots of great books and TV episodes about starting preschool. Some good book options include “Rosie goes to Preschool” by Karen Katz. (video) “Maisy Goes to Preschool” by Lucy Cousins (video), Lola Goes to School by McQuinn (video), Pete the Kitty’s First Day of Preschool by James Dean (video). Or watch “Learn what happens when Sadie starts school.” These provide good starting points for conversations and for pretend play.
    • Note: Many books address separation anxiety and other fears. If your child is already fearful, these can be reassuring. But if your child is feeling confident, don’t read these books – you don’t want to introduce anxiety! Some examples: Bye Bye Time by Verdick (video) is great for kids who are just a little anxious – it helps you develop a ritual for goodbye time and a plan for them for what to do if things are hard. “Llama Llama Misses Mama” by Anna Dewdney (video) is about a llama who has a really rough first day at school – it’s a perfect book to read after your child has a rough day. “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn (video) is about a raccoon child who is very reluctant to go to school – if your child is already reluctant, it offers good tools. Or watch Daniel Tiger Goes to School.
    • Here are recommendations for kids starting kindergarten or first grade: https://www.thoughtco.com/childrens-picture-books-about-starting-school-627520
  • Talk about what to expect at their school. Visit the school, if possible. Or, at least look at pictures or a video tour if available. Visit the outside of the building and walk around. Show your child pictures of the teacher. Get some materials like they’ll have in the classroom – like markers – and practice using them at home. There’s an idea called a social story which was created for kids with autism – where you create your own little book with pictures that clearly describes what to expect, what’s expected of them, and what they’ll do if something is challenging – I find these can benefit any child, so you could create one for your child.
  • Teach and practice how to interact with a teacher. Explain that the teacher is there to help them and will take care of them. Explain that the teacher is in charge. Teach how to get the teacher’s attention and how to ask for help. Teach them that sometimes they have to wait for a grown-up to be available to help them. Play listening games (like Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, or Copy the Rhythm I Clap).
  • Pretend play. Pretend to be going to school – who will play the parent? The child? The teacher? Play at things like: waiting in line (with stuffed animals), doing circle time, taking turns, asking the teacher for help, saying goodbye at drop-off time.

When Classes Begin

  • Don’t make too big a deal of the first day. That anticipation and excitement can turn into anxiety.
  • Don’t introduce all new clothes and shoes and backpack on the first day. Let them wear familiar and comfortable items. Pack their favorite foods, and pack the exact same lunch for the first several days so they know exactly what to expect. Ask your school’s policy about “transitional objects” – for some children, having a toy from home or a picture of family or favorite book, can help them adjust to all the new things around them.
    • Note: pre-COVID, this was often a stuffed animal, but during COVID, only send things to school that can be easily cleaned.
  • Allow extra time to get there – you want time to relax beforehand, remind your child what to expect, and get there with everyone calm. (Note: this is especially true if you have a child you think of as shy – I call them “slow to warm up.” These children do best when they can arrive a little early, before most of the other children and settle in. They don’t do well running in frantic and late to a full and busy classroom.
  • Build a relationship with the teacher(s), other kids, and other parents. When your child sees that you feel comfortable interacting with them all, they will feel comfortable too. Let the teacher know what things most engage and calm your child. (When my child was three, I told his teacher(s) that any time Ben was feeling worried, all they had to do was ask him about the planets, and give him nine objects to line up to show which was closest to the sun and which was furthest… it was guaranteed to calm him any time!)
  • For drop-off programs, ask if it’s possible to stay a while at drop off time in the early days. (It may not be possible during COVID.)
  • When it’s time to leave, keep your goodbyes brief, radiate confidence that they will be OK. Do say goodbye – don’t try to sneak our when they’re not looking. Tell them what they will be doing while you’re gone, and when you’ll return. (Be sure to honor that promise, and be prompt and predictable for your return.)
  • Make your goodbye ritual simple and sweet. Make sure your child is either settled into an activity or knows that to do next, or hand them off to an adult for care so that when you walk out the door, your child has something else they’re focused on other than your absence.
  • Remember that fear of strangers is developmentally normal for all children 7 months and up, and that separation anxiety is common in all toddlers around 18 months. If you see them, they’re likely not due to coronavirus or anything you did or didn’t do. And any advice that you can find for separation anxiety at any time will apply, whether or not it’s COVID specific.
  • Resist the rescue. If your child is sad/crying when it’s time for you to go, be caring and validate their feelings but stick to the plan and leave. Trust the teachers to be the professionals they are and manage the common challenges of separation anxiety. Typically a child who cries at drop off times cries only briefly and will soon calm down.
  • After class, give your child a chance to debrief and talk about how the day went.

Handling the Challenges

You may be one of the lucky few parents that everything goes well for and your child sails on through with no challenges. Or you may have a toddler who bites his classmates. If that happens, it’s not your fault and it’s not because of COVID isolation – it’s because sometimes toddlers bite their classmates. If your seven month old cries when strangers hold them, it’s good to know that 7 month olds have always been prone to fear of strangers. If you have a child who has a hard time sitting still for story time – maybe it’s because they didn’t have to sit still during quarantine… however, there have always been children who had a hard time sitting still! And the teachers will work with your family through the challenges, as they always have.

Be careful not to catastrophize. If your response to every setback is stress, anxiety, and “why does everything always go wrong?” that makes it worse. Try to have a resilience approach – “this is hard right now, but we’ve faced hard things in the past, and we’ve made it through, and look how much we learned.”

Some things to be aware of: if your child is having big feelings, it’s important to acknowledge them, not just try to distract them away. Regression is normal – for example, a child who was potty trained may have accidents – don’t punish or shame, just acknowledge the issue and say “let’s try to do better tomorrow.” If your child is really clingy, maybe they just need more snuggling for a while – soothe and reassure them. If they are misbehaving, remind yourself: children who are loved will always try to do well if they can. If they are misbehaving, ask yourself – is there a skill or support that they are lacking? If so, help them build it. Ask yourself – could it be that they have an underlying need that is driving the misbehavior? If so, meeting that need may resolve the issue.

Be patient and remember that any challenges are just a phase. Just keep doing your best every day and encourage them to do their best, and you’ll make your way through to the other side of this challenging time.

More Ideas

Choosing the Best School / Preschool

On a regular basis, I see posts on social media from parents asking for advice on choosing “the best” preschool, or the best private school in the area, or asking which is the best public school as they plan a move. (And, of course, parents of older children agonize over what is the best college.)

There truly is not a “best” school. There are LOTS of great schools, and some mediocre ones, and a very few bad ones. What’s best is the school that best meets your family’s unique needs and goals, and best suits your child’s unique learning style.

Here are some steps to take to figuring out YOUR best option:

Step 1 – Needs Assessment

Before you bother researching all the options, and before you fall in love with an option that won’t meet your needs, let’s start with the pure nitty gritty essentials:

  • Schedule: Are you looking for full-time or part-time, or are you flexible? If the regular school day isn’t long enough, do they offer extended day care? What days do you need? What wouldn’t work?
  • What times could work for you and what just doesn’t work? (e.g. if you’re not a morning person, choosing an early morning program may not be a realistic bet)
  • Location: really think through the commute and whether it will work – I can’t tell you how many parents have chosen what they thought was a great school, but by October were miserable about having a cranky kid in the car in never-ending traffic)
  • Cost: there is a wide range in costs – be realistic about what’s affordable for you. If you stretch your budget, then it can make any little frustration with the school really stressful as you think – “I can’t believe we’re paying this much and this is happening!”
  • Drop-off or stay? For younger children, there are often parent-child options where you always stay, or co-ops that are drop off some days and have you work in the classroom on other days. These are generally cheaper than drop-off programs and also allow you to be closely involved in your child’s education.

Step 2 – Goal Setting

What do you hope your child will get out of the experience? Are you hoping for academic development? Social-emotional skill building? Art? Music? Physical education? Science? Religious education?

Are there things that you know you could do a great job of teaching your kids? Then you may not need the school to cover that well. Is there something you think you won’t be good at teaching? Choose a school that does it well.

Do you prefer a very structured teacher-led program? Or more of a play-based or inquiry-based program where the teacher works the lesson plans around the children’s interests? How do you feel about homework – are you happy to guide practice time at home for them to improve on their skills? Or would you like out of school time to be free choice for your family?

Is the school’s approach to learning compatible with yours? When our oldest was little, we looked at one school which discouraged use of technology and screens, and actually discouraged reading before age 7, instead focusing on things like oral story-telling. This did not work for our tech-heavy family and also didn’t make sense because my kids all learn to read by age 3 or 4. (Not because we drill them… but because we love books so much in our family that they couldn’t wait to read themselves.) We looked at another school where there were only non-fiction books on the shelf in the kindergarten classroom, and I asked “where are the story books?” They disdainfully said “they have plenty of time for that sort of reading at home…” I knew that wasn’t the school for us!

Take a good look at your child’s temperament and learning style. I had a very social chatty child, and we looked at one school where the children were expected to work quietly and independently and not chat with each other. Not a good match for that child. I had a high energy child who tended to get overstimulated in indoor classrooms, but stayed calm and happy outdoors, so we sent him to outdoor preschool. You want to choose a school where your child will feel competent and valued, not one where they never fit in.

During goal setting, it’s also worth asking: What do you hope to get out of their school experience? Some preschools and schools offer parent education and support. Some actively work to encourage community building amongst families. Cooperative preschools and home school coops are the ultimate example of involving parents in school in meaningful ways. On the other hand, some parents may prefer to outsource school, and have a pretty hands-off approach, and there are certainly schools that will also support that.

Step 3 – Learn about Your Options

OK, now it’s time to turn to the internet and social media.

In Facebook groups for parents, you probably don’t even need to ask a question – you can typically search the archives for preschool or school, because probably 50 people before you have asked “what’s the best school” and you can just read through all those answers!

You can look at Yelp and Google reviews and such – but, as always with reviews, you’ll see a lot of 5 stars and a lot of 1 stars and nothing in between. People only bother to write reviews when they’re really happy or really mad. So, reviews never tell the whole story. But, they can give you some hints of what to watch for.

Look for directories, and look for school fairs and preschool fairs, or special issues of local parenting magazines. For example, in the Seattle area, for preschools, you’ll find the directory for the ParentMap preschool fair and the preschool night at Lake WA Toddler Group. For private schools, here is the directory for NW Association of Independent Schools and Puget Sound Independent Schools. Search online for ratings of local public schools.

Once you’ve got the names of schools, it’s easy to do lots of internet research on them. Check out their websites. Don’t just read the words, but also look for what’s NOT said. (For example, in my experience, if they don’t tell you the tuition up front, it’s probably high.) Look for what the pictures show, and what’s missing in the pictures. (For example, many schools try to portray diversity in their photographs to let folks know that everyone is welcome, but I’ve been involved in schools where we didn’t yet have a lot of racial diversity, and so we had the same few kids appearing over and over in several photos. I believe that we were welcoming, but when BIPOC kids came, there would not yet be many peers for them.)

Look at ads. But note: you may see a ton of ads for one school that make you think they’re great, but it could just be a big school with a big marketing budget (and likely high tuition to support that). Some really great small schools never run ads, because they’re trying to keep costs low to increase accessibility for families. They count on word of mouth – current and alumni families who had great experiences and tell their friends and family.

So, that leads to your best source of options: word of mouth. Ask friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, parents at the park! If you ask on social media, instead of just saying “what’s a great school”, say “we’re looking for a part-time, play-based, affordable preschool – what do you recommend?” Or whatever other criteria you want to state. That makes sure the recommendations you get are relevant to you.

Step 4 – Questions to Research

What do they teach? What would your child learn there?

What is the daily schedule? How is time divided between activities? Play time? Quiet time? Outdoors? Snack? Young children have short attention spans for structured activity, so it’s best in short doses, with plenty of unstructured time in between to explore and discover, and quiet time to process what they’ve learned.

How do they teach it?

A couple big picture ideas: A teacher-led curriculum means the teacher always prepares the lessons in advance (and may use a standardized curriculum) and sticks to them. A child-led curriculum (a.k.a. emergent or constructivist) follows the children’s interests and adapts to what the children want to do.

A structured class might use group time, worksheets, and formal instruction to teach particular skills. Students may be drilled in the basics, or asked to practice things over and over. A play-based class typically has multiple stations set up and allows children to move between things when they choose. The teacher moves around the room, making suggestions and observations, and asking questions to further the learning.

Who are the students?

  • How many students? How many teachers? The number of kids matters as much as student to teacher ratio. A 8 student class with 1 teacher (8:1 ratio) feels very different from a 16 student class with 2 teachers (8:1). And a 24 kid class is really different from a 6 kid class no matter the ratios.
  • What is the age range of the class? Some parents prefer that all the kids be as close as possible in age, but many programs tout the benefits of multi-age classrooms. The oldest kids have a chance to lead and mentor, and the younger ones benefit by the presence of an older role model.
  • What are the cut-off dates for age? Your child will do best when they’re in the middle of the recommended age range. If your child is a fall baby (born in September or October), I do NOT recommend trying to push them ahead… if they’re the youngest child in their class, they’ll always feel small, slow, and socially behind, even if they can keep up academically. Let them be the oldest – it’s a confidence booster. If they need more academic challenge than their classmates, most teachers are happy to give extra challenges to kids who can handle it.

Who are the teachers?

  • Training and experience: Where and how did they learn the content that they are teaching in the class? Where did they learn about how to teach? Do they participate in continuing education?
  • Longevity / turnover. As a general rule, the longer the teachers have been there the better. (Unless you get the sense that they’re burned out and only there due to inertia….)
  • Do they enjoy kids? Do they sit on the floor with the kids, smile, and engage with them? Or are they standing on the edges talking to other adults, occasionally calling out instructions to a child?
  • How do they handle discipline?What are their rules and how do they reinforce them?

What is the learning environment like?

  • Is the environment clean? Safe?
  • Is there a wide range of materials and supplies? Are materials in good condition?
  • Vibe:  The most important thing you’re “looking” for is something you can’t see. How does it feel? Is it warm, nurturing, full of exciting learning experiences, and full of happy children and teachers? Or is it cold, institutional, uninvolved?

What is the parent experience?

OK, now it’s time to go back to social media with specific questions: “We’re trying to decide between X School and Y School. We’d love to connect to parents who have recent experience with them – we’re especially curious about _____.”

Step 5 – Go With Your Gut

We know from the science of brain development that children learn best when they feel safe and are happy, so look for a place where they will be happy and engaged. Look for a place where you would feel great every time you drop them off to spend time there. Our family has been lucky to participate in some schools where I just felt blessed to have found that environment for my child.

So, all the steps above are logical and focus on practical evaluations. But I think this final decision point often comes down to what feels right to you? That’s the best school.

Learn more:

Circle Time for Toddlers

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I teach a parent-child class where the toddlers are 12 – 30 months in September. Each week, we do a circle time for music and stories. I tell the parents that not only does music have many benefits for children’s learning, and not only do rhymes and songs help teach language skills, circle time is also a chance for children to begin to practice key skills for kindergarten readiness: the ability to sit still, to listen to a teacher, to notice and do what the other people around them are doing, and to stop doing something when asked. (We do the shaker song every week, “oh you shake and you shake and you shake and you stop” and I talk about how huge this is for practicing impulse control.) My secret agenda is that teaching parents things to do with their children builds connections. Plus, of course, circle time is fun!

At the beginning of the year, I make sure parents know that their children will not yet be good at sitting still and paying attention for the full circle time, but the more we practice, and the more we model that behavior for them and encourage them to try, the better they’ll get. At the beginning of the year, circle time is about 10 minutes long. By the end of the year, it’s 20 – 25 minutes.

I always go in the same order each time, just adding more pieces to each segment as we go along. That way the children learn the ritual, and are better able to participate because they can predict what will happen next.

  1. Greeting Songs – each week we do the “I roll the ball to [name] song” and one other greeting song which uses the child’s name and gives each child a moment in the spotlight.
  2. Lap Songs – when we bounce children in a rhythm, it helps to instill rhythm in them at a fundamental level. It also helps to build their vestibular system. These songs are also super fun, and get lots of giggles going.
  3. Finger Rhymes – these teach a lot of vocabulary, and also teach children to notice patterns… “after dad says ‘with a one step and a two step’, he’s going to tickle me.”
  4. “Theme Activity” – I always have some small toys, puzzle pieces, or decor items tied into the theme gathered in my red gift bag. We sing “what’s in the red bag, the red bag, the red bag…” song. The kids come running over to find out. I give each one an item to take back to their parent – they talk about it together, then we do a few rhymes or songs that are related, then they bring them back to me.
  5. Book (we start these about halfway through the year)
  6. Shakers – we do the shake and stop song, sometimes some other songs, sometimes we turn on recorded music and dance and shake to the music.
  7. Active Songs, with or without parachute. Moving around the room in rhythm to the music is great at building coordination, rhythm, and large muscle skills.

I’ve gathered the ideas for my circle time rhymes and songs from many great sources. I have lots of favorite songs (here are links to lyrics and to videos showing hand motions). I have some favorite toddler books I share.

I have a full year’s worth of circle time plans for my toddler class – it’s organized by theme, and we do each set of songs for about 4 – 6 weeks. Themes include: fall, winter, spring, farm, zoo, stars, transportation, ducks, and beach.

For my science class for 3 – 6 year olds, we do two completely different circle times each week – opening circle teaches a rhythm activity, a discussion of the day’s topic, and a non-fiction book. Closing circle teaches a song, we read a fun imaginative fiction book related to the day’s theme, and we often do a group game to reinforce the day’s learning. You can find about 35 topics worth of circle time plans at www.InventorsOfTomorrow.com.

Do you have any great tips for how to help circle time go well, any favorite songs, or favorite resources for finding more ideas?

Children’s Books as Windows and Mirrors

Child looking at a mirror with windows showing diverse children

“We read to see two kinds of worlds: our own, and the ones we can’t imagine. We read to see ourselves reflected, and to peek into other people’s lives. … Our kids need to read about people not like them to expand their horizons and their empathy.” (Source)

Here are the topics I discuss in this post. (TL;DR: If you want a shorter discussion, in a handout form, click here for the PDF.)

Windows and Mirrors

Emily Style (in 1988) coined this metaphor, saying: “education needs to enable the student to look through window frames in order to see the realities of others and into mirrors in order to see her/his own reality reflected… The delightful truth is that sometimes when we hear another out, glancing through the window of their humanity, we can see our own image reflected in the glass of their window. The window becomes a mirror!” In 1990 Rudine Bishop expanded this, saying ““Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience.”

Whether you’re a parent or teacher or both, it’s important to spend some time seeking out books that will be windows and mirrors for the children you read to.

The Power of Mirrors

Here are a sampling of stories from people of times when they first saw themselves represented in media:

  • “Last week I received my 1st book that depicted a character with a disability.  At almost 28 years old, I’ve never read a book where the protagonist was a person with a disability…. I was thrilled to find a book that allowed children to see someone with a disability be a lead character… To grow up not seeing someone who shares similar looks or abilities as you can make a child or adult feel as if people like themselves are not important…” (Source)
  • “Like a unexpected gift from the cinema gods above, came “Bend It like Beckham,” that had one thing all those other theater-packing, Hollywood hits didn’t have…. A brown girl like me… Jess, wasn’t just the nerdy best friend, the submissive shy girl, or the exotic temptress (all tropes that are far too common for Asian women). She was the main character ― a girl with many layers and quirks…  my 14-year-old self couldn’t help staring at Jess… and seeing a kindred spirit.” (Source. Note: at the bottom of that article are links to more first person essays on representation.)
  • I’ve thought long and hard about the first time I “saw” myself in the media ― really saw myself. If representation simply means the cultural presence of people who physically resemble you, then technically, I’ve seen myself as a housekeeper, a teen mother somewhere in the “inner city,” a child soldier, a slave, a nameless face in a crowd…. The first pop cultural moment that really spoke to me as a black girl was…  “Scary Spice” …. she was unapologetically loud and unapologetically fierce… That resonated with me, a shy and awkward kid always afraid of stepping on toes…” (Source)
  • Star Trek (TOS) was one of the first TV series to feature a black woman in a role as a skilled professional. Whoopi Goldberg, who was later featured on Star Trek TNG, said “when Star Trek came on she was nine years old and she turned the TV on and… ran through the house screaming: Come quick, come quick. There’s a black lady on TV and she ain’t no maid.” (Source… and if you follow that link, you get to read Princess Weekes’ take on “Ten Black Female Characters Who Built Me.”) Levar Burton, who starred in Star Trek TNG said “Star Trek [TOS] was one of the very few representations of the future I encountered as a kid where people who looked like me were represented… it’s hard to underestimate the power that seeing oneself reflected in the popular culture… has. It validates you. Absent seeing yourself represented… you are sent … a message that says ‘you don’t matter.'” (Source) Now, Sonequa Martin, star of Star Trek Discovery says “I understand as a black woman… how important representation is… representation leads to actualization.” (Source)
  • “I never consciously noticed that my personal narrative wasn’t depicted in the popular culture. … Growing up, the only Disney character I felt any relation to was Mowgli, from “The Jungle Book.” With my short brown hair and dark skin, I thought I looked just like him. When “Mulan” came out, I at least had an Asian character to dress up as, but even that was a generous pairing. It wasn’t a glaring absence of representation. But when you have never seen yourself in books or movies or music, the first time you do is stunning.” (source)
  • “To not only see LGBT people on my television screen … but to see them loved by others, or in love, is sometimes emotionally overwhelming because these images are new to me.  I am disappointed, however, that I have to feel such joy just to see someone who looks like me — a joy whites, men, heterosexuals, and other privileged groups do not experience because their representation is the norm and, as a result, their presence is treated as the default.” (Source)

What If the Mirrors Are Missing

“Besides teaching us who we are, books are where we learn whose lives matter enough to read about… Exclusion from this world… constitutes a kind of ‘symbolic annihilation’.” (Source)

Megan Quibell talks about wanting to cosplay at a conference, and the impossibility of finding a recognizable character who uses a wheelchair. She says “We need characters in books who are in wheelchairs or who use a cane or are missing a limb or have some kind of condition or something. But I don’t want ‘problem’ books. I don’t want it to be all about how hard it is being in a wheelchair. I just want something fun for me to read that has someone in a wheelchair as one of the main characters. I really don’t think it’s too much to ask.”

The Power of Windows

“Research on prejudice shows that coming in contact with people who are different – so-called ‘others’ – helps to reduce stereotypes. … we learn about them and get closer to them through their story…. while it may be ideal for children to actually meet people from different backgrounds in person, if that isn’t possible, books can serve as a first introduction to an outside world…. Perhaps the next generation will be less frightened of the ‘other’ if they get to meet them and learn about them from an early age.” (Source)

“Stories that respectfully depict diverse characters can open the door to conversations about how we are similar and different, breaking down stereotypes and deepening children’s ability to empathize.” (Source)

“Research from Harvard University suggests that children as young as three years old, when exposed to racism and prejudice, tend to embrace and accept it…. By age 5, white children are strongly biased towards whiteness. To counter this bias, experts recommend acknowledging and naming race and racism with children as early and as often as possible. Children’s books are one of the most effective and practical tools for initiating these critical conversations; and they can also be used to model what it means to resist and dismantle oppression.” (source)

“Stories also help us understand that the world we live in is not what it should be. Stories can help young children understand that racism very much exists in this country, and that power is unequally distributed based on race, class, and gender. For children from dominant groups, window moments in stories come when the children realize they hold a powerful place in society and that there is something unjust about this.” (Source)

What if the Windows Are Missing

In this section, I share stories and quotes about what it means that boys are rarely asked to read books about girls and women. But there are corollaries – for each quote you can imagine substituting in – what if able-bodied people never read about people with disabilities? what if white children never read about people of color? what if….

I don’t think that most people intentionally teach boys to believe that boys are stronger than girls, but it’s the message they get accidentally all the time… If your son only watches or reads things with strong male characters, they’re learning over and over again that boys are strong. So it isn’t so much that they learn girls aren’t strong, they just never really learn that they are. When a boy regularly reads books with strong girls at the center, he is just getting more exposure to learn that girls are strong too.” (Source)

“[Windows matter] to everyone affected by white male privilege, which is fueled further by generations of little boys growing up seeing the world revolve around them and their interests, even in fiction.” (Source)

“When boys grow up believing stories about women are unimportant they lose far more than the opportunity to read great books… Story is a powerful means by which we see and experience, to some extent at least, the world from another’s point of view. Men and boys who are never encouraged to even try to understand, relate and respect the experiences and stories of girls and women are missing out on those valuable lessons in empathy. Books that present women as little more than side-kicks and decorations, rather than fully-formed agents, also help to create and maintain a culture where women are secondary to — and lesser than — men.” (Source)

“For majority students, the absences of others’ stories implicitly teaches them that their communities are of higher value, the default ‘norm.’ They end up less prepared for navigating differences and are less adept at keeping up with our evolving culture than those with more exposure to lives not their own.” (Source)

When you look at required reading lists from schools, there are plenty of books about male characters that all children are expected to read and benefit from. But if female characters are highlighted at a school assembly, boys aren’t expected to even attend. (Source) The consistent message is that stories about white males are for everyone, but stories about all those other people are to set aside for those populations, or for Black History month or another specific limited purpose. If, like me, you are a parent to a white able-bodied boy, it may be even more important to seek out windows into other experiences, as they may be less likely to encounter them in school.

What Counts as Diversity

When we think about windows and doors, let’s think as broadly as we can: “What do we mean when we say diverse books? Some people think only about race or culture, and surely those are a part of diversity. Others say gender identity or sexual orientation, and again those are a part of diversity. But, what about children who are homeschooled, whose parents divorce, who live in poverty, and even those who have happy two family homes?” (source) Or what about characters who wear glasses or have different types of hair? We can seek out all these things!

So, we want to expose children to books that offer a very wide view of the human experience, right? Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find books that represent all experiences. (The good news is that at the bottom of this post, I give you resources to help you find what is out there!) Let’s look at the…

Lack of Diversity in Kids’ Books

Gender Representation

Approximately half of kids are male and half are female. But that’s not true of children’s book characters!

Amongst the 100 best-selling children’s books of 2017, “twice as many of the characters who were given a speaking part and a main role in the story were male – and, on average, there were three male characters present in each story for every two females featured.” And female characters are missing from a fifth of the books ranked. “Only 40% of characters given a gender were human – the rest were, for example, animals, birds, crayons, vegetables and skeletons. [these creatures were] 73% more likely to be male than female. Furthermore, males were more typically embodied as powerful, wild and potentially dangerous beasts such as dragons, bears and tigers, while females tended to anthropomorphise smaller and more vulnerable creatures such as birds, cats and insects.” (Source)

“Why is there a persistence of inequality among animal characters? There is some indication that publishers, under pressure to publish books that are more balanced regarding gender, used animal characters in an attempt to avoid the problem of gender representation (similar to the disappearance of Blacks during the height of the Civil Rights Movement).” (source)

Race

In 2020, it’s predicted that of US children, 50% will be white, 26% Hispanic, 14% will be black, non-Hispanic, 5.4% Asian-Pacific Islander, and .8% American-Indian or Native Alaskan; 4.4% are multi-racial.) 13% of U.S. residents are foreign-born and about 1 in 4 children has at least one foreign-born parent. (Source)

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center keeps statistics on children’s books, and what identities are represented by their protagonists. Here is a comparison of US children vs. lead characters in children’s books in 2012 vs. 2018.

racetrend

It is getting better…. from 2012 – 2018 there was been a significant increase in new children’s books about people of color, but it still has not caught up to their presence in society, and when we factor in all of the classic kids’ books that are still read all the time, we know that the books kids are exposed to are not racially representative.

Many children’s books actually feature non-humans as main characters (animals, trucks, and so on. Here’s how racial representation compares… note how non-human far outstrip Latinx characters. (source)

Disability

13% of US students receive special education services. That includes learning disabilities, speech impairments, autism, ADHD, physical disabilities, and healthy impairments. (source)

Of 698 picture books published in 2017, “A child with a disability appeared in only 21 picture books, and only 2 of those were main characters. Most others appeared in background illustrations.” (Source) So, that’s 13% of kids have a disability, and 0.3% of the main characters in newly written kids books do! And of course, in classic books, the percentage would be lower.

LGBT

Approximately 4.5% of the overall US population identify as LGBT. (source) Among young parents and children, the percentage is much higher than that – only 66% of Gen Z identifies as straight. (source) 0.58% of all people may be transgender, but amongst people 18 – 24, it’s 0.66% (source). As many as 12% of children may have at least one LGBT parent. (source)

Of 3,700 books received at the CCBC in 2017, 3.7% had LGBT content. Of those books about half featured an LGBT primary character, about a quarter featured a secondary character, and a fifth had an LGBT family. (Source)

Who Wrote It

It’s important to look not just at who the characters are in a children’s story, but also at who wrote that story. For example, of 340 books about Africans and African-Americans, only 29% of those were written by African-Americans.

When someone not of a culture writes about that culture, we’re more likely to get a stereotyped or superficial depiction of that cultural experience vs. the nuance we would experience in a book written by people from that background. “There’s a long history of majority-group authors (white, abled, straight, cisgender, male, etc.) writing outside their experience to tell diverse stories. Sometimes the characters and stories they create are wonderful! But … Even when portrayals of diverse characters by majority-group authors are respectfully and accurately done, there’s an extra degree of nuance and authority that comes with writing from lived experience. … For instance, I’m a wheelchair user. I’m intimately familiar with enduring and combating ableism, navigating an inaccessible world, exploring disabled identity … I can list a whole host of tiny everyday details about the physical and emotional reality of my disability that secondary research is unlikely to surface.  I have a lifetime of experiences — positive, negative, neutral, and complicated mixtures of all of the above — to draw from when I write a fuller, more authentic wheelchair-using character.” (Source)

An example from popular media is Asian-American representation. Although we’ve made progress since the Fu Manchu and geisha days, the new stereotypes are of the “model minority — competitive, goal-oriented and hard-working (but, notably, lacking in creativity, charm, sex appeal and humor).” But now we have a recent movie on Netflix, Always Be My Maybe which was written, directed, and starred in by people of Asian-American descent. “In its three-dimensional representations of Asians, the film subverts many stereotypes and tropes typically applied to Asians — making Asians feel seen in subtle but powerful ways.” (Source. Also check out “Why Always Be My Maybe’s Asian American underachiever is groundbreaking” and “Always Be My Maybe from an Asian-American Perspective: Details You Might Have Missed.”) 

What to Look For in Books about Diversity

In addition to considering the author’s background and experience, here are some tips for what else to look for, from The Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Children’s Books, from Learning Through Literature that Offers Diverse Perspectives by Yokota, and Disability in Children’s Literature by Crow.

  • Check the illustrations
    • Look for stereotypical depictions – like Latino men in sombreros
    • Look for tokenism – the one kid in a wheelchair who appears on one page
    • Look for invisibility – what groups never appear in the books you read (examples: single parents, modern rural families, families with an incarcerated parent, people of Arab descent, service industry workers)
  • Consider the author or illustrator’s background and perspective – what qualifies them to tell this particular story?
  • Are cultural details accurate? current? Are details naturally integrated or shoe-horned in? Is the culture portrayed multi-dimensionally?
  • How real are the  characters and their lifestyles – are they token characters or stereotypes, or fleshed out people working in a variety of jobs, with a variety of relationships and interests?
  • Watch for loaded words: sexist words like firemen instead of firefighter, racist words like savage or barbarian, ableist words like crippled or lame
  • Does the book approach diversity challenges only as individual challenges to be overcome or also as human rights issues – addressing social realities like denied access to public transport or housing, and other systematic oppression?
  • Assess the appeal of the story and illustrations. Sometimes in our aim to expose our kids to diversity, we end up reading boring didactic books with sub-par illustrations, and the children learn to avoid or ignore “those kinds of books.” Above all else, choose good books that kids will like! Don’t feel like every book on your shelf needs to teach a diversity message.

Some more things to consider:

How is Identity Relevant to the Story

Author Corinne Duyvis has a very helpful taxonomy of three different ways diverse identities can be included in books and other media:

  • Issue books are where the identity (and the challenges of it) are the core of the story. So, if the protagonist is African-American, the story is about slavery, civil rights, or overcoming racism to excel in a white world. If there is a character with a disability or illness, the story often is how they heroically “overcome” their disability. We do need issue stories… a story about an LGBT teen coming out may be exactly the story an LGBT teen may need to read, and it may also be exactly the story a cis-het teen needs to read to understand and empathize with other’s experiences. But, they shouldn’t be the only stories told.
  • There is incidental diversity – where the person “just happens” to be in a wheelchair, or “just happens” to be deaf. As Duyvis says “Why shouldn’t an Asian character expose a government conspiracy? An autistic boy become a werewolf? A lesbian girl start a school newspaper? And why shouldn’t they be able to do these things without their marginalized identity ever becoming an issue? Many of us do homework, hang out with friends, or play video games pretty much the same way anyone else would. Our lives don’t revolve around being marginalized, and it’s exhausting to only see ourselves reflected in characters whose entire role is to be different.” So it’s exciting to see an increase in incidental diversity.
  • Duyvis doesn’t name her third category, other than calling it a middle ground. I will call it identity, because the character’s race or gender or ability is a key part of their identity and affects how they move through the world no matter what adventure the story will take them on. As Duyvis says: “In real life, though, marginalized people are affected. …it’s not shameful to acknowledge that. It’s a fact that ableism, homophobia, and racism influence countless aspects of people’s everyday lives. Micro-aggressions, stereotypes, internalized prejudice, flagrant bigotry, institutionalised discrimination… There are also other matters to consider: accessibility, hair or skin care, limited dating pools, communities, culture, etc. … There are many ways to incorporate the above elements into books … which can make characters and their backgrounds ring true to the very readers who may identify with them.” And inform those who are seeing them through the window of the book.

When choosing books about diversity, pay some attention to make sure each of these categories is represented.

Author Kim Hood says “… the more memorable characters in classics tended to have a disability that was cured in some way during the story, as if disability was a “burden” rather than a fact of life… a few more modern [books] include … teens with a disability that also make them super heroes… In picture books, I’m happy to see more children with disabilities in illustrations. I sure would like to see more books that include kids and teens in substantial roles, rather than supporting roles for the sake of token inclusion, though. I suppose I want more diverse characters – those that seem to jump off the page because they are so interesting, and who happen to have a disability. I want there to be characters of all abilities, so that kids growing up today are surrounded by the notion that disability is just part of the fabric of normal life, which is exactly what it should be.”

What Role does the Diverse Character Play

Sidekick? Token? In need of rescue? Gay best friend? Sassy black woman who schools the other characters?

We need stories where people of all types play roles of all types.

“Books with kickass heroines teach both girls and boys about what it means to be female… Unyielding soldiers like …Katniss Everdeen, … brave brainiacs like  Hermione Granger, and more brave and bold individuals … act as role models for their girl readers, [and] serve an equally meaningful purpose for young male readers. … The way we educate [boys], the way we parent them …and the books we choose to share with them all have their effects on the type of men the young boys in our lives will grow up to be. If we want them to have respect for women, we should give them stories that feature healthy, stable, and equal relationships between young boys and girls. If we want them to believe women are strong enough on their own to make choices for themselves, we need to give them stories where the girl is the hero and the savior. Instead of exclusively sharing stories of strong boys riding off into the sunset to save damsels in distress, instead of narratives focusing solely on the plights of male adolescence, instead of a constant dichotomy that divides people into two groups, either strong men or weak women, we should be embracing, sharing, and talking about books that star young female heroines, too. It’s time to tell a new story.” (Source)

Relatable Characters / Situations

While it’s great to have books that totally transport a child through a window into a completely different world, sometimes it’s helpful to find a bridge. For example, a book that shows a child starting school – your child remembers starting school, so can relate to the character, even if the character looks different from them. Or find books with multiple characters… some who are like your child and some who are different: “Make a special effort to find picture books featuring cross-ethnic friendships in particular… Researchers have noted that children under the age of 8 are strongly oriented towards their own racial or ethnic group, so seeing a character who looks like them gives them a character to identify with. Then, when they see that character interact with people from different races, the story functions as a source of indirect cross-ethnic contact for the child—with the potential to improve their racial attitudes.” (Source)

Getting Kids to Read Diverse Books

Often kids look at a book about someone “not like them” and say “it’s not for me.” And I get that. I’m kind of ashamed to say that I sometimes do the same thing… I’ll see a movie featuring all African American characters, and think “it’s not for me.” Here’s the thing, I’m straight and cisgender, yet I watch and read stories with queer characters all the time. And I learn important things about the experience of LGBT people by doing that. So sometimes finding something that looks through that window and looks at issues of race and culture as well ends up being a window I look through. Right now, I’m watching Pose, which is about African-American and Latino gay and gender non-conforming characters. That’s a “look-alike” to things I am already in the habit of watching and reading.

Librarians often look for read-alikes. Ask someone what books (or media) they like, and seek out some that are similar in style or content (and may just happen to feature a protagonist that doesn’t look just like them).

Photo of book covers for a book marketed to girls versus a book marketed to boys

This week, I brought two books home to my 8 year old son. One had a picture of a messy boy and a monster on the orange cover. The other had a sparkly cover with pink and purple and the word princess. Any guesses what he said? Yes, even raised in a very liberal household and community with flexible views on gender identity and expression, he still said “that book is for girls.” I said “you’re right, that the cover has lots of things our society markets as ‘girly’. But the reason I got it was because it was recommended by someone who said if you like Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, you’ll like this book. And they also recommended Big Nate which you love, so you can tell they have good taste. And, it’s by the same author as Dragonbreath!” He then cheerfully took on Harriet the Invincible, and really enjoyed it and asked to get more Hamster Princess books. (Although he did say he’ll read them at home, not where other kids might see. 😦 )

Try not to make assumptions about what your child wants to read. “The gender gatekeepers of books are often librarians, teachers and parents who make assumptions about which books are for girls and which books are for boys.” (Source) Author Phillip Pullman says “I’m against anything, from age-ranging to pinking and blueing, whose effect is to shut the door in the face of children who might enjoy coming in. No publisher should announce on the cover of any book the sort of readers the book would prefer. Let the readers decide for themselves.” (Source)

So, do make a wide variety of books available and let your child choose a wide variety, however, try not push too hard on an agenda and go too far in managing what your kids read. “Kids should be free to read what they choose. … let a lot of that be self-directed…the more we try to proscribe kids’ reading habits, the more joy we suck out of it.” (Source)

More tips on how to get boys to read “girls’ books.”

Talk it Over

After you read one of these great books with your kids, talk about it.

Ask them questions like: How are we the same as the people in the book? How are we different? Do they remind you of someone you know? How are they the same or different from that person? If you don’t know anyone like them, why not? What about their life experience is different from yours? What was easier for them to do than it would be for you? What was harder for them to do than it would be for you?

Resources for Learning More

In this post, I intentionally quoted from lots of great articles on this topic. Please click through to some of those “source” links above to read more in-depth.

In this section, I link to sources for book recommendations. At the top, I’ll list resources that cover several categories, then get more specific. (BTW, if you’d like recommendations for books and movies for grown-ups that provide windows into diverse lives, check out Seeking Out Diverse Media.)

Multi-Category

The Teaching for Change website includes The Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Children’s Books and lots of booklists of recommended books that meet their criteria, on topics like culture and language, gender identity, economic class, and family structures.

Diverse Book Finder – a collection of more than 2000 children’s picture books featuring black and indigenous people and people of color, with a search tool. Also includes other diversities, such as faith, adoption, single parents, etc.

We Need Diverse Books has a pageful of links to other people’s lists of recommended books about various cultures, disability, and LGBTQIA stories.

Books for Littles has books on disability rights, gender equality, racial justice, and wealth inequity. They have some great super-specific lists, like “Don’t Yuck my Yum: Books that dismantle orientalism and food shaming” and “Making Friends is Hard – Reassuring Books for Kids Who Don’t Fit In.”

Recommended Multicultural Books

The Colours of Us is a site all about multicultural kids’ books, and they have LOTS of recommended book lists, such as Hispanic Preschool Books and Asian Baby/Toddler Books. (They also have links to multicultural toys, art supplies, and clothes.) I especially like their Multicultural Books for Babies and Toddlers. Babies and young toddlers LOVE books filled with pictures of babies and toddlers. These books include children of all ethnic backgrounds.

50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center is the definitive source on statistics about multicultural books, so they know this field! Books by and about people of color and First/Native Nations individuals: African and African Americans, American Indians, Asian/Pacific and Asian Pacific Americans, and Latinos. Divided by age: preschool, 5 – 7, 7 – 9, 9 – 12.

Diverse voices: the 50 best culturally diverse children’s books. From the Guardian, it focuses on the variety of cultures common in the U.K. so covers primarily Africa, the Middle East,  Europe, and the Caribbean. Categorized into preschool, early elementary, upper elementary, and teen.

African and African-American

Black Picture Books that Aren’t about Boycotts, Buses or Basketball. “Shine light on typically ignored aspects of black life.” Include stories from getting a haircut to becoming an astronaut, from travel across the segregated South to going fishing or from church hats to a New Orleans sanitation worker. (Also check out Ten Picture Books that Are Not About Oppression, which show diverse cultures.)

21 books every black child should read is also a great source, plus, you can always check out all those multi-category and multi-cultural collections listed above.

Native American

Picture Books Portraying Contemporary Native Life. “One of the most persistent stereotypes about Native/First Nations people in North America is that they all lived long ago… talk about communities in the present tense.”

17 #ownvoices books about native Americans. Books written by and about American Indians and Canadian First Nations.

American Indians in Children’s Literature. Includes lists of recommended books including the first 10 Native American books to buy for an elementary school library.

Asian and Asian-American

Start with 13 Books that Celebrate All Things Asian, then read this article evaluating trends in Representations of Asians and Asian-Americans in Recent Picture-Books, which also recommends books, then check out 30 more Asian & Asian American Children’s Books, and the catalog of Lee & Low which is the top publisher of Asian-American kids’ books and published many of the books in those other lists.

Muslim

12 Books to Help Children Understand Islamic Faith and Culture. Include stories of  Muslim kids living in the West, children living in the Arab world, folktales, and books that specifically teach important concepts of Islam.

9 Children’s Books that Celebrate Muslim Faith and Culture. All written by Muslim authors, all showing Islam in a positive light.

Muslim Life in Children’s Picture Books. Examines current trends, and includes recommendations.

Refugees and Immigrants

12 Books About Refugees. Books about refugees from many countries, in a variety of historical periods as well as the present day. About the challenges of the journey and experiences in new and unfamiliar places. These are picture books for elementary age children.

Welcome Immigrants! – and New Picture Books about Immigrants.

Gender

Books for Smart, Confident, and Courageous Girls. A Mighty Girl’s book section features over 3,000 girl-empowering books starring stellar Mighty Girl characters. Choose categories of interest to you, and then filter down to exactly what you’re looking for. You could start with their Top 100 Picture Books or something specific like Top Asian Pacific American books.

11 Books to Talk to Kids about Gender Expression plus there are links to several more kids’ books about gender identity at the bottom of my post on Talking with Children about Gender Identity.

LGBT

Rainbow Book List. From the GLBT Round Table of the American Library Association. They publish a list each year, which includes best books published in the past few years. Includes picture books for ages 3 through elementary, plus middle grade and YA.

30 Children’s Books with LGBT characters. 10 books each for pre-k to 3rd grade, 4th – 7th, and 8th grade and up. Includes queer parents and queer kids, both issue books and incidental books.

Diverse Family Structures

Several of the LGBT books above, plus…

Children’s Books to Embrace Diverse Families, 6 Children’s Books that Celebrate Family Diversity. How to Help Children Understand Diverse Families

Single Parents Children’s Books, Best Children’s Books with Single Parents

Picture Books about Divorce and Having Two Homes and Preschool Children’s Books About Divorce.

Disability

Children’s Books About Special Needs. “Didactic books, or books that just simply explain a disability without a good story, are b-o-r-i-n-g, and as a consequence teach nothing.” Here are engaging picture books that touch on a variety of (dis)abilities, including stuttering, visual impairment, wheelchair use, Down Syndrome, and more, including adapting baseball so a snake can play. Preschool and elementary level.

Children’s Books: Portrayals of People with Disabilities. Separated into categories like deaf, speech disorders, traumatic brain injury. Search tool to find exactly what you’re looking for.

12 stereotype-busting children’s books starring disabled characters by Rebekah Gienapp. Include a range of characters with disabilities, both children and parents.

Children’s Books About Autism. For autistic children and for neurotypical children, include issue books, incidental books, and identity books. Focus is on books that approach autism as a difference (with its challenges AND its strengths) not as a disability in need of a cure.

Poverty

Picture Books that Illuminate Poverty, Homelessness, and Hunger in America. “As America faces record poverty rates and increasing income disparities, it becomes more and more important that we take action in whatever ways we can. Nothing inspires action quite as much as a good story.” Also: 18 Children’s Books about Poverty and Hunger.

Here is a free printable PDF handout that is a shorter version of the information presented in this post.