When we meet someone for the first time, we instinctively want information about them. Names are fine, but we often want to know more – like age, race, gender, occupation or where they come from. The more we know about someone, the easier it is to either relate to them or to distance ourselves from them. We all do this – we all collect information about other people in order to figure out where that person fits into our set of social relationships.
If I meet someone who has children, I automatically have something in common with them. If I meet someone from a different country or culture, I immediately have questions for them. If I meet someone with values or a worldview different from my own, I may be cautious around them. What we observe and learn about other people can draw us closer or create barriers. Similarities can be reassuring and differences can be threatening. But the differences between people don’t have to create barriers. Honoring both differences and similarities among people can actually help us break down barriers and celebrate our common humanity.
Here at LOPC, we’re teaching children how to recognize and break down barriers to get to know other people better. Our Wednesday afternoon children’s program, Kids Rock, incorporates small group formation sessions each week focused on learning how to appreciate and honor diversity. Using stories, games and activities, children engage in thinking about themselves and others through the lens of empathy, fairness and respect.
At the first small group session of our winter quarter in January, the topic was looking closely at ourselves. Our book of the day was “All the Colors We Are: The Story of How We Get Our Skin Color”. The children learned they get their skin color in three different ways: 1) from parents and ancestors, 2) from melanin – which are the tiny grains of coloring in our skin, and 3) from exposure to the sun.
During story time, some of the children said they didn’t know where their ancestors came from. So, we encouraged them to go home and ask their parents about their ancestors. One little boy was so eager to find out that he didn’t wait until he got home. He asked his mother (who was a volunteer) during the Kids Rock dinner and proudly reported where his ancestors came from.
In an activity to reinforce this theme, the children were asked to “name” the color of their skin. This was so much fun! The children used their wonderful imaginations to come up with a variety names for the color of their own skin. Here’s a sample of their responses: taffy, olive, dark tan, caramel, honey, light peach, rose, sand, rising sun, ginger ale, banana, toast, straw and wheat. The children wrote down all their ideas and put them on a poster to display. Take a look at the picture of our poster! Even a set of twins in the group didn’t have exactly the same skin color. The children decided that no one is really just black or white or another broad category of skin color. All of us are a range of beautiful colors.
Another volunteer parent sent feedback later about this particular small group topic in an e-mail: “I thought formation went very well. Got the kids talking and comparing – realizing no two skin colors are exactly the same. My two boys are still talking about it at home and parlayed it into conversations over MLK weekend too. Really positive.”
Teaching children to recognize and honor differences and similarities among people aligns us with the life and mission of Jesus. Jesus broke down barriers between people all the time. Jesus taught that all were welcome at the banquet table – the women, the children, the sick, the poor, the sinner, the outcast, the stranger, and the foreigner. When we honor and respect the beautiful diversity of all people – and teach that to our children – we’re breaking down barriers too.
Please feel free to contact Ryan Timpte (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Lori Robinson (email@example.com) to learn more about Kids Rock and our anti-bias curriculum.
© Lori Robinson 2017